Digital marketers shouldn’t dismiss mail, as part of an integrated campaign it can reap real rewards

My area of expertise is digital marketing, media and ecommerce. However, whilst I remain excited by what is possible with purely digital marketing, I am most intrigued by marketing that makes intelligent, creative and effective use of a mixture of media.

Multi- or omnichannel marketing that choreographs an experience across touchpoints both physical and digital.

You may have seen the recent campaign from MarketReach, the Royal Mail’s direct marketing arm. Marketing spend on direct mail had been falling year on year, by around 5% in 2013, according to Ofcom figures, as budgets were allocated to digital, but the latest AA/Warc numbers predict a return to growth in 2015.

The ‘Mail Men’ campaign, conceived by Publicis Chemistry, ran across digital, print, outdoor and, of course, direct mail. The most memorable quote was from Poke’s Nicolas Roope: “On your 100th birthday you’d be disappointed if the Queen only sent you an email.”

I was inspired to conceive something that combined direct mail with digital and social media, to see how it worked. My simple idea was to use what we digerati call a GOL (good old-fashioned letter) to prompt a tracked visit to my LinkedIn profile with the desired action being a request to connect with me.

Here is how it worked: I bought a direct mail list of digital, marketing and ecommerce professionals. I de-duped that against my existing LinkedIn connections. I then sent a personalised letter to those new possible contacts using Royal Mail’s Mailshots Online tool. In that letter I asked the recipients to visit a URL that I could track (via bitly) which resolved to my LinkedIn profile and then, if they thought it worthwhile, connect to me.

I sent 2,000 letters and the entire process took about two hours with most of that time spent writing the actual letter. The total cost was around £1,500. What would be the average return on investment, or lifetime value, of a high quality professional connection on LinkedIn? It’s more difficult to say for sure but a single recruit, new customer or event speaker would massively repay this small investment.

The results, in terms of profile views and connections are still coming in. I could not track opens or reads of the letter, of course, nor have I been able to track any possible negative sentiment from those who have not responded. However, to date there have been 188 uses of the custom URL, so a 9.4% response rate with 56% of those views coming within the first two days of the letters landing. I have had 156 new LinkedIn connections from those I sent the letter to, so a 7.8% conversion rate and an average cost per new connection of £9.60.

Clearly, there are all sorts of reasons why you cannot draw too many generalised learnings from my small experiment. However, apart from the results, there are some interesting points. One is simply about data protection and marketing. You cannot legally ‘cold’ email people. In B2B it is a little greyer but even if you get away with it, you get so little response and risk such reputational damage that it is not worth it. But you can mail people. So using direct mail to win a digital connection and permission to contact in the future seems a clever way to join up traditional and digital.

Most interesting were the many personal replies and comments I received, particularly from digital professionals extolling the virtues of a letter. A senior ecommerce manager said: “Great to receive your letter, what a breath of fresh air”, while a marketing director commented: “You sent me a letter – old skool. I liked it.” Of my new connections 18 are marketing directors at major brands and 33 are ecommerce/digital directors, so the quality is high too.

Do you have other examples of successfully combining direct mail with digital in compelling ways? We will be interested to hear about them in November at our Festival of Marketing, among other things.

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  • Alex Konrad 30 Apr 2015 at 4:33 am

    I do not have any prior experiences in dealing with direct mail, but I found this article to offer incredible insights that I intend to use in my business’s communication mix in the future. We are constantly told that digital communication is the most immediate and most relevant in today’s approach to marketing and communicating with customers and contacts. Its easy to forget that a piece of genuine mail may be a “breath of fresh air” to a potentially beneficial contact. We are all saturated with digital communication nearly every waking hour of our lives, seeing something different or unexpected can be a pleasant experience and lead to a valuable connection.

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