E-mail Focus: Plays Well with Others

Direct mail and e-mail get it together  

Online marketers think they're pretty smart. Whether they cut their teeth on traditional marketing approaches such as direct mail or began their careers as online marketers, they know that today they're working on the leading edge of marketing practices. E-mail marketing. Paid search. Mobile marketing. As these fields develop, many marketers are eager to learn about the next new thing that will add luster to their résumés. Many assume these new channels will replace the old.

But marketers who are focused on results should not overlook the tactics of yesterday. Combining old and new approaches can have powerful results, none more so than teaming good old direct mail with e-mail.

Both tactics share some similar strengths. Both allow detailed targeting and segmentation. Marketers can focus on those who are most likely to respond. Both methods can accommodate variable content based on segmentation. While the overall message remains the same, certain content blocks or offers can vary based on the segment or even the individual. And since results of both e-mail and direct mail can be measured, both allow precise refinement through testing to generate optimal results.

But direct mail has something e-mail lacks. It's tangible. A prospect or customer can hold it in their hands and touch it. Turn the pages. Even smell it, if appropriate (think a flower shop advertising daffodils in the spring).

Direct mail can also present the complete story. Multipage layouts and brochures can tell a story from beginning to end. While this is possible online with Web sites and microsites, it's hard to deny the sexiness of a glossy brochure in your hands as you leaf through the daily mail at your kitchen table.

Of course, e-mail has its own strengths, too. With its low cost-per-contact, e-mail can be used to build a relationship over time though multiple contacts. It can also have a more immediate call-to-action. Consumers are able to respond immediately by purchasing, activating or engaging through Web sites.

There are barriers to bringing these two channels together. Often, responsibilities for direct mail and e-mail lie in different organizations. And it is difficult to get these groups to work together. There are also different timelines required for each.

When working together, direct mail and e-mail can produce results greater than the sum of the parts. A recent example from the electronics industry showed that both e-mail and direct mail had a positive individual campaign performance. But when both tactics were used, revenue was 88 percent higher per household than direct mail alone and 14 percent higher than e-mail alone.

Here are some suggestions to start an integrated program:

Planning: Bring together the people from the organization who can make this approach work. Show them how the goals for a combined approach can help them achieve their individual goals.

Execution: Use resources who are experts in each channel. The coordination of both channels requires strong project management. Find people who are good at both.

Measurement: Effective measurement of multiple channels requires new techniques. Be sure to establish these parameters before campaign execution so all team members agree before campaign results are analyzed.

So, all you hip online marketers, don't be afraid to try some old-fashioned direct mail tactics as a way to boost your response rates. Most likely, you will see measurable increases in campaign performance. And who knows, you might just learn something from those old-time direct mail people.

Tim Judson is vice president of client services at Merkle. (

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