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The Direct Marketing Troubleshooter: If Your Response Rates are Down, Stay Calm—and Read on.

Dec 16, 2015 9:10:28 AM

You’ve done your due diligence.  Still, your direct marketing response rates are sagging like an old pair of stretch pants, or waning like voter turnout in a midterm election.  All eyes are on you. Just yesterday, your boss flashed you his infamous death stare when you passed in the hallway.  Your heartrate is up.  It’s panic time.

Before you think of renouncing your citizenship and heading for parts unknown, consider the following:

1. Eyeball your back end
Don’t start turning your world upside down until you’ve ruled out the obvious and proven your attribution methods first. Verifying email performance is relatively easy, as most major email marketing applications provide tools for measuring open and click rates, plus a lot more. Attribution for banners and other online advertising is just as straightforward.
Mail can be harder to track, however. Experience teaches that, in the absence of such things as specific offer codes, PURLs (Personalized URLs) and unique 800 numbers, direct mail response rates can very easily be underreported. Consider using these elements to tighten things up.

2. You’ve got a list. Check it twice (or thrice)
Many experts believe that 30% of a campaign’s power is based on the strength of its data (notably the list). Whether you subscribe to the rule or not, your list is a great place to start sleuthing.
First, make sure your database is free of duplicates. Your campaign might be right on target, very compelling and elicit a strong reaction. But extraneous mail pieces sent to a single recipient are pure waste, and will drive down your numbers, even if that recipient responds.
Next, check list freshness through facilities like NCOA (National Change of Address) or ECOA (Email Change of Address). You might have the right audience attributes, but old information could be your problem. This is especially important with B2B campaigns, as people switch jobs and positions at a faster pace these days.
Check list suppression and/or selection rules, too. Campaigning to prospects who have already responded is a frighteningly common mistake, an utter waste of effort, and potentially annoying to your yea-sayers.
Finally, consider that you might simply have a bad or the wrong list. If you follow DM best practices, you should constantly test new lists anyway. So, work closely with your list provider to explore alternative sources and selects.

3. Make them an offer they can’t refuse
Your offer—specifically, the incentive you provide to elicit response—is one of the biggest drivers of DM performance. (Not convinced? Read James Pennington’s article Understanding the True Power Behind Marketing Success: The Offer.)
Do you even have an offer? If not, whip one up pronto, and make darned sure it’s going to entice your target audience. Test, test, and test to find one that provides sufficient motivation without costing too much and ruining your ROI. Place your offer prominently throughout the marketing piece. What’s more, since an unopened email or mail package is practically pointless, you would do well to tease your offer in the email subject line or on your outside envelope.

4. Know when things hit home
To be most effective, the right offer has to reach your audience at just the right time, whether that involves a particular life event (birth of a child, new home ownership, etc.), other elements of your marketing campaign (a seminar), or something happening in the marketplace (AEP or healthcare insurance open enrollment).
There is no hard-and-fast rule on this, so test to find the best lead times for your particular objectives. By the way, the U.S. Postal Service offers Intelligent Mail® barcoding, which may help you optimize your efforts. The instantaneous nature of email makes it much easier to adjust.

5. Massage your messaging and creative
Many contend that creative contributes a mere 20% to overall DM results. Practically speaking, that means that a great offer sent to the right person at the right time is still likely to earn a respectful response. Still, poor creative is often one of the most glaring problems and easiest to fix.
Start by looking at your overall value proposition, which actually transcends copy and design and is absolutely essential to the success of your campaign. Make sure yours is clear, cogent, consistent, and that it answers the all-important question in the prospect’s mind: “What’s in it for me?” If not, you should summon your company’s brain trust and craft a better one.
While you’re at it, see that your creative employs words and images, plus a tone and manner attractive to your target audience, and that you have a strong call to action repeated throughout the campaign.

6. Wake up to the truth of marketing fatigue
Multitouch campaigns are proven effective, but not immune from the law of diminishing returns. If you’ve communicated to the same group two or three times in a row and see a steady decline in performance, rest for a month. You might well enjoy an uptick in results your next time out.

Of course, response rates are a critical metric for most any direct marketing campaign.  Yet, like the Dow Jones Industrial Average or Miley Cyrus’s popularity, they rise and fall.  The secret to long-term success is not abandoning your efforts, but taking a pragmatic approach instead, and making necessary repairs to keep the machine running strong.

Michael Walton

Written by Michael Walton

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