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Is direct mail still effective in the UK?

July 16, 2010
Image of a brochure for Drugs Therapy

The impact of words - good direct mail is essential to marketing results, even in today's online environment

A question asked again and again by business leaders and marketers alike concerns the effectiveness of direct mail. Does it still work? How do you measure it in the online space? Should I be moving my marketing online?

Strange but true, direct marketing today is more important than it has ever been. Why? Because the computer inbox has become a tedious visual experience. We are used to canning hundreds of emails every day because they don’t provide what we want at a glance.

Meanwhile, inexperienced marketers struggle with subject lines to grab attention and avoid the spam filter. Readers can spot a fake subject line from a mile off. And then when the customer arrives at the website, often the copy fails to convince, because it has not been written with the reader in mind.

Unlike email marketing, direct marketing permits a number of sophisticated communication elements to come to the fore. Vogele’s dialogue method, for one: highlighting through subtle degrees different elements of a product’s capability. Visual context – how the product is used. Physical context – yes, you actually exist.

Of course. direct mail has a weakness in that there is no click through mechanism for speed of view and conversion. But what direct mail provides is a message of substance which then gives the reader a REAL reason to visit your site. If your message is compelling, can create trust, and shows real benefits, then you will have a warm customer to visit your site.

However, at this stage a further problem arises. I have seen many websites which seem to abandon the logic of communication, taking the view that online communication is somehow different. But trust is a process which begins at the first brand touchpoint and carries on throughout the order process and the post-sales follow through. Often, a reason for the underperformance of web marketing is the inarticulacy of the environment and usability paths.

So it is essential today to invest in an holistic approach to the customer: direct mail that sells, website copy that convinces; web architecture that makes purchase easy, trustworthy and fast. Copywriting, therefore, is crucial to effectiveness – from sales letter and brochure, through web copy, even to the order confirmation page and the welcome letter the customer receives when the product arrives.

And yet business leaders still tell me that direct mail is underperforming. Responses are down. But let’s look at this further – management is willing to invest in online marketing and is then confused when they see they know that 50% of their marketing works but they are not sure which 50%.

In truth, measurement today is more difficult  but is just requires a different view – perhaps a better view. In the past, it was a simple method of measuring inbound orders on order forms, faxes, white mail and even inbound telephone calls.

Now, marketers need to study data more closely. One of the few ways of getting reasonable analysis is to look at the contact details of orders against the data sets used in the campaign. This is of course time consuming but the results are interesting. Marketers are finding that many online orders originated offline via direct mail.

There’s nothing new in this. Years ago I was taught a lesson in data by an MD who manually went through an entire database of customers to check data and attribute order sources. Time consuming? Yes. Worthwhile – absolutely. Many times over.

So to answer the question whether direct mail is still effective, study your orders and study the lists you have used. People are responding in different ways now but the initial driver is in many cases the “old fashioned” direct mail piece.

Invest in good quality direct mail, review your online copy and customer paths and enhance your customer experience. You will be pleasantly surprised at how a combination of direct mail, value-based copywriting and simple consumer routes can transform your marketing performance.


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