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Basic Steps Help Maximize Direct Mail ROI

Industry data shows that direct mail is still relevant and effective in this digital era, which is why clients continue to come to AccuList for its expertise in targeted direct mailing lists and data services. While postal mail wins a higher response rate than other direct marketing channels, its higher costs also intimidate those wary of ROI stumbles, so as marketers begin to prepare 2020 budgets, we’ll pass along some key tips for making “the most of the post” from Chief Marketer.

Keep It Clear and Simple—With a Wow Factor

Anxious to pack in maximum value for the cost of postage, direct mailers can create counterproductive pieces. Long-winded content and pieces crammed to the gills with words, images and multiple messages actually can create confusion that drives recipients away rather than calling them to action, the Chief Marketer article warns. Instead, use white space judiciously to highlight key content, keep messaging direct and simple, and make the offer and call to action clear and easy to follow. If you have multiple messages, consider multiple mailings. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to think big and out-of-the-box. Look for a wow factor that will stand out amid mailbox clutter. Oversize or dimensional mail pieces, promotions ranging from a personalized item to a free report, or an overnight envelope that sparks open-me urgency are examples that have proven effective in boosting response.

Focus on Quality Lists and Targeted, Personalized Content

Direct mail success starts with clean, up-to-date list data and selective targeting of prospects or customers. Just choosing the right targets is not enough, however. They must receive the right message. Marketers should use demographic, geographic and psychographic parameters to segment lists and then variable data printing to craft personalized content to send the right message to the right audience. Chief Marketer cites the marketing strategy of healthcare insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which works with PFL marketing/printing and Salesforce Marketing Cloud to score its membership based on various criteria and then sends a tailored direct mail piece likely to drive engagement to each member. 

Test and Track to Maximize ROI

Trying to reduce mail costs by skimping on testing—whether of list, creative or offer—is sure to backfire in terms of ROI, warn the experts, especially when introducing a new brand, product or creative. Always test to optimize response before risking the cost of rollout. Also, failing to track mail response across channels, especially in today’s multichannel world, will compound ROI risks. Before you mail, consider how you will measure ROI, such as visits to a unique URL, calls to a dedicated 800 number, mailed reply card, or other response device, advises the article.


Plan How Mail Fits With Multi-channel Branding

Direct mail today rarely exists in a vacuum. Marketers simultaneously support promotions via websites, e-mail, social media and even TV. Before launching a direct mail campaign, decide how postal mail fits and interacts with other channels and branding initiatives. Make sure direct mail messaging is consistent with cross-channel efforts and brand identity. For more, see the full post of Chief Marketer tips.

Personalization Is Now Key to Insurance Marketing ROI

Personalization has become a mantra for all direct marketers, but it is especially relevant to AccuList’s insurance marketing clients. According to an Accenture 2018 study, 80% of insurance consumers are willing to share data to get more personalized offers, messages, pricing and recommendations from auto, home and life insurance providers. Although over 70% of insurance marketing campaigns claim to use some personalization, surveys show marketers are not doing enough to satisfy that customer demand. As a result, marketers can miss out on personalization’s proven power to improve response and ROI, lower acquisition costs, and enhance cross-selling.

Personalization Revs Mail’s Acquisition Power

While digital data often leads conversations, the importance of personalization in traditional direct mail, still an insurance workhorse, should not be ignored. After all, direct mail is considered more personal than digital by 69% of recipients, giving personalized content extra power. Direct mail also gets an average 9% response rate for house lists and 5% for prospects, per 2018 DMA/ANA data, compared with 1% or lower for other channels. Plus, for the digitally addicted, adding direct mail to digital bumps up conversion by 28%. A recent article on insurance marketing from agency Ballantine advised on top ways to maximize mail ROI, and, no surprise, personalization dominated—assuming clean, up-to-date mailing lists with important targeting parameters. First, marketers can use variable data printing and database parameters to personalize content and images to match the consumer’s life stage, so, for example, auto policy creative targeting a young single first-time car buyer differs in messaging and images from the creative for an older couple with a minivan. Next, marketers can personalize rates by taking into account factors such as the age and gender of the targeted recipient. And they can tap personal interests by leveraging affinity relationships, such as a specific sports team or association affiliation, via targeted discounts. Personalization shouldn’t stop with the mailing package but should then continue through the customer journey. Marketers can study the sales funnel to find when leads are most likely to drop out so that processes can be simplified, streamlined and further personalized to boost conversion. Simple examples include pre-filled forms and postage-paid return envelopes.

