February 2010

6 Ways Direct Mail Thrive

“Don’t Call It a Comeback “

Six ways direct mail will thrive in the new year.

By Rod DeVar, Manager Direct Mail, USPS

happy to get mailMarketers are cost-conscious by nature. But last year’s economic meltdown forced them to look even harder for efficiencies, and it’s a mindset they’ll keep as the market recovers. But through it all, direct mail has been — and will continue to be — a viable, effective marketing tool.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s a strong acquisition tool. Marketers like paying lower prices to search for new customers online, but they’re often disappointed when these folks don’t stick around. That’s because targeting new acquisitions online is much less precise than sending a mail piece to prospects you know will likely be repeat purchasers.
  2. Technology continues to improve. Variable data printing is letting marketers acknowledge customers as individuals. Not only will more marketers take advantage of it, those already using it will get smarter about their applications by using customer data to better track relationships and tailor content as wants and needs change. That’s important because increased personalization makes direct mail more relevant to the end user.
  3. Newspapers are suffering. As newspaper circulation dwindles, it will spur a significant migration to the mail by those marketers (particularly retailers) that need to reach a high number of people in a very targeted geographic location.
  4. Content marketing is on the rise. Transpromotion and custom publishing are delivering marketing messages in more personal and relevant ways, with information woven right in the content — a plus for both marketers and recipients. Custom publishing continues strong growth because consumers like the quality, and with transpromotion the senders of statements and bills can include marketing messages that connect with how the customer is using their services.
  5. Clean lists are eco-friendly. As marketers continue to address list hygiene, they’ll be mailing more efficiently. Not only will that deliver a better return, it also is good for the planet because the number of wasteful pieces will decline.
  6. Mail will be even easier to track. More marketers will begin using the Intelligent Mail® barcode, a new Postal Service™ barcode used to sort and track letters and flats. With it, they’ll be receiving more detailed information than ever on how and when their direct mail is being delivered, as well as how customers are responding.

Before you kick off your 2010 efforts, know this:

The recession has created new norms for the marketing realm. Many tried-and-true formulas for evaluating media effectiveness and accountability won’t measure up to your heightened need to accomplish stronger results for less investment. But direct mail will continue to perform.

Rod DeVar is manager of direct mail at the United States Postal Service.®

USPS Deliver: a magazine for marketers. Click here for direct link.

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Document Centers "Go Green"

Environmental Efforts in 2010

By Mike Porter, President, Print/Mail Consultants

Please recycleThe other day I was asked if 2010 was going to be the year of “going green” in the document industry. I guess because I’ve written a lot on the subject over the last year and developed a couple of products to help document centers be more green, someone thought I might have some insight. I answered that I thought the amount of resources devoted to green projects depended a great deal upon the economy, but it doesn’t take an expert to come to that conclusion.

It’s not that companies intentionally want to ignore the impact they have on the environment; they just have other areas that require their attention, and they have to make priorities. I doubt that environmental efforts will be moving towards the top of the list until the economic concerns are handled.

While companies may not be taking actions in their document print and mail operations specifically for the environmental benefits, some of them are going to lower their environmental impact anyway as a byproduct of cutting costs. From an environmental perspective, I suppose whether you justify green projects in document operations with related cost savings or you get the projects approved with the cost-reduction aspects alone makes no difference, so some greening will continue, regardless of the economy. But creating the greatest environmental benefits may require more effort than taking the quick and easy approach.

recycle_save treesAccording to a survey we did last year, a lot of document centers have already taken two steps towards environmental sustainability: Switching to materials with a higher percentage of recycled content and recycling their own paper waste. Unfortunately, our survey revealed that often those are the only measures that have been taken. Perhaps that is an indicator of the impact the economy has had on corporate environmental sustainability objectives. More involved efforts have yet to be tackled.

Closing the Gate after the Cows Have Left the Corral

It seems to me that by the time a piece of paper reaches the print production facility, most of the impact it is going to have upon the environment has already taken place. Isn’t the consumption of fuel and energy and the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that are connected with all the processes necessary to de-ink, manufacture, package and transport the material about the same for all paper, regardless of recycled content? Using recycled paper sounds like a good idea, but without taking other measures, how big of a difference does it really make?

