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The Harte Hanks Blog

Global Patient Support Needs to ‘Think Local’

PharmaPatient support programs play a vital role in facilitating better disease management and treatment optimization. Traditionally pharmaceutical companies launched such initiatives on a local level. However, from a regional perspective, this sometimes resulted in patchy and fragmented support. Today, many pharmaceutical companies are driving centralized programs that benefit from a more sophisticated and strategic approach.

This approach brings many advantages around compliance, visibility of success and cost-effectiveness of implementation and maintenance. Yet centralized programs can be inherently complex and unwieldy. This is compounded by the fact that they often need to be coordinated at a global or area level to maximize infrastructure and management efficiencies.

Walking the line between global/regional efficiency and local effectiveness is no mean feat. Patient support is not a ‘one size fits all’ discipline; activity needs to be expertly tailored and carefully orchestrated.

At Harte Hanks, we believe five critical factors underpin patient support that is successful both at a global and a local level.

  1. Gather and leverage local knowledge

Understanding the nuances and intricacies of healthcare provision in different regions is essential. Ideally, you should have people on the ground who have in-depth knowledge of their local system and keep a finger on the pulse of any changes or developments.

Typical patient paths can vary significantly between countries for the same disease. Take the patient touchpoints and interactions for the U.S. healthcare system versus the UK’s NHS or Spain’s Seguridad Social. Prescription behaviours, drug dispensing and the length of time between specialist visits can be entirely different. There can even be differences in the role of healthcare practitioners during treatment, in terms of nurse interaction levels, nurse-led advice, pharmacist involvement and primary or speciality care.

  1. Create space for consultation and collaboration

Regional offices need to have clear channels of communication with the head office, and regular opportunities to report back on the local healthcare environment. They need to know that their observations are taken into account and actively used to shape the delivery of patient support in their territory.

At a strategic level, this collaborative approach enables program goals and objectives to be adapted to the realities of each country and healthcare system. It also needs to work at a tactical level, with regional teams of medical and regulatory professionals reviewing and approving materials before they are issued to healthcare professionals and patients.

Pharmaceutical companies often lack the time and resources required to give adequate attention to each country of a global patient support program. This is especially true when implementation needs to happen in parallel with a product launch or other internal deadlines. Working with a trusted third party can be a mutually beneficial solution for individual countries and the global program as whole. They can offer expert guidance as well as coordinate materials distribution and facilitate knowledge sharing.

  1. Ensure processes and training are water-tight

It’s vital that staff delivering the program, especially those with direct patient contact, understand indicators of pharmacovigilance events. Processes need to be in place to ensure that any spontaneous or solicited reports of adverse effects are handled appropriately and escalated in the right timeframes.

A centralized model can ensure that training compliance efforts are optimized and that all pharmacovigilance processes are managed in a cohesive way. A balance needs to be struck to ensure that training and reporting procedures meet certain standards, while respecting any elements or formats that vary between countries.

  1. Coordinated multi-channel communications

Using a CRM suite to facilitate patient and healthcare provider communications boosts efficiency and enables better control of patient support programs. For example, Harte Hanks can act as a multichannel one-stop-shop which is managed centrally but enables local offices to customize activity, such as:

  • Secure data management and hosting, in-line with local privacy rules
  • SMS, email and direct mail assets (drawing on print-on-demand and personalization capabilities)
  • Creation, development and hosting of personalized online portals for patients and healthcare providers, with self-tracking tools to support all digital communications
  • Advanced reporting and analytics to measure success and monitor progress

CRM and digital services should be flexible enough to accommodate multilingual communications and adaptations for the individual needs of each country. For instance, a global program will encounter various regulatory frameworks and the requirements of medical, legal and regulatory teams differ between countries.

  1. Continual improvement philosophy

If program goals and objectives are tailored to local regions, it follows that KPIs need to be tailored too. For measurement to be meaningful, successes or failures need to be considered in context. And they need to feed into the development of ongoing goals and objectives geared towards a cycle of continual improvement. To facilitate effective management at a macro level, it’s important to ensure global real-time visibility across the entire programme, from high-level KPIs to more detailed local perspectives.

