With the economy in its present state, every direct marketer needs to be obsessed with ROI—and cost-cutting is obviously a big part of the equation.
Several important direct marketing production technologies have already reached critical mass—variable data personalization, Web-to-print, cross-media marketing, personalized urls (PURLs), micro-Websites, and automated/trigger response, to cite the most popular.
These tools are all about controlling waste and working lean, mean, and green. You can't (or shouldn't) do business without considering these options.
Here's what else we need to be doing every day:
Taking advantage of every sophisticated mailing option available. For any campaign or project demanding automation discounts—and that's most of what we do—the new Intelligent Bar Code is the industry's new best practice. Even though IMB won't be required until May 2011, smart mailers have been using it for quite some time and clients are enthusiastic.
With IMB, direct marketers actually know when mail has arrived. Meanwhile, undeliverables hover at zero and hand-keying database updates is a thing of the past.
Second, the U.S. Postal Service's rigorous new "move update" requirements, in effect only since late November 2008, will change the way mailers do business. That is to say, very carefully, with far less error, and—ultimately—more profitably. Work with a mailer who understands all the ways to parse your mailing list before it goes postal.
Third, investigate the "co-horts": copalletization and commingling. These twins ensure that you're getting the best postal rates possible. Select a mailer approved for one of these services.
Making sure your direct mail is properly designed.
Postal regulations are now so complicated that even postal service employees sometimes don't understand them. Before you design any direct mail package, check with a mailer who can vet your concept.
Is your design a postcard? Not until the U.S. Postal Service says it is. Are you intrigued by a square mailer? Maybe, but MERLIN—the postal service's automated mail evaluaton machine—balks at square, so that design could cost you an automation discount. Is your package outside the USPS size parameters? You'll not only lose discounts, you'll incur a surcharge.
Testing the magic of automated response. The best campaigns will anticipate, embrace, and predict possibilities, then seamlessly direct the results into appropriate channels. Did your member or prospect request more information? It's ready to go out the door. Did a registration or product order come in? You send a "thank-you," of course, but you also are prepared with a cross-sell or upsell.
At last year's DMAW/AFPDC Bridge Conference, Wendy Hurwitz, senior director of database marketing at Gannett, described a mind-blowing system where retention marketing for a vast network of subscribers to 70-plus regional publications is largely managed through automated response.
Just don't expect it to be easy, Hurwitz cautions. Issues abound. For instance, how much contact management is too much? How do you integrate fax and e-mail? "You can get caught up in what technology enables you to do, versus what you can really manage," she says.
As with all challenges, tremendous opportunity dances with change. Smart marketers will find a way to make the new lean, green, and mean tools produce better than ever—and we'll measure the results, just like we've always done.
Crystal Uppercue is marketing manager at EU Services, a 400-employee, full-service direct marketing production facility in Rockville, MD. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.