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Jan 27, 2005
Case Study

How to Improve Direct Mail Responses by Surveying Prospects Before You Start Copywriting

SUMMARY: If you're about to invest in a postal direct mail campaign (or any other pricey lead gen marketing for that matter), you need to make sure your headline and main benefit statement will really appeal to prospects. Just guessing won't do it. But, how can you ask them? Check out this new Case Study about a clever email survey one marketer ran to his house file prior to copywriting his big DM campaign:

Congratulations, your company has just invented a fabulous new widget that's wonderful in many, many ways. How do you figure out which single benefit to spotlight in your launch marketing campaigns?

What headline will really grab the marketplace by its lapels?

Like many B-to-B marketers, Mike Calder, Tektronix Marketing program Manager, didn't have the budget for a formal focus group or to run formal ad campaigns to gauge market response to each of 17+ benefits and features of the company's new waveform rasterizing system, WVR7000.

Would engineers at North America's TV stations be entranced by its portability? Ease of use? Highly accurate testing results?

Calder knew promotions listing all the benefits wouldn't work -- copy dividing focus between too many benefits works as badly as copy highlighting a single non-compelling benefit.

He had a big launch direct mail campaign scheduled to go out to the top engineering lists in just six weeks. But first he needed to find out what would make those engineers respond...


Luckily Calder had an in-house database of prospects he could run test campaigns to. So he decided to whip out an email campaign to it super-quickly....

-> Step One: Survey your house list

Calder wanted to keep things as simple as possible, and turn as many house list prospects into leads for inside sales to close. So he crafted a brief email note with a compelling offer -- click to receive a 60-page guide to SDHD video production.

Next, instead of landing on a traditional registration form to sign up to get the guide, prospects landed on an interactive survey form. As they answered each question, the survey popped another quick question in front of them based on their prior answer.

Questions included area of expertise, and features they value in measuring systems like the WVR7000.

"The first thing we ask is whether they're looking for a product like ours, or just gathering information. The form is like a decision tree: the screens they get next depend on what they answer on the current screen," says Calder. "This way they're not answering questions that don't relate to them."

-> Step Two: Analyze results

"Enough people responded that I knew the results were accurate to within two to three percentage points," Calder reports. Turns out the four main benefits respondents were looking for in a waveform rasterizing system were:

#1. Ease of use
#2. Ability to work with a variety of broadcast standards
#3. Small size
#4. A remote front panel display

#1 and #4 were surprises. "We knew ease of use was important, but we were surprised at how overwhelmingly it was voted the number one criteria for purchase," says Calder.

So now his main copy point was "that you don't have to have a high-level engineer monitoring these tests; they're so easy to use that you can use a technician for the job."

"We also knew that the remote front panel display was important, but we thought it would be ranked #12 or lower," he notes.

A striking survey result was that very few of the respondents mentioned anything about the product's core functionality. "They know that we measure to compliance, and that our competitors measure to compliance," Calder interprets.

If he'd launched an aggressive promotion centered on being the most accurate test equipment, it would have missed the mark.

-> Step Three: Create a direct mail program around "ease of use" The team shared the results of the survey with their writer and graphic designer, who came up with a very simple idea for the cover of the DM tri-fold: a boy playing with blocks, and the words "Easy-to-Use" mentioned prominently in the headline. (Link to creative sample below.)

The boy, shown in black-and-white, is wearing a 1950s-style shirt and playing with wooden blocks that look hand-made. "Most of the engineers we work with are in their 50s and 60s," says Calder. "They've been at the same stations for 20 years. We wanted to appeal to them."

With that demographic in mind, the piece included three response options: an 800-number, a business reply card (BRC), and an RL to a special offer landing page. Calder notes, "I noticed in my own behavior that I used the new technology to a degree and still occasionally sent in a business reply card or called a 1-800 number. So nothing went away completely. "

The landing page creative echoed and expanded on the print creative, including the photo of the boy along with some product shots demonstrating ease of use.

-> Step Four: Kill Two Printing Birds with One Stone

"I didn't have money in the budget for advertising, but you know those magazine sales guys," Calder says. "They'll find a way to get your money!"

Calder jokes, but he and his magazine ad rep came up with a clever way for Tektronix to have its cake and eat it, too. Calder paid for an insert into the journal, and the magazine printed his DM piece for him at the same time, for very little additional money. "All it involved was a black-plate change during printing, and I had my DM piece and the insert for roughly what it would have cost to do either alone."

The postal direct mail dropped six weeks after the first email survey went out.

-> Step Five: Reach Out to Channels

The final step was to include systems integrators in the mail campaign, because their recommendations are often critical to the sale. The team also made customizable PDFs and Quark files available to distributors, who can print them for use with their own house lists.


Calder reports an overall response rate from the direct postal mail campaign of 3.2%, with a 6.1% average from postal mail to the house list.

Of direct mail recipients: 60% Responded via BRC 38% Responded via Web 2% Responded via the phone

Predictably, direct mail recipients who took the step of going online to respond were far more likely to make it all the way through the survey form than names who'd clicked to the form from the first email message:

Form completion rates from landing page entry to finish: 42% of emailed house list clicks 60% of traffic from direct postal mail sent to purchased lists 75% of traffic from direct postal mail sent to house lists

Direct mail leads responding via the Web were 40% more likely to become qualified leads than those who responded via the BRC or phone. "The dialog completion rate for the purchased direct mail lists was 60%. But those responding from the in-house list was even better, 75%!"

Calder adds that he is experiencing a form of "analog" viral marketing, because his mail piece seems to be making the rounds of video engineers. "Many months later, I am still getting a steady stream of people filling out the Web survey. Because the mail piece offered the Web landing page, it could remain active even without a BRC."

He adds, "It's tempting to try just offering the Web as a response option. But the market looks like it's telling me they want a BRC too. The combination of old and new seems the best solution for now."

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples of the email and direct mail campaigns:

Live link to the survey so you can play with it and see how questions differ depending on your answers:

Hering, Hering and Hering Creative Services - the agency that created the direct mail piece for Tektronix (503)699-8642

I-OP, the dynamic logics marketing firm that created the dynamic Web-based forms:

Broadcast Engineering, the magazine that printed both the insert and the DM piece:


See Also:

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