Time travel special – Cool direct marketing takeaways

I remember the olden days of offline direct marketing, way before t’internet was born. And I have very fond memories of my time in corporate client DM, both agency and client side. But it’s about much more than mere nostalgia. It’s remarkable how much you can learn about digital marketing by harking back to traditional DM.

Millions of mailing packs – Testing, testing for direct marketing success

I worked with Royal & Sun Alliance for a few years in the 1990s, sending out literally millions of insurance direct mail offers to customers of the big high street banks and building societies. Our largest mailing, as far as I remember, was a seven million behemoth of a Barclays Bank Insurance Services Company DM campaign.
We split the database into a plethora of segments, each containing at least 25,000 records to ensure our results were statistically valid and adequately empirical. Each segment represented a different creative treatment, most of which were very subtle and many of which involved copy changes.
As it turned out, simply adding a bright red flash to the corner of the outer envelope boosted response by several percentage points. Next time around we rolled the winning creative treatment out across the entire database and made an absolute killing.
Digital marketing takeaways:

  • Test different approaches to see which works best. Then roll out the top performer
  • Things change. Some organisations identify the most powerful approach then keep doing the same old thing for years – American Express did it when I worked as a direct marketing contractor there several years ago. But it’s much cleverer to re-test on an ongoing basis to stay ahead of the game
  • There’s no point testing if your segments are too small for the results to be statistically meaningful
  • Seemingly-small changes can make a huge difference to campaign performance

Mortgage protection insurance hits the big time

A few years later, in response to a fast-worsening recession, I was involved in a mailing campaign to the customers of a small regional building society, offering mortgage protection insurance. At a time when people’s homes were being repossessed hand over fist, it was an excellent cultural fit and bang on as far as the Zeitgeist was concerned. It sold like hot cakes. I believe we spent about £35,000 on the campaign, which generated well over £130,000 in first year premium revenue. Not bad… that’s what I call a staggering ROI. I was so excited I even wrote a poem about it for the company magazine.
Digital marketing takeaways:

  • If you perceive a need, a gap in the market, a trending product or service, do your best to fulfil it
  • Sometimes, timing is everything

Lick ‘n’ stick your way to a marketing fortune

Interestingly, when we employed a mailing house to lick and stick real stamps onto mail packs sent to 50% of a large financial services database, the stamped segment dramatically out-performed the segment whose outer envelopes were laser-franked by a machine. And a hand-written outer envelope did better than any DM campaign I’ve ever been involved with, even though it took the mailing house staff a week to address them by hand and it cost a small fortune.
Digital marketing takeaways:

  • Make your campaign as personal and ‘real’ as you can and it might make all the difference to the way people feel about the offer… and your brand

Pre-paid envelope fun

A segment given pre-paid reply envelopes out-ran a segment who got reply envelopes they had to stamp themselves, winning the race by a mile. Quids in!
Digital marketing takeaways:

  • The easier you can make it for people to respond, the more likely they are to respond

Making life easy for less-than-motivated punters

When we pre-filled a form using laser print technology instead of asking the recipient to fill it in, we boosted response by almost 30%.
Digital marketing takeaways:

  • This is another example of how making people’s life simple or saving them time can increase response to marketing campaigns

The power of choice and the influence of colour

Giving people three ways to pay worked a great deal better than only giving them one way to pay. And a bright yellow envelope, reminiscent of those urgent telegraphs were once delivered in, beat a white envelope hands down, generating 75% more revenue.
Digital marketing takeaways:

  • Choice is good. People like to pay in different ways, so give them as many payment options as you can
  • There’s a lot of creative value in making your stuff stand out from the crowd

Applying tried and tested direct marketing principles and practices online

As you can see there’s a lot of contemporary relevance in DM techniques, processes, procedures and best practice. And it translates beautifully online, mostly because while media and marketing platforms change, human behaviour remains much the same.

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