Direct mail, direct marketing, online, email, pr, if it's marketing, I've got something to say about it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The marriage of web marketing and PR

One interesting side track on my career has been my involvement in public relations as part of my job as the marketing director at a ski resort. 5 years ago, a lifetime in web world, I headed up the PR efforts of 3 of our resorts. With no PR experience but a boatload of time spent in publishing and communications, I relied on the journalistic style of writing - the 5 "w's", inverted pyramid organization, etc. etc. Press releases were usually faxed and a media kit mailed to media contacts, whose names and addresses were stored on Rolodexes (remember those?).

Fast forward to 2007 and PR is now just another tool in the SEO arsenal. The press release is now not only for journalists, it's for spiders. Now standard conventions, like having your contact name and number at the top of a release, are no more. You can't waste that prime spider-seeking real estate on things like your name. Now headlines, subheads and bullet summary points take top placement. The release is lit up like a Christmas tree with hyperlinks, pull quotes and highlighted text.

The web marketer in me is proud. This is using the medium to its full advantage.

But the journalist in me reviews this electronic mishmash and scratches my head. How will this translate to print? Are more hard-bitten reporter-types going to embrace this brave new world?

The proof is in the results. Now my email releases leave a trail of breadcrumbs, telling me who has opened my email, who has clicked on which links, even who has changed jobs (as their email addresses bounce). It is micro-feedback to the max. I can even follow up with only those media members who have shown an interest in my story ideas. Or delete those that haven't opened a release all year. Try that with a hard copy media kit!

Of course, PR has never been about the writing. It's about the relationships you develop with your media contacts. Now we just need to make room at the table for the spiders.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sure, Now You Want Me

Some marketers are so smug. They insist that there are better and more efficient methods of reaching consumers than direct mail. They derisively call it "snail mail," "junk mail" and other less than loving descriptions of that medium I am so fond of.

But then ... the need to quickly and discretely communicate information to customers and all of a sudden ... my phone rings.

Mass communications has its charms. But speed and discretion are not among them. With the recent sale of certain divisions of my employer we needed to try to renew certain segments of our customer file. But pesky price fixing issues did not allow us to take advantage of channels such as radio, print and TV.

What we are able to do is to segment the list and make offers by line of business that stay within the limits of the law.

The same can be said of direct mail's sexier, younger sister, email marketing. Unfortunately, however, she is a fickle friend. While we have 100% of postal addresses in our database, a meager 40% have email addresses. And with click through and open rates dropping faster than George Dubbah's approval ratings, even that isn't a panacea. (But it's free, right? Tell THAT to my over-taxed web marketing team.)

But you marketing traditionalists, never fear. We have continued with some mass media. This includes SEM (search engine marketing) -- but without the ability to name price our CTRs are about 50% of last year's more robust results. And print ads now feature three separate calls to action (yeah, that will work!).

So you direct mail marketers who often feel left behind, keep the faith. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of our death are greatly exaggerated.

And just wait for that phone to ring.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Coals to Newcastle

How multi-dimensional are your list segmentation efforts? I admit - I'm pretty one dimensional when it comes to picking attributes for a marketing campaign. Zip code range, income, transaction data - if you fit the criteria for a certain effort, in you go. Throw in the tried-and-true suppression techniques (don't market to existing customers for a lead generation campaign; those on a do not mail or call list; or those under age, in jail, a military base, etc.) and you're off to the races.

But a recent conversation with a friend from NYC got me thinking. Maybe previous transactions, household income or other demographic data alone arent' enough to find a likely prospect.

For instance, she recounted being solicited by mail for a ride-on lawn mower. Mailed to her apartment in Manhattan. "OK, what did you buy that was related to gardening?" I asked.

After a quick discussion of her recent purchases, we zeroed in on a purchase from LL Bean. We surmised the mower marketer decided to target catalog purchasers of some sort of outdoor clothing who lived in the east coast. This likely triggered her as a candidate for the tractor.

This got me thinking that more careful suppression of certain geographic regions would make sense, especially one that contains a large percentage of the US population and ostensibly its direct mail list universe.

Or take the telemarketing call this same friend received. She got a call at her vacation home on Fire Island, a place with no mail delivery, offering to have a newspaper mailed to her home there. At $50-$75 per hour for telemarketers, every phone call to that exchange was an exercise in futility.

Reminds me of calls from Verizon offering me DSL service at my home in rural NH. Only catch it, it's not available in my town (surprise!). Or worse, the call from the Boston Globe offering me home delivery. I've missed the Globe dearly since I moved from Boston 4 years ago and could not believe my luck. The Globe -- home delivered to northern NH! But cruel fate dashed my dreams of Sunday mornings curled up with a cup of coffee and the Sunday news. Sorry, we don't deliver to your town. CLICK!