The cornerstone of any successful patient support program is recognition that patients are people. They have their own lives, families, work and hobbies, as well as living with a disease or illness. They deserve to be listened to and helped to live their life to the fullest.

Treating patients as people within a program that operates on a global scale is complicated., but with an intelligent, carefully coordinated approach that draws on local knowledge, it is possible to achieve this. Communicating with patients at the right time with the right message via the most appropriate channel is half of the story. Ensuring information and interventions are precisely tailored to their real needs completes the circle, both supporting the treatment and enhancing the overall patient experience.

Harte Hanks handles patient support programmes for leading global pharmaceutical companies. Patient data is handled sensitively and an integrated approach ensures improved patient support and outcomes. Natalia Gallur has more than ten years’ experience in the sector. To learn more about the services we offer, take a look at our case studies.

Get to Know the Harte Hanks Team

Belinda Casper, Group Account Director

Casper.headshotBelinda is a leader in the direct marketing industry. She’s been with Harte Hanks for more than 25 years, and has 30+ years of experience in leading operation, strategic and account management teams, primarily supporting financial clients. Belinda’s proven leadership in managing cross-functional teams within our organization insures seamless integration with the data, analytics, strategy and execution teams. She’s the real deal. I think we need to know more about this Harte Hanks rock star, don’t you?

Q: Tell us what a typical day at Harte Hanks looks like from your perspective.

There really isn’t such a thing as a typical day for me, and this is why I’ve loved my job all of these years! Each day and each client brings a new challenge and an opportunity to learn, grow and help our clients continue to evolve and succeed. The only thing that might be typical about my day is the fact I’m on a lot of calls. But each day, these calls are different based on the subject, and who’s on the calls.

Q: What is your role in making customer interactions smarter and how did you get there?

I lead the account team who supports our financial clients. In doing so, we are leading multi-functional teams, which provide strategic, creative, analytics, and database services for our financial clients.

Q: What is your favorite part of working for Harte Hanks?

I love working with many people from different disciplines and backgrounds internally and with many different clients. The evolution of marketing and financial services ensures the opportunity for continuous learning and growth. But, what I love most is the ability to work directly with our clients to solve their marketing and business problems and opportunities.

Q: What about the future of marketing are you most excited about? Trends? Tools? Platforms?

The ability to tie segmentation and personalized messages to create a consistent customer experience in all channels continues to mean different things in each of the industries we support and in each year we evolve to deliver this in different and impactful ways. Knowing that we haven’t yet seen what the impact of wearables will have on marketing is exciting too.

Q: If you could have the skills to do any other job at Harte Hanks not in your current department, what would you like to do?

I would like to be in the creative group. They always have so much fun together and they’re just so . . . creative!

Q: What’s on your bucket list?

I’ve already started checking things off my bucket list the past few years. I jumped out of a plane, went to Italy, and got my 500RYT therapeutic yoga instructor certification all within the last four years. My youngest son went to college four years ago, and I did not miss a beat to make my list of things I wanted to do, and start doing them. Most remaining bucket list items include new and unique places to travel. I hope to travel to Australia, Asia and return to Europe in the next 10 years.

Harte Hanks Puts Inaugural Transport Award for “Carrier of the Quarter” into Motion

Recognition Program Awards Top 5 Truckload Carriers; $1000 Grand Prize Awarded at Year’s End

Shipping fulfillment postIn today’s digital world, direct mail is often overlooked. Yet as one of the most effective marketing tools around, direct mail is a key cornerstone of many successful campaigns. With a response rate of approximately four percent, direct mail far surpasses other channels like email marketing and paid search, with response rates for each clocking in around 0.1 percent.

At Harte Hanks we understand the importance of direct mail. Harte Hanks completes over three million shipments of time-sensitive materials annually, making it one of the largest providers of third-party logistics in the United States. We also understand that it all wouldn’t be possible without our Truckload carriers.

