Originally published in Inside Direct Mail
By Britt Brouse
July 1, 2008
One “urban legend” in direct marketing is the story of the direct mail campaign with an online call to action that completely fails. Certainly you’ve heard horror stories about testing a URL call to action, in hopes that, like an 800 number, the URL will boost response. Yet, when the results come in, the mailer is several percentage points below its expected response levels—perhaps even lower than previous non-URL campaigns.
What happened to the unaccounted responses? Are they unconverted sales from people who visited the URL without making a purchase? Without proper tracking, the campaign manager cannot know. The tale ends with the marketer, laboring under the misconception that online calls to action don’t work in direct mail.
“A lot of companies call us and ask, ‘What’s a pURL, and how does it work?’ And we explain it to them, and they reply, ‘Really? It’s just putting a Web address in a direct mail piece? We’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t work,’” said Rio Longacre, co-founder and VP of operations for New York–based Indros Group, a developer and reseller of pURL software solutions. “The dirty little secret in the interactive world is that every time direct mail goes out, there’s a spike in Web leads. But, no one knows where they’re coming from because no one puts in their key codes,” he added.
Using pURLs, mailers can avoid the unknown and measure every response. “The mailers themselves will be able to tell for the first time every single person who’s going online, how often and everything they’re doing—even if they’re not doing anything,” Longacre shared. So, those missing percentage points in the sad story earlier can be accounted for as inactive visitors, or nonvisitors to the pURL—both valuable pieces of information.
“I think pURLs are innovative and a new method of interacting and engaging at a deeper level with a customer or prospect, but really it’s simply an evolution of direct marketing strategy. Many of the things we do as direct marketers can be improved by using this strategy,” said Jeff Haggin, CEO and president of Haggin Marketing in Mill Valley, Calif. Here, Haggin and other leading pURL marketers share best practices and strategies to help build successful pURL campaigns.
1. Start With Squeaky-Clean Lists
First, be sure to update and validate your mailing list. Then, Longacre suggested choosing the appearance of the pURLs—all capitalized, all lowercase, first name and last name—and checking that your pURLs’ appearance is consistent with your data file. “Some names will be missing fields; some will have them combined together, or combined with Mr. and Mrs. If the pURLs are too long or unwieldy, you are defeating the whole purpose of making it easy for people to respond,” he warned.
2. Design Mailers to Push Prospects Online
Depending on the product or service you’re selling, you may not need to keep the design of the mailer and the landing page identical. “They have two different functions; the function of the mail piece is to catch the prospect’s eye in the mailbox and drive him or her to the Web. Once you get [the prospect] to the Web, the function of the site is to make the sale,” instructed Karen Riley, president and owner of Mt. Kisco, New York–based direct marketing firm, The MDI Group. “You have to find a way to entice and reveal that they’re going to get much more information once they get to the website.” Riley cited a pURL used for a magazine subscription offer, where the mail piece incentivized with cost savings, and the landing page flaunted the editorial content.
3. Use Web 2.0 Wisely
“The job today is to drive people online where there is an opportunity to enhance the experience, so prospects can make more informed purchase decisions faster,” Haggin noted. Using video, audio and other features, marketers can build up the sales experience for the user. “Video, demos and testimonials—stuff you can’t do on a static page—that’s the killer application where offline meets online,” he continued. Meanwhile, Riley mentioned a pURL campaign selling insurance card covers, where Web 2.0 bells and whistles weren’t necessary to sell the commodity item and the down-and-dirty
approach worked best.
4. Tailor Offers to Your Demographic
“Like any other direct response tool, knowing your list and knowing your demographics just allows you to do more,” Riley advised. For example, she said if you are selling an automobile and you know your prospect is looking at a certain price range, you can only have media on the landing page that’s relevant to that range of vehicles. “Once you’ve successfully driven people to the website, you can do a bigger, customized, personalized sale. You can customize the pURLs against the list and have the graphics and the video and the audio change per user,” Riley explained.
