May 01, 2007
How To

Use Email & Postal Mail to Create a Really Powerful One-Two Punch

SUMMARY: Email and postal mail can work together to make a much more powerful message for your campaign ... when done correctly. But which should you send first? And are you supposed to repeat the copy in both?

We talked to some of the best minds on the subject and gathered info on how to coordinate timing, as well as other tactics and best practices.
If you want to combine email and postal mail to create a bigger impact (and more ROI) for your campaign, which do you send first: the email or the direct mail piece? It's almost the chicken-and-egg conundrum. The answer is it depends.

- For most consumer brands, the direct mail piece should go out first to introduce the campaign. People have grown increasingly sensitive about email, and the DM piece can be just the ice-breaker you need.
- For some brands, it's best to email first, then send the postal piece -- say, for example, with a lead generation campaign for an investment services firm.

"If you are sending [an involving, thicker] package to review, the email-first approach helps get them interested and to look for it in the mail," says Jeanniey Mullen, Partner and Director Email Marketing, OgilvyOne Worldwide.

Disc Makers targets their audience of music recording hobbyists by emailing request-a-catalog campaigns to past customers and opt-in prospects, and then they mail the catalogs. "The email campaigns qualify the catalog requests at a higher level and increase [ROI]," says Kate Sullivan, Marketing Manager. "Most of our sales come over the phone, and the direct mail-email combinations drive those calls."

If you send a follow-up email after the postal mail piece, wait at least three days after the postal piece is scheduled to arrive in-home. And, of course, scheduling with the U.S. Postal Service can be tricky (it's a cliche that unfortunately is still true). It's better to be late with the email than too early -- your copy won't produce the zing you intended (much less make sense) if the recipient hasn't had a chance to look at the mail piece, not to mention the fact that email has a short lifespan as it is.

This is especially true for recipients in the B-to-B crowd, who are often traveling and are too busy to check their in-boxes every day. You want to give that lucrative demo a healthy window of time to experience the campaign at full throttle.

Measuring Impact
The way to measure the effectiveness of email and DM separately in combo campaigns depends on which element drops first, says Mullen. In the end, it stands to reason that the follow-up piece has a greater chance of impacting the sales process.

"What we are seeing at Ogilvy is a shift away from channel specific measurement and more measurement being done on the collective response to a campaign. They look at it along the lines of overall goals and if those channels helped them achieve the initiative."

Susan Baier, Direct Marketing Manager, Esscentual Brands, says email alone won't succeed. Instead, email acts as the third leg of a three-legged stool. "We do all prospecting with direct mail. The catalog and call center try to convert them into buying on the Web so we can collect the email opt-in. 60%-75% of first-time buyers buy online. For second-time purchases, it's 95%. Then email takes over."

Esscentual tests show that catalog-alone has 8.3 times the response rate of just an email while the email-postal combo is 11.2 times higher than email alone. So, the one-two punch was a no-brainer for Baier and her team. "The ROI results weren't as good as the ones we saw with the two working together. The difference was pretty dramatic."

Segmentation & Transactional Messages
Tip #1. Smaller, highly targeted segments react most positively to DM/email combos. Financial/investment, banking and insurance segments as well as high-end cataloger customers produce top results. In addition, nonprofits have seen success driving people to websites with combo campaigns, which is especially worth considering with the increasing number of online donations.

Tip #2. If you're getting email names via a co-op model (such as Abacus), Mullen says it's better to send an email welcome plus a simple DM postcard.

Tip #3. Do small-run tests with DM following your transactional email to see if you can increase those response rates even more. As great as the transactional results we've been seeing, it has to be worth testing a transactional-DM-email campaign triplet.

Tip #4. When sending an email before the postal mail piece, send one of two follow-up emails before mailing the direct mail piece: one for those who opened the first email ("We Just Mailed You Our Benefits Package!") and one with a different message for those who didn't.

Tip #1. It's especially smart to keep your colors, logos, photos and other images as similar as possible across all channels. Lifestyle imagery needs to be especially consistent. Include an image of the cover of the catalog/mail piece in the email to remind the recipient of what they've already seen -- but might still be hiding in a stack of mail.

Tip #2. Don't overlap copy too much between email and postal mail. "We typically recommend that two or three sentences be the same in both pieces," Mullen says. "If the email is going first, it should have very little copy and serve as the teaser for the DM piece. If the email is going second, the DM piece carries the bulk of the message and the mail should solidify those points and have a very strong call-to-action as well as a deadline to get people to act."

Tip #3. Of course, kick-butt design, copy, lists and timing are huge in terms of what results you'll get and are collectively more important than the size of the piece itself. Some catalogers, including Sundance Catalog, ProFlowers and Claire Burke, are finding that the slim-jim format works well with email/ecommerce.

Disc Makers' A/B Prospecting Test
At Disc Makers, Sullivan and her team shared a catalog *requester* A/B email test that weighed a heavy copy approach vs a billboard look (see link to samples below). Even though the clickthrough rate was almost identical, the billboard version generated twice as many requests.

"The lesson is to focus on actually generating the catalog request vs trying to convey all the info in the catalog to the point where they don't need to request it," Sullivan says.

Matchback System
For some old-school DMers, the subject of matchbacks might be a "Yeah, duh," but fresher faces need to know this stuff, too.

Esscentual uses matchback codes on their Claire Burke and VitaBath catalogs that tell about individual customer purchase histories, keep track of what list segment they belong to and let them punch in the numbers at the website when they buy something.

More than anything, the system allows Baier and her team to closely record behavior of what degrees in which customers use the three channels of catalog-email-Web. This helps them tailor their list even further and get a firmer grip on the elusive question of how well the paper book drives Web sales.

Key Lessons Learned
Lesson #1. For all the grumbling about bad email addresses, it's important to remember that not all physical addresses in your file are good. This is why it's advisable to space email that goes out after the direct mail piece with enough time to re-suppress the non-deliverable DM addresses.

It's negative for your brand to send emails with copy and imagery intended for people who have received the DM, but who in fact have not. In fact, you may want to create a backup email campaign solely for those DM non-deliverables.

Lesson #2. Be clear on what you use each element (DM & email) for and establish reasonable goals. If it's to generate qualified leads, don't expect it to turn a profit in the first three to six months. It takes time to get that ball rolling.

"I think there's a tendency in direct mail to just do a postcard because the cost risks are lower," Baier says. "For us, it hasn't been worth the savings. We've done postcards and small eight-pagers, and we haven't got the response that our full catalog has seen."

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from direct/email combos:
Past Sherpa article on using postcards to follow up with email hard bounces:
OgilvyOne Worldwide:

Marketing Software Company - handles Esscentual Brands' matchbacks:

Claire Burke:

Esscentual Brands:

Disc Makers:

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