I’m not suggesting that we abandon paper recycling efforts; we should be printing on recycled paper. I’d much rather see paper go to the recycling center than the landfill, and I think we should reuse those paper fibers as many times as we can. I just believe that we would enjoy greater environmental benefits by manufacturing, transporting and printing fewer pieces of paper, of all varieties, than we can ever achieve by simply switching to using material with a higher recycled content.

So that’s what we teach document professionals with our training classes, and it’s where we concentrate our efforts in the green assessments that we do for clients. We help them reduce the consumption of paper materials with strategies such as eliminating undeliverable addresses, reducing page counts, increasing electronic delivery or ridding print jobs of duplicates and irrelevant mailpieces. As a result, they are able to order less paper. Combined with using recycled materials for the remaining documents that are produced, and continued in-house recycling efforts, I think we help companies make a difference.

2010 may not be the remembered as the year of going green, but many companies can make a start this year by changing one or two things in document operations that will result in lower paper consumption and less wasted output. When things get better financially, then the efforts can be expanded.

Mike Porter is an expert in print and mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, a consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements and lower costs in their document operations. For more information on green training or assessments, visit www.printmailconsultants.com or email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.

From Mailing Systems Technology. Click here for a direct link.

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Direct Marketing

USPS Announces No Rate Increases: How that Affects You

By Mike Porter, President, Print/Mail Consultants

lettersThe USPS recently announced there would be no postage rate increases in 2010 for market-dominant mail. This includes First-Class and Standard mail as well as periodicals. I think this was a good move. A postage increase now might have spurred an acceleration of mail moving to non-USPS delivery channels. That’s still happening, but hopefully at a pace that will allow the Postal Service to adjust and adapt.

Did the postage rate freeze announcement cause you to re-think your short-term mailing strategies?

It certainly gives mailers a little more breathing room. But don’t get too comfortable. There are changes coming. A significant price increase probably would have accelerated the decline in mail volumes, but holding the line on postage for the next year isn’t likely to reverse the migration to alternative communication channels that is already underway.

Just as the USPS has had to anticipate a scenario of shrinking volume, mailers should be planning now for a world in which the measure of their success is changing. Going forward, the emphasis will be on the effectiveness of each mailpiece instead of how many units can be produced at the lowest cost.

Cost and productivity will still be important, of course. But making sure every mailpiece contributes to the overall goals of the organization will be more prominent. And your volumes may decrease, making the remaining mail even more valuable.

Did You Plan on Paying More for Postage?
Chances are good you already budgeted for a postal increase, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four percent, maybe more. Even though it is tempting to save that money now that you know rates will be stable, I recommend that you invest some of those budgeted funds in upgrading your operations.

Using more dollars for postage would have had absolutely no effect on the value of the service you provide to your in-house or outside customers. Why not take some of that money and use it more strategically?

One of the best ways to do that is to spend a little on an analysis and improvement project. You should do this first – before you start to make capital investments in hardware and software.

Here’s why.

There is waste in your operation. Even after the gut-wrenching decisions you’ve made over the last year to comply with corporate cost-cutting directives, there is still more to do. Sometimes lots more. I have yet to visit a document operations center where we did not recognize an opportunity to lower costs, raise productivity, or both.

Decreasing waste and streamlining the workflow can result in a reduction or even the elimination of a planned investment in other areas. If you can improve your throughput in the finishing department, for instance, perhaps you can get by with a relatively inexpensive upgrade to your inserting equipment instead of a replacement.

That is why you should do a comprehensive analysis first. Funds are limited. Make sure that you get the maximum benefit from what you spend, not just a quicker way to do the wrong things.

The Savings Are Not so Obvious
Most document centers already reduced staff, eliminated travel, froze wages, and cut training to make their budget numbers.

But a document operation that has been around for any length of time has plenty of other savings opportunities hidden in the work they do every day. The trouble is that those opportunities are hard to recognize from the inside. And even if you do discover them, they are tough to fix on your own. The solutions often require the cooperation and consent of multiple departments. The competitive environment in most companies and the lack of influence that the print and mail center management has over other departments make progress extremely difficult or politically unwise. No one wants to make enemies or risk their jobs in an economy like this!