It’s All About Prospect and Policyholder Data

Meanwhile, One Inc., an insurance software company, offers a helpful roadmap to digital personalization. As with direct mail, marketing begins with quality consumer data and analysis, taking a step beyond age, gender and location to parameters that identify unmet needs and customer value for targeting and prioritization—such as a recent move, a new home, a new baby or an upcoming policy expiration date. Next, marketers need to track lead and policyholder actions to decide on the specific digital behaviors that will trigger a personalized response, say following up an online request for information with a series of lead-nurture e-mails. Then, marketers can design and test small campaigns of personalized content and process before expanding to more channels and audiences. Once strategies and processes have been developed and tested, an investment in marketing automation technology can follow, including AI algorithms using real-time data and behavior to tailor offers, customer service, cross-selling, lead scoring and more. Indeed, the advent of AI in the digital world is accelerating consumers’ personalization expectations, and the impact on the insurance industry is expected to keep rising in 2019, per articles.

Retention Relies on Smart Personalization, Too

Meanwhile, studies show personalization is also essential to cost-effective policyholder retention. One Inc. provides this example: An auto policyholder has a documented poor experience when filing a claim, putting the client in a “high risk” category for churn. Based on industry data that policyholders typically shop roughly two months (60 days) prior to policy expiration and that roughly one-third of shoppers switch carriers, marketers use the policy expiration date and contact information to send a letter 60 days before the policy is set to expire, personalized by the policyholder’s name, of course. The letter includes a personal note that acknowledges the poor experience and pledges to do better, an offer of a discount for renewing early, and rep contact information for quick response to questions or concerns.

For 2019 Edge, Event Pros Shouldn’t Overlook Direct Mail, SEO, Experiential Marketing

Per the latest industry surveys, AccuList USA’s trade show and conference marketing clients can look forward to solid event industry growth in 2019–along with potential marketing strategy shifts in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Businesses Are Bullish on Event Marketing

Event software firm Bizzabo’s survey of over 1,000 mid- to senior-level marketers at major companies in 2018 found good news for the event industry: Most respondents (41%) consider live events to be the most critical marketing channel in achieving business outcomes (out of 9 possible channels), a 32% increase from 2017. Business execs are also doubling down on live events. Between 2017 to 2018, the number of companies organizing 20 or more events per year increased by 17%. Additionally, the vast majority of respondents (95%) believe in-person events provide attendees with a valuable opportunity to form connections in an increasingly digital world. This reflects a 12% increase compared to 2017.

E-mail & Social Media Remain Favored Promotion Channels

Meanwhile, Eventbrite, an online event management and ticketing firm, surveyed 1,200 event professionals last year to see how marketers are likely to spend in 2019. Word of mouth, an effective tactic for 63% of event marketers, is bolstered by investments in social media marketing, which 49% of event creators placed among the top three most effective drivers of ticket sales. They cited Facebook and Instagram as the top social platforms for reaching event-goers. E-mail rounded out the top marketing channels per those surveyed, with 38% of event professionals relying on it.

Trends Encourage Growth of SEO & Direct Mail Use

However, with 89% of attendees using search for purchase decisions, Eventbrite foresees a necessary expansion of SEO efforts. There’s definitely room for growth, with almost half (46%) of event professionals saying they aren’t using SEO. And, while e-mail is cited among the favored marketing channels, direct mail continues to turn in higher response for the 41% of event pros who use it. Eventbrite thinks the 50% who cite competition as their biggest challenge will want to reconsider the edge offered by adding mail to their arsenal, urging the hesitant to take a trial run by segmenting mailing lists and sending flyers or save-the-date cards to a test portion.

