Direct Mail? Eeew.

An old proverb says that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Sometimes, when in a marketing discussion I have said the words direct mail, I look into the eyes of the person across from me and I can’t say I like what I see: old, dusty, out-of-date ideas; widespread deforestation; hills of refuse; shame; dinosaurs, a “mailbox” relic. I believe these pre-conceived notions cause us to overlook an opportunity and I’d like to tell you two quick direct mail stories to make my point: The first story is about research. I’ve devoted a good portion of my career to the development of, what I call, voice of customer depth research, because of the clarity and actionability of its findings. Most of these efforts probe customers’ reactions to specific media and how it works with, or conflicts with, their working and personal lives. One opinion I hear customers express repeatedly is that direct mail has the potential to break through the maelstrom of information overload everyone experiences. The second is best expressed by a customer, “if it’s really important, please send it to me by mail.” The second story is a case history, and it is about a clever company called AmerInst Professional Services. AmerInst provides accountants, attorneys and architects with professional liability insurance. Per Kyle Nieman, CEO, “We are a start-up with aggressive sales goals and limited resources. Sound familiar?” AmerInst is the new kid on the block and they have what the other guys don’t. They have used technology and their deep understanding of the product to streamline the process. Offering customers comprehensive coverage, very competitive pricing and a user-friendly interface that puts them in complete control. In marketing terms, a killer value prop. However, no one wants to think about his or her PC insurance, and professionals stay with their current contract mostly because of stasis, so AmerInst has to yell pretty load to get their attention. One of the media / messaging tests they ran involved sending out a full color, oversized postcard to generate awareness of their name and benefit, to increase the open and click through rates of the email to follow. The postcard was a billboard and was released on a Thursday, the email was scheduled for a Tuesday flight. A unique landing page was created to capture critical information and to facilitate next steps. Results were somewhat of a surprise. By Monday morning, 5% of the direct mail universe had manually keyed in the URL and gone to the landing page. Enormous potential, but “we didn’t convert many deals”. My take, customers responded to the urgency created by the postcard but they didn’t get enough information to make this a considered, or qualified response. Better education makes for a higher qualified response. All the qualifying information was in the email. The real payoff was what AmerInst learned about the value and contribution of each medium, and how to integrate and synchronize those media. “What we have learned is how to get email to perform better, especially with law firms. We have done some pretty neat targeted direct mail, which has yielded some above average results. Our best result continues to come from our one-on-one conversations with customers.” Is direct mail the answer for every marketing opportunity? Of course not. The take-away is to be open to how your customers want to receive information and to use their preferences to educate, convince and convert.

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