Put Some of that Money to Work for You!
Document Operations managers often tell us they can’t meet the needs of their organizations without upgrading their hardware or software. Eliminating waste in one part of your workflow frees up money that can be used to beef up other parts that allow you to meet the communications requirements of your customers. The money you need may already be there – you just have to find it!

Maybe you’ll want to do matching. You can invest your discovered savings in cameras for your inserters. Or perhaps you’ve seen the value of intelligent mail and need get some help to develop processes to take advantage of some IMB features. Save some money by optimizing your existing operation and use those funds to acquire expert help to develop your new capabilities.

Think about the direction in which your operation must travel over the next two years in order to be successful without increasing mail volumes and make a plan to get there. Spending some already budgeted money on your own operation instead of on postage may be just the opening you need to take the first step.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent project management firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more information on training, coaching, or getting your projects done, visit www.printmailconsultants.com or email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.

From Mailing Systems Technology. Click here for a direct link.

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pURLS become Prominent

2010 Forecast: Direct Mail Far From Dead, with pURLs Playing an Even More Prominent Role

by Ethan Boldt,Inside Direct Mail

However, because of those reasons cited in paragraph one, direct mail is not going anywhere. In fact, with the powerful addition of Personalized URLS to the arsenal, direct mail may even be positioning itself for a comeback. “I think the channel’s forever altered, but not forever gone,” says Nancy Harhut, executive creative director at Harhut for Hire and former executive creative director of Hill Holiday. “People still trust the mail, like to touch their mail, and sometimes prefer the privacy, security and record of mail.”

Here’s how 2010 will shake down, according to some well known direct marketers:

1. Direct Marketing’s New Holy Trinity?

While social media and mobile marketing is becoming more popular, they both remain small potatoes compared to what Harhut calls marketing’s “Holy Trinity”: direct mail, email and Personalized URLs. “Direct will still lead acquisition efforts and then be used to punctuate customer deepening campaigns. There’s been some evidence that all the email we’re sending is hurting its efficacy, while at the same time, direct mail has been ‘rested’ long enough so that now it’s working even better than before- what’s old appears new again,” she describes.

Meanwhile, she believes that SoMe and mobile will find their rightful place in the communications mix, but will always be minor players. Instead, she’s adamant that the DM-EM-PURL approach will grow more prominent. “Smarter targeting, more data-driven communications and increased personalization will become necessities,” says Harhut, who mentions that the historic problem has always been data quality but that most companies have access to clean, robust data today.

2. Personalized URLs Help Create a Channel-less Future

Most companies have siloed their marketing efforts, but Harhut thinks that self-interest will begin to trump channel. “If the target sees something of value, then that will be more important than where he or she sees it,” she explains. “The humble closed-faced, teaser-less, ‘hand addressed’ #10 or ‘greeting card’ will continue to pull. Mail that carries an ‘ignore at your peril’ air about it will continue to get opened.”

In other words, creative mail that skillfully employs the usage of Personalized URLS will only enhance the chance a prospect will respond. Because Personalized URLs are so eminently trackable, then the credit of a conversion will then be given to both the direct mail piece as well as the landing page.

Indeed, with this channel-less future, direct mail may change its role for many campaigns. “It will still be a driver to action, but will have a dramatic shift toward use as a follow-up tool,” predicts Grant Johnson, CEO of direct marketing agency Johnson Direct. “It’s much more effective than email from a prospecting aspect and some of those companies who abandon mail will come back and use it to begin the dialogue. As the web grows more and more, mail will play a key part in driving new visitors. Email as a retention tool is very powerful, but too much email, spam blockers, and overuse will make it less effective and some firms will go back to mail.”

3. New Testing Group: the Landing Page

Just as testing remains a key to successful direct mail, the same is true with purl campaigns. “Don’t forget that testing here should still apply, yet is woefully missing,” states Johnson.

For example, a test that shows that conversion rates were much lower than anticipated usually point out the landing page wasn’t synced properly with the direct mail piece, and that could extend to the data, the personalization, the creative or the offer. “Not syncing the landing page with the direct mail piece that brought the prospect there is the #1 destroyer of conversion rates,” affirms Bob Bly, copywriter.

Yazge, Print and Graphic Communications, Jan 2010, click here for direct link.

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