5. Integrate Trigger Marketing
“It’s really about integrating the pURLs into a cross-media marketing strategy: Being able to set automated e-mail follow-ups on a timed basis to reach out to people in different ways based on information you know about them,” Longacre said. Both lifecycle and seasonal triggers are great opportunities for personalization. “If you’re talking to a new mom and you’re presenting new-mom merchandise and content, and you marry that with that particular customer’s transactional experience—that you as a direct marketer have—that’s golden,” Haggin explained. He added key calendar holidays can be used to tie in seasonally appropriate merchandise to personal transaction histories for a powerful combination that meets prospects’ gift-giving obligations.
6. Capture Rogue Response
Be sure to set up an option to capture and track those prospects who may lose track of the mail piece, but still want to respond or qualify for your offer. Longacre suggested a gURL, or general URL, tied into the campaign. “So let’s say the pURLs are johnsmith.toyotabuybackoffer.com, there would also be a general URL set up at toyotabuybackoffer.com … and it wouldn’t be personalized, but they’d still be able to submit their information and qualify for the offer,” he said.
7. Track and Learn From Customer Behavior
“Everything should be tracked. What’s nice about this technology is you can see every page that people visit, any responses they give, how long they’re there and how many times they log on,” commented Longacre. Not only can marketers track all of these variables, but they are able to receive all of this data in real time. “Direct mailers, prior to this [technology], sometimes have had to wait days, if not weeks, to get their data from the fulfillment houses about the response to the direct mail,” he continued. As pURLs become more popular, service providers are perfecting their tracking technologies. “There are tools and methods available to measure and optimize pURL performance, and it’s new and evolving. We’re doing it now, and a year from now, it’ll be that much more advanced,” Haggin said.
8. Test pURL Campaigns Head-to-Head
Once you do have a winning pURL campaign, you can improve on it by testing on both the digital and printed sides. “If you want to do an A/B split test, you can clone your campaign and use slightly different variations of copy or images,” Longacre suggested. Also, testing a pURL postcard campaign can be very inexpensive, added Riley. “We dropped a postcard in the mail, and we did it with one of the less expensive engines … so our cost per name was really inexpensive and it was a house list, so it was a really cheap test. The most expensive part about it was the creative. In that respect, it really beat forecasts,” she said.
9. Advertise Your Security Measures
Have a security boiler plate ready to promote the integrity of your software to clients. If you are purchasing the service as a middleman, the vendor will be able to provide the information to you. In addition, requiring a unique ID login to activate a pURL can make prospects feel safer. “Marketers can include any personal information this person would know already, such as their phone number or their e-mail address. Used in combination with a unique ID, you can ensure that not only is this the correct person, but they have the mail piece sitting in their hand in order to proceed,” Longacre described.
10. Adjust Metrics to Accommodate pURLs
Most importantly, pURLs can be very profitable. “Your response is good, but your ROI is even better,” Riley remarked. Longacre reported response lifts ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent and as high as 500 percent when using direct mail pURLs. To weigh its benefits, marketers must also account for the pURLs’ costs. “It’s important in such a campaign to hold out a no-mail control group and a no-pURL control group and measure incremental lifts from such a tactic,” said Haggin, who added that it’s crucial to amortize the costs of the pURL deployment among the pURL population of recipients and take that higher cost into consideration when measuring ROI on the response. By his account, response rate multiplied by average order size should beget a margin greater than your cost.
11. Find the Most Suitable Vendor
When selecting a vendor, be sure to get a big-picture idea of your needs and the provider’s capabilities. “If you need help on design, creative and copy—you want to make sure the vendor has those capabilities. Obviously, some companies are more full-service than others,” Longacre explained. He also advised asking for a vendor’s campaign history, case studies, testimonials and samples of the reporting interface. Riley, who purchases services, agreed the reporting is a key factor in vendor selection. “Make sure the reporting that you get is going to satisfy whether or not you are going to need to re-test,” she concluded.