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%).

 

Shoppers Demand Seamless Omnichannel Retail Strategies

Omnichannel marketing is the rule for today’s retailing. While print catalogs continue as a vital merchant tool, with 42% of households reading catalogs per the U.S. Postal Service, integration of multiple channels–including online, mobile and social with direct mail–is now essential to our catalog and e-commerce clients’ success. Unfortunately, while the majority of consumers expect to shop seamlessly across all those channels, only 7% of retailers provide the unified “start the sale anywhere, finish the sale anywhere” experience that customers want, per the recent “2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey” by BRP Consulting, a retail management consulting firm.

Omnichannel, Cross-Device Shopping Is Now the Norm

Marketers just can’t afford to ignore that the majority of shoppers now interact with promotions, educational content and purchase services via multiple channels and devices. According to the same BRP study, three in five (62%) consumers surveyed said they check online reviews/ratings before visiting a store, yet just 61% of retailers offer consumer product reviews for research! Shoppers now rely on mobile to continue the digitally supported buying process in-store, with nearly 60% of shoppers looking up product information and prices while using their mobile phones in stores, per Retail Dive’s 2017 Consumer Survey. Also per BRP, nearly three out of four (73%) of consumers want the ability to track orders across all points of interaction, going beyond an estimated delivery date to include when the order is being prepared, date shipped from the warehouse, etc. Plus customers expect an automated return process, with 68% of consumers surveyed telling BRP they are more likely to choose a retailer offering an automated returns process.

Analytics Need Complex Channel/Device Attribution

Merchants can leverage customers’ cross-device penchant to optimize acquisition and conversion, argues a Direct Marketing News article by Pierre DeBois. But they must keep in mind that, while the opportunity to boost ad frequency and content persuasion across channels is huge, smart management is required to avoid turning targeted promotion into a bludgeon. As Bill Kee, Google’s group product manager for attribution, highlighted at the 2017 Google Marketing Next conference, “If I am on three devices, and if I see your ad five times, it means you’ve reached me 15 times…believe me I get it.” The first place to start is good omnichannel analytics to understand the contribution of each channel to ROI and its place in the customer journey. Only then can merchants cost-effectively tailor targeting and investment to maximize sales. One useful analytics tool is Google’s Unique Reach report, which displays digital ad frequency metrics across devices, campaigns, and formats to measure how many times a person views a given ad, and combines attribution influences from AdWords, DoubleClick, and Google Analytics, suggests DeBois.

Using Images and Chat to Direct the Customer Journey

Good omnichannel analytics also can improve use of image and video content to maximize the proven effectiveness of image/video in digital engagement, to answer the customer demand for education, and to direct prospects through the sales funnel. However, quantities of images bombarding customers across multiple channels can overwhelm and confuse, so both media curation and a content mapping strategy aligned to the customer journey are needed. One example of a targeted image strategy is use of an “image story” feature on a social media platform to orchestrate images and/or a short video, notes DeBois. Pinterest Lens, Instagram Stories, and Twitter Moments are all image story features. Because the majority of consumers research products and services online now, marketers also can gain an edge over competitors by offering customer-facing elements such as chatbots. In contrast to apps, which may be used only for a few discrete tasks and then ignored, a chatbot’s programmable assistance can provide both engagement and continuing response performance improvement.

For more, see the Direct Marketing News article.