So the next time you're working on your data for your mail or phone campaigns, think in multi-dimensions. Don't spend money marketing to customers based on a single attribute. Because you can't sell many tractors in Manhattan.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

email vs. direct mail

ok, so i was recently challenged by the boss - why do direct mail when we have email addresses for so many of our customers? Good question! I mean, what the heck, why not test it. So I took a list of customers with email addresses, split it in two, and then sent 1/2 a renewal notice by regular mail and 1/2 just got an email.

The good news is that ... I was right. Emailing only without a mailing reduced the renewal rate by 65%!!! Since I had already tested the impact of email plus direct mail, I knew that together they rocked. But looks like for now, the postman keeps his job.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why the Postman Should Be Your Best Friend

I'd like to share with you a secret that is unknown by most business people and even most direct marketers. The post office really really likes junk mail. In fact, junk mail makes up a healthy chunk of their revenue.

Good direct marketers basically do a lot of the work for the post office before it even gets in their hands. Really good direct marketers do so much of the work ahead of time that they can hire their own trucks and drive their mail right to the postal sortation centers near where the mail is delivered. As you can imagine, this makes the post office very very happy.

No better example of the postal service's love affair with direct marketers is the amazingly robust website they maintain:

Go to this section to find all sorts of meaty goodness on direct mail:

This site has resources for the smallest business just wanting to get out a little mailing to goodies that can bring tears to the eyes of even a cynical old junk mailer like myself.

The ability to find your nearby mail design analyst made me particularly misty eyed. I will tell you, this is a far sight better than driving to Boston's South Station postal office, searching out some cubicle dweller down a long hallway and hope that they weren't out on a 2 hour lunch. I often get a call (a phone call!) within 24 hours of emailing a PDF file of a mail piece that I need approved. This sure beats the many many times I was told in the bad old days to PRINT the piece and then bring it on by for them to look at. Sure, let me print a million of these envelopes and get 'em to you to approve!

I just went through the site and found everything from direct mail templates (design made easy!) to a listing of very low cost direct mail seminars (only $59 in a dozen cities).

So the next time the postman hands you your daily stack 'o junk mail, be sure to thank him. Those mailers have made it possible for the USPS to build a mighty impressive website that you can use to improve your very next mail campaign.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

OK, Sometimes Postcards Can Work

Anyone who knows me knows my hatred of the dreaded postcard format. Every business that knows nothing about direct mail does a "postcard mailing" because they figure the cheaper the better. They are not in the mind set of "cost per sale" not "cost per mailing."

Time and again I have tested a client out of a postcard format, frequently into a letter package, always into something larger with more personalization than that dratted postcard allows.

However, I'm always open to the fact that it's always good to periodically re-test a concept, just in case.

So I recently did a split test for a company with a similar product on two different regions - one for east coast, one for west coast. Both were for a sports related product, high ticket price, targeted to a youth (i.e. college) market. I hired a very young designer known more for his snowboarding moves than his direct mail savvy.

The results were surprising. The postcard performed as expected in the east (indexing at 20 to the control's letter package at 100) and in the west, it beat the control (115 to 100).

So I'm now rolling out the postcard, to limited list segments only, on the west coast while remaining postcard-phobic in the east.

Which just goes to show you -- the more nichey you get, the more targeted and precise your marketing can be. If I had simply tested a postcard across a broader spectrum of lists and not aimed it specifically at the youth market (who ostensibly are less web-phobic and more willing to buy online, the byproduct of selling via postcard), I never would have discovered that, for one list segment and for certain geo-targeted areas, this format can work.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

When I'm not thinking about direct marketing, I can be found on a ski slope or golf course. Posted by Hello

Is Email and SEM Just Another List?

I had an ephinany the other day while pulling together a direct mail strategy for a business that is desperately in need of some new customers. Due to a freak situation, the company is in a situation where they can anticipate no renewal revenue from an annual program and instead has to rely almost entirely on new cusotmer acquisition in the coming year.

I lined up the usual suspects for mailing list selection and came up with a rather staggering potential list universe to test and an estimated budget to match. Then I emailed the plan off and leaned back in my chair waiting for the accolades to roll in.

Later that day I was discussing online marketing with a co-worker. We were lamenting that we didn't have enough money budgeted to launch an online marketing program. Then it hit me - certain targeted online media - including search engine marketing (SEM) and email marketing - are really just other list sources with a different creative execution.

So now I'm retooling my "mail" matrix to include these online channels right along with the direct mail plans. Taking the same offer and creative we're testing in print and figuring out how to parlay it into the virtual world. Dropping in various sites and geo-targeting and demographic targeting right into the list column; adding the email and online creative right into the package row.

While this will reduce the number of mail packages I send out, it is as testable and viable a source of new customer acquisiton as any traditional mail campaign.

We (meaning us marketers) are still too silo'd in our approaches ... online vs. offline, brand vs. direct, broadcast vs. print.

But this day, our eocmmerce marketing director went away a little happier and this direct mail manager can sleep better at night knowing that I'm leaving no rock unturned in our search for the most effective and least expensive means of acquiring a new customer.