For the first time in the company’s history, Harte Hanks is implementing a Carrier of the Quarter Program. As the name suggests, each quarter, Harte Hanks will identify the top 5 Truckload carriers, who provided superior customer service to Harte Hanks’ clients.

Truckload Carrier of the Quarter are based on the following criteria:

  1. Number of loads transported
  2. On-time pickup and delivery performance
  3. No unresolved or delinquent claims
  4. Maintaining a Department of Transportation Satisfactory or Unrated Safety Rating.
  5. No adverse comments on Carrier Watch (CSA’s)

Out of 1300 carriers, the five winners for Truckload Carriers are:

  • Larrabee Trucking LLC, Coatesville PA
  • Lama Express Inc, Rosemont IL
  • Beltrans Ltd, Pottstown PA
  • Bear Transportation, Yorba Linda CA
  • Perfect Transportation LLC, Indianapolis IN

At the end of the year, Harte Hanks Logistics will select one winner from each quarter to receive the inaugural “Carrier of the Year.” The grand prize will be $1000.

Direct mail shipments are an integral part of Harte Hanks’ and our clients’ success, and it is through the strong partnership with our Truckload carriers that we can ensure on-time delivery at highly competitive pricing.

Selfies with the Postmaster General and the Future of Direct Mail

future of direct mail
My selfie with the Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, at the National Postal Forum

Of the myriad of industries affected by the shift to digital, the postal service may have been amongst the hardest hit. With the introduction of email and texts in the early 2000s, hand-written letters became increasingly antiquated and the decline of traditional mail began. It continues today as short digital communications – IMs, Snapchats, tweets and Vines – become the preferred method of interaction amongst younger, and increasingly older, demographics. It’s becoming more and more apparent that today’s generation sees personal mail as a thing of the past, right up there with newspapers, fax machines and VHS recorders.

The United States Postal Service (USPS), however, is optimistic about the future for two reasons: e-commerce and direct mail. Harte Hanks had the pleasure of meeting with the 74th Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, at the National Postal Forum a few weeks back. We had many interesting discussions about the future of the postal service, why direct mail is still relevant and what innovations are coming down the pipeline for the postal industry.

It’s About Personalization, Not Volume

The key takeaway is this: direct mail in 2015 and beyond is going to be all about personalization, not volume. Gone are the days of blasting out millions of identical flyers to every region and human being you have an address for in your database. Fortunately, this is where Harte Hanks exceeds—cleansing data, analyzing it and translating that into smarter, more personal customer interactions.

With today’s sophisticated data analytics and insights, we can actually geo-target and create customized materials for our customers. For example, perhaps Bed, Bath & Beyond wants to target all females 45 years of age or older who are married with kids, who actively post on their Pinterest “Party & Gatherings” type board – and who live in a certain postal region. The conversion rate – and the potential revenue produced – for Bed Bath & Beyond’s direct mail flyer for discounts on family party supplies for the summer is going to skyrocket when it reaches the right mailboxes. Getting the right message, to the right customer, at the right time is our legacy at Harte Hanks.

The Future of Direct Mail

When used correctly, direct mail continues to be an extremely relevant and cost efficient channel. And it’s a win-win-win for USPS, brands and consumers. Consumers want to receive personalized and relevant direct mail pieces, which also drives business for USPS. Furthermore, economies of scale apply in terms of efficiencies and discounts for both brands and USPS, especially for direct mail flyers delivered in the same postal routes. For this to all be possible, someone like Harte Hanks needs to be behind the scenes delivering the magic of actionable insights that match preferences and behaviors with real people and addresses.

There will always be a demand for postal services, and with the continued rise of e-commerce and relevant direct mail that consumers find useful, this trend will continue. The Postmaster General and USPS are clearly thinking about the future of postage and how they can deliver the best experiences to senders and recipients. The conversation we had was a useful glimpse into the future of how we can continue to innovate and personalize the experience for smart customer interactions – an area that Harte Hanks knows all about.