Experiential Marketing Is 2019’s Hot Buzzword

Experiential marketing is a hot new trend for trade show exhibit providers, brand marketers and event planners. It is a strategy that engages attendees by using branded experiences at an event, as part of an event, or in a pop-up activation not tied to any event. It’s all about immersing people in memorable live experiences to create more lasting and positive brand impressions. Yet Eventbrite found that close to 60% of event creators are not using experiential marketing. Acknowledging an intimidation factor, Eventbrite urges starting small, for example by promoting a pop-up shop (temporary retail space) grand opening at an event, by offering a smaller experiential activation like an on-site art installation, or by using a partner on-site sponsorship to enhance the event experience.

Download the Bizzabo report “2019 Event Marketing Benchmarks and Trends” for more details on event industry trends.

2019 Trends Open Doors for More Direct Mail Success

Direct mail lists and data services are core to AccuList USA’s business success, so each year we research which trends our direct mail marketing clients will want to embrace for maximum response–and which trends are fading in effectiveness.

Digital Ad Tune-outs Offer Mail Opportunities

Digital issues can create direct mail opportunities, points out direct mail agency Inkit, noting that customers are tuning out digital advertising, whether e-mails, banners or social media promos. In fact, eMarketer estimates that 30% of all Internet users will use ad blockers in 2019. One way to offset the drop in digital ad effectiveness is to beef up direct mail campaigns. Note that ANA-DMA research shows that 84% of millennials take the time to look through their mail and 64% would rather scan for useful information in the mail than e-mail. Plus, 41% of millennials and 53% of Gen Xers report enjoying catalogs. That engagement translates into higher response rates for mail than for any other media, per the 2018 ANA-DMA Response Rate Report, with 9% for house lists and 4.9% for prospect lists.

Snail Mail Can Join the 2019 Video Boom

While digital ads are being ignored, digital video is booming; Inkit reports that Cisco projects video will encompass more than 85% of all Internet traffic in the U.S. by 2020! Direct mail doesn’t have to be left out. Thanks to print technology–QR, AR, Video-in-Print and Near Field Communication (NFC)–paper promotions can jump on the video bandwagon and further boost their own mail response.

2019 Demands Personalized, Cross-Channel Campaigns

Customers in 2019 will expect marketers to personalize offers and deliver a seamless experience across channels, Inkit asserts, requiring integration of online, e-mail, direct mail, social media, mobile, and in-store campaigns. In fact, retailing research recently found that close to 90% of retailers say integrated cross-channel or omnichannel marketing is key to success. AI is one way marketers are getting a handle on messaging across channels and at different points in the buyer journey, which can help decide timing and targeting of direct mail. Meanwhile, for mail, variable data content printing and enhanced database targeting and segmenting can deliver the personalized relevant messaging that will be a basic of 2019 marketing.

Take Variable Data Printing to the Next Level in 2019

Yet when it comes to printing and personalization, there are some popular direct mail practices that need to be ditched this year, advises direct marketing agency Darwill. For example, using a 4-color master shell on which variable content is laser-printed in black and white has become old-hat given that new inkjet presses can create endless 4-color versions for a more targeted and engaging campaign. Along the same lines, the custom maps laser-printed in black and white can be replaced by full-color variable maps that are more personalized, eye-catching, and likely to drive leads.

Use Envelopes to Intrigue Outside; Put Tailored Offers Inside

This year, instead of revealing all details of a promotional offer on the outside envelope to drive opens, Darwill advises that a promotional pitch that is visible but not fully revealed on the envelope is likely to work better–a sneak peek at a personalized offer. Then once the recipient opens the envelope, he or she better not find one-size-fits-all content! Luckily, with today’s full-color inkjet technology, a letter or a coupon can now be varied based on a recipient’s past shopping patterns or demographics.

 

 

 

Despite Doubters, 2018 Direct Mail Ups Response, ROI, Usage

AccuList USA’s direct mail marketing clients received lots of encouraging news in the 2018 “ANA-DMA Response Rate Report.”  Direct mail improved its usage ranking to tie with social media as the second most-used medium (57%), for example, and continued to deliver the best response rates of any medium. In fact, “snail mail” even improved on its response success by doubling median response rates over last year to 9% for house lists and 4.9% for prospect lists in 2018. Mail’s Return on Investment (ROI) also leaped by 12 percentage points to beat out online display this year.

While Marketers Forecast Mail Decline, Usage Tells a Different Story

The only negative in the report is that those surveyed continue to doubt the future of direct mail, with 19% saying they plan to decrease usage in the coming 12 months. But if the report participants follow their behavior after previous surveys, which similarly predicted mail declines, direct mail usage will remain buoyant, which allowed it to rise in 2018 despite planned cuts. One drag on direct mail continues to be its Cost Per Action/Acquisition, which is the highest CPA of any medium and puts budget pressure on mail volume, which did decline for both house and prospect lists compared with the 2017 study.

Direct Mail Usage Dominates Most Industry Segments

However, high response rates, competitive ROI, online tracking and print-tech advances are keeping marketers loyal to “traditional” mail in a digital world. In fact, direct mail usage for marketing campaigns equals or exceeds 50% for most of the 11 industry segments cited in the study. In usage, direct mail leaders were travel or hospitality (80%), nonprofits (75%), publishing or media (71%), and financial services/banks/credit (67%). Only Technology (44%), Retail (44%), and B2B Services (34%) came in below the 50% usage mark. 

B2B, B2C Split on Formats As Response Tracking Goes Digital

When it comes to direct mail creative format, postcards tend to produce the best overall response in combined B2B and B2C data, with a 13% median response rate for house files and 10% for prospecting files. Letter-size envelope formats turned in rates of 10% for house lists and 4% for prospecting, and oversize envelope mail garnered 11% for both house and prospect lists. Format results are different for B2B versus B2C, however. Looking only at B2B, limited data indicates the letter-size envelope format outperforms with a combined median response for house and prospect lists of 15%-40%, compared with postcards’ 14%-16%. For B2C, responses show oversize envelopes actually turning in the best 9%-12% median response for house and prospect lists combined, compared with postcards at 9% and letter envelopes at 4%. In tracking those response rates, marketers have definitely gone digital, with over half of surveyed marketers (53%) saying they use online tracking capabilities, such as PURLs, followed in popularity by the use of codes or coupons (45%) and call center or telephone inquiries (41%).

 

Industrial Marketers Bet More on 2018 Direct & Digital

AccuList USA has a long track record of helping warehouse, industrial and back-office product marketers via data brokerage, predictive analytics and multi-channel direct marketing, and we’ve learned some important lessons along the way.

Industrial & Tech Marketing Budgets Expand in 2018

The good news is that many industrial marketers were inspired to expand investment in 2018. According to the “2018 Budget Trends in Industrial & Technology Marketing” report published by engineering.com, industrial marketing budgets in 2018 are expected to hit “the highest levels of growth (45%) and the lowest reported levels of shrinking budgets (4%), of any of the last five years.” More than half (54%) of manufacturing marketers expect their budget to be larger in 2018.

Quality, Targeted Data Is Key to B2B Direct Marketing

But expanded multi-channel spending still needs to be smart spending. As data brokers, we can’t overemphasize that successful B2B direct marketing–including direct mail, print catalogs and e-mail campaigns–starts with quality, targeted data. Marketers can boost response by using predictive analytics and buyer profiles to target–and then opt for the rental lists of active product inquirers/buyers that our proprietary list research finds to be top performers in each vertical. Targeting the right message to decision-makers in the buying process is also key; with product and industry factors affecting whether to select a chief engineer, purchasing manager, warehouse manager, human resources chief, or C-suite executive in mailing lists.

A Digital Strategy Is Now Essential for Leads and Sales

While direct mail continues its response leadership, there’s no denying that most B2B buyers are digital shoppers today. Research by Acquity Group finds 94% of B2B buyers say they conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product, for example. Forrester Research has found that 59% of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep, and 74% find buying from a website more convenient. That makes digital catalog sites into essential sales tools, giving customers the option to browse product, pricing, and inventory information in real-time and then self-serve. Of course, online traffic-building requires a good search engine optimization (SEO) strategy given that 73% of global traffic to B2B companies comes from search engine results. But most successful B2B marketers also invest in paid digital efforts. In fact, a 2015 study by Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs, and Fathom found that manufacturers ranked search engine marketing highest among paid marketing options in terms of efficacy (52%) and promoted social media posts came in second (39%).  For social media ads, B2B marketers see video as a top response tactic, which is why manufacturers in the study ranked YouTube as the most effective social media site, followed by LinkedIn ads, which AccuList USA supports. Take a deeper dive into the core elements of digital industrial marketing with this post by gorilla76, a B2B consulting firm.

 

 

 

2018 Recognition Market: Tech Partnering, Wellness & Non-cash Awards

AccuList USA recently completed proprietary research on hundreds of top performing lists of employee recognition and incentive product buyers to support clients in a business-to-business marketplace that now encompasses close to 90% of companies.

89% of Companies Committed to Recognition Spending

In fact, the 2017 “Trends in Employee Recognition” report from WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association, found 89% of surveyed organizations committed to recognition programs, with 65% offering between three and six different programs, from companywide (81%) to individual (69%) to department/team (67%). The top five recognition programs rewarded length of service (85%); above-and-beyond performance (77%); programs to motivate behaviors associated with the business initiatives, such as customer service (51%); peer-to-peer recognition (49%); and retirement (34%).  Certificates and/or plaques remain the most awarded recognition item, at 80% of respondents, followed by cash (55%), gift certificates/cards (45%), company-logo merchandise (40%), and food, such as a lunch or pizza party (39%). For incentive and recognition marketers, targeting can mainly focus on two departments responsible for administering programs: human resources (59%) and compensation (22%).

2018 Trends Include Brand Culture, Tech Partnering, & Wellness

The Incentive Research Foundation’s “IRF 2018 Trends Study” offers recognition and incentive marketers more guidance on changing demand trends. For one, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality capabilities will be a “fundamental requirement” for vendors and suppliers looking to partner with incentive professionals in 2018, per IRF. Marketers also will want to push wellness messaging, since more incentive professionals are adding health and wellness components focused on fitness, food, and comfort to their incentive programs this year compared with other features, says the report. And when it comes to merchandise products, incentive buyers in 2018 don’t want more choice as much as more “impactful products,”  such as products with local sourcing or organic roots and products that can be easily personalized and customized. The desire to build a brand-asset culture around intangibles, such as innovation, as well as traditional assets is one factor pushing these non-cash awards in 2018, notes the report. On the other hand, gift cards will continue to gain momentum this year, according to the IRF, which says mid-size firms spend an average of nearly $500,000 annually on gift cards across all programs, while large ones spend over $1 million annually. Finally, although incentive travel makes up a small part of the recognition pie, the incentive travel industry’s net optimism score for the economy is up almost 20 points from 2017 in the IRF report, leading to budget increases despite rising costs. For more on top incentive trends, see http://www.incentivemag.com/News/Industry/IRF-Top-Incentive-Trends-2018/

 

 

New Marketing Trends Bolster Food Gifting Growth

One of AccuList USA’s areas of specialization is providing mailing lists, data services and marketing support for the food and wine gift market, and so we keep an eye on emerging trends in this growth industry. In fact, food gift sales will approach $20 billion in 2018, up 4% over last year, per the “Food Gifting in the U.S.: Consumer and Corporate” report for 2018-2020 by research firm Packaged Facts.

Holiday Sales Dominate, But New Trends Push Overall Growth

Marketing dollars will naturally focus on year-end sales, since, while consumers and businesses are giving food baskets across a wider variety of occasions today, ranging from anniversaries to graduations to birthdays, Christmas is still the food and wine gifting mainstay. More than half of the 130 million consumer food gifters purchasing in the last 12 months bought during the winter holiday season. But how can food gift marketers push sales growth year-round? One key factor will be continued innovation that creates exclusivity and artisanship, avoiding the commoditization that drains profit with discounting, notes the report. To support that kind of brand power, marketing efforts will need to embrace the kind of story telling that creates a sense of authenticity and uniqueness and builds a gourmet brand image. Capturing the high-end boutique buyer can require a softer sales approach that aims at building knowledge and trust, say via featured recipes as an example. Food gift marketers also need to continue expanding gifting occasions beyond holidays, not only for consumers but also for the lucrative corporate market, by pushing work anniversary and thank-you gestures for example. Finally, while the food gifting market is heavily dependent on older, high-income consumers, tapping into millennials will require a more omnichannel approach that takes into account millennial ordering preferences, stresses the Packaged Facts report.

Embracing Omnichannel Marketing Options

An omnichannel wooing of millennials will combine direct mail/catalogs with e-mail, social media and e-commerce strategies. While traditional direct mail continues as a food gifting workhorse, a strong online presence and SEO strategy is especially essential. Luxury biscuit gift company Biscuiteers provides an example of how it matters: The company increased their website traffic from new customers by 90% and SEO revenue by 77% in 6 months by optimizing category landing pages for different types of food gift buyer and season. E-commerce goes hand-in-hand with a good e-mail strategy. For example, the venerable Hickory Farms brand decided to improve the quality of its customer data and create a more agile e-mail campaign process by integrating its marketing and commerce tech to trigger consumer journeys and automated e-mail sends. E-mail inbox placement this year rose to 94%, almost 10% above industry standard, plus e-mail list growth improved. Hickory Farms CMO Judy Ransford explained to CMO magazine that the smarter list management “helps us deliver e-mails at the frequency customers want, and to make sure the content quality is better. This year we’ve seen a huge improvement and not such high attrition rates as a result.” Social media also has become a must-have for food gifting via leading platforms like Facebook and Instagram for consumers and LinkedIn for corporate prospecting. That should increase gift-basket marketer interest in AccuList USA’s Digital2Direct program, which is designed to link targeted direct mail with Facebook ads or e-mails to the same recipients.

Who’s Winning in 2018 Gift Basket Ratings?

By the way, marketers looking for successful food gifting models should check out Top Ten Reviews’ 2018 ratings. We’re happy to note that our client Wine Country Gift Baskets’ Gourmet Choice Gift Basket was awarded best overall value for 2018 in a test of 11 gift baskets from the leading gift basket companies. Top-rated winners delivered on value for the price in terms of food and wine taste; presentation; ease of payment; delivery speed, options and geographic coverage; range of baskets; special options such as kosher, vegan and organic; offers of extras such as add-on wine, tea, books, puzzles, etc; and, of course, quality customer support. To read more, see the review of best gift baskets of 2018.

 

Use Direct Mail to Push Trade Show Attendance Ahead of the Pack

After many years of supporting the marketing of trade show and conference managers and exhibitors, AccuList USA can attest to the continued power of direct mail in building audience. While exhibitors who do a pre-show campaign 1-2 months before a show can increase attendance by up to 50%, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, a post by the NextPage agency recently explained how direct mail will push those pre-event promotional efforts several steps ahead of competitors.

Make Direct Mail an Engaging, Personalized Invitation

Show marketers looking for an edge with multi-channel audiences will embrace direct mail’s higher response rates and retention rates, urges NextPage, leveraging the deliverability of a tactile and visual attention-getter in an era of crowded digital mailboxes and websites. By combining variable printing with segmented list targeting, savvy marketers can create a pre-event mailing that is highly personalized. Custom shapes and dimensional options, textured paper, intriguing folds, eye-catching graphics and taglines, and more will then help mailings stand out and engage.

Include Incentives That Spur Booth Visits

NextPage also advises including an incentive in the mailer to spur booth visits, such as a raffle ticket or product sample. Creativity pays off, and the blog cites some incentive success stories. For example, trade show expert Marlys Arnold uses scavenger hunts in pre-show campaigns, with a direct mail piece that lists five questions and gives a web address where attendees can print off an answer sheet to fill out and bring to the show. She reports earning satisfying lines at her booths compared with more passive giveaways. In another example, independent copywriter named Mark Johnson wanted to target subscription newsletter marketers at a Las Vegas Conference and created a special website with case studies and a free offer that he touted in a postcard. The free offer was an exclusive 30-minute consultation with Johnson to review current marketing campaigns. Johnson rented the conference association’s membership list and mailed the card only to qualified leads five weeks before the show. Out of 400 pieces mailed, 406 people visited his site, and he generated five solid leads!

Use Targeted Lists of Qualified Prospects

Yet the real key to success with a direct mail campaign is targeting of qualified leads, starting with a list of current clients and prospects and moving on to lists of registered attendees, association members, subscribers to relevant trade publications and newsletters, multi-channel buyers of relevant products, etc.  Marketers can then segment and tailor messaging by geography, industry, product interest, title, firm-ographic data (such as number of employees) to increase response.

For more direct mail advice, see the blog post.