So how did we thank the Postmaster General for meeting with us and posing for this selfie?

Why, a hand-written thank you note, of course.

Uplift Modeling: Not So Scary After All (Case Study)

I’m not terrible with numbers. I’d even go so far to say that I’m data-driven in my marketing. But terms like incremental modeling and uplift modeling still sounded a little intimidating when I was assigned to create some marketing materials on this analytics solution. But I put on my big girl pants and got the run-down from one of our analytics experts.

WOW. I suggest you put aside any anxiety you may have with the scary-to-some concept of modeling for a few minutes because this is some impressive stuff.

What is Uplift Modeling?

Actual results from uplift modeling incremental modelingYou can check out this infographic for a great overview on what uplift modeling (aka incremental modeling) is and how it works, but simply put, uplift modeling does more than identify likely purchasers; it also weeds out those consumers who don’t need a promotion from you to make a purchase. This lets you save big marketing dollars by focusing on the group of consumers who need that extra nudge (aka your marketing) to make a purchase.

See It in Action

One of our clients, a leading specialty retailer, was disappointed with the results of their marketing campaigns. Even during major seasonal events, their direct mail promotions were not generating the expected incremental sales. With high costs associated with direct mail, each poorly targeted customer was making a big dent in the bottom line.

How to Fix It: The Game Plan

To optimize the use of this client’s marketing and direct mail dollars, we took a three-step approach:

  1. Perform an exploratory analysis of hundreds of variables to uncover key purchase drivers that could predict incremental spending.
  2. Build an incremental model to establish the existence of  persuadable customers–those who would only shop if provided a call to action from the retailer.
  3. Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing campaigns by focusing outreach efforts only on the persuadables.

This client’s exploratory data analysis uncovered several data points that could predict incremental spend, including:

  • Number of visits the target made to the store
  • Spending in specific departments
  • Number of months from the target’s first purchase

Big Results

  • The incremental model accurately isolated the top 10% of the retailer’s most persuadable customers.
  • By targeting only this top 10% through direct mail, the retailer could experience an uplift of almost 12% and ROI of 287%.

Learn More

That’s not so scary, right? It’s not too shabby either! If you want to learn more about uplift modeling, check out our infographic or drop us a line.

A Plan for HCP Engagement: Improve Pharma Sales Force Effectiveness

Improve pharma sales force effectivenessGone are the days that your pharmaceutical brand could rely on face-to-face visits to drive sales. Physicians have drastically reduced sales rep access—and some doctors that won’t see sales reps at all. Many pharma companies are also challenged with providing sufficient market coverage with a limited sales team. You probably have fewer field representatives than you’d like, and these reps are stretched thin, limiting their effectiveness.

The result of these two challenges is that you are under pressure to improve your team’s engagement with targeted health care providers while also increasing sales coverage—all without adding to the ranks of the team.

While these are both intimidating challenges, there is actually a simple solution: meet your providers and their gatekeepers on their various preferred channels with relevant and useful content. The result is more impactful communications, better engagement and increased sales with fewer required resources.

Driven by Data

The process starts with data. Your target HCPs are a unique group of people, and you need to understand them and their practices to deliver sales results. Dynamically profiling prospects beyond prescribing behaviors will allow you to purposefully target and segment your audience, offering strategic focus on the best customers. The data also provides valuable information about relevant behaviors and beliefs, allowing you to map your audience on a continuum to focus the correct message on the right audience through the right channels.

Delivery Channels are Key

Your strategy, creative and collateral materials will depend heavily on your specific program goals. However, our experience tells us that the best pharmaceutical sales force enhancement program delivers materials through a multichannel approach: direct sales calls, telesales, direct mail and email. While email and direct mail have become physicians’ preferred channels for product information in the absence of a sales rep, telesales remains an effective tool for reaching the “office gatekeepers”—key players in the pharmaceutical sales process. Synchronizing communications across all channels makes all communications more impactful, builds relationships with providers and other key staff and improves engagement. This multichannel approach has a proven track record of reaching difficult or “no-see” providers, expanding the reach and effectiveness of your sales force and improving your return on investment.

A Look at Success

Let’s look at a real-world example. As a result of new guidelines regarding the annual flu vaccine, a mid-sized pharma brand had an opportunity to increase sales to family practitioners that treat children. The company did not have the ability to hire new team members. Instead, they implemented a sales force enhancement program. They used sales data, state vaccination rates and pediatric antibiotic prescribing data to identify key prospects. Using other data-based insights, they developed a multichannel program that consisted of a central eDetail—an online interactive learning experience—supplemented with direct mail, email and phone. The company selected and prioritized target physicians and practices and ensured communications were delivered at their most accessible times via the most relevant channels.

This program generated 53% of all doses sold to PCPs during August through December and delivered 12:1 ROI.

Better Pharma Sales Force Effectiveness

In summary, the best plan to improve provider engagement and your sales force effectiveness starts with deeply knowing your audience. With the right data, you glean valuable insights about your audience that allow you to target only your best prospects and deliver highly relevant content through the most effective channels—all resulting in improved provider engagement and increased sales.

Big Bank Saves Big Money, Optimizes Mail

If you’re producing and mailing marketing collateral, it’s probably costing you a decent chunk of change. From print costs to postage, direct mail can be costly. But with the right industry know-how, you can optimize direct mail pieces, reducing costs through efforts like envelope changes, switching up the mail schedule and ensuring optimal postal discounts.

Working with one of our global banking clients, we were able to make some smart changes that saved the financial institution big money:

Reductions in mail frequency and postage save $226,000/year

Optimize Direct Mail: Bank saves $226K/year Mailing small quantities means incurring minimum processing fee from the post office.  This is a challenge facing marketers with programs that mail multiple times per week.

One of the bank’s small business programs triggers a cross-sell mailing to businesses after they’ve signed up for a new account.  This program was initially designed to mail daily, but the bank found it had smaller daily volumes than anticipated. As a result, it was not hitting daily minimum production volumes. Our team reviewed the program and suggested the bank mail three times per week rather than five. The result of fewer processing days per week: an annual savings of more than $133,000.

In addition to reducing mail frequency, our postal team recommended postage be changed from First-Class presort to Standard Mail presort – a decision which generated an additional $93,000 in savings.

Print and mailing efficiencies save $100,000/year, improve speed to market

This global bank uses an affinity program that offers credit cards to 87 different groups, including college alumni associations and non-profit organizations. The program, which mails quarterly, is required to have the association’s logo prominently visible on the mail piece. In the offset print world, this meant 87 plate changes and small print runs for both the letter and the outer envelope—not cheap!

We suggested a larger, customized #10 envelope window to allow the variable logos to show through from the inside content. By printing and using one generic envelope for all versions, we eliminated the 87 plate changes required to print the custom envelopes.

We also digitized the logos to laser print on a generic form. This allowed us to co-mingle all 87 versions of the letter, improving speed to market and reducing waste and warehouse costs—all while ensuring the entire mailing qualified for postal discounts.

Through our innovative solutions, we saved the bank $100,000 in annual print, inventory storage and production costs.

Envelope changes save $32,000/year, improve response rates

A change to an envelope may seem like the minor leagues, but it can have a dramatic impact on a mailing. Changes to two daily mail programs for the bank resulted in significant savings.

For a homeowners’ insurance program, we moved the client from four pre-printed envelopes to one window envelope, which showed a bank logo and address. The logos and addresses (required by law) were lasered, which eliminated three batches (and their associated time and costs) from each daily mailing.

For a home loan trigger program, we switched the envelope from a 6” x 9” window envelope with a generic return address to an envelope with a larger window. This allowed the individual mortgage agent’s name and address (in addition to the bank’s corporate name) to appear on the envelope. In addition to cost savings, the localized name and address likely increased the direct mail response rates.

In both instances, moving away from pre-printed envelopes greatly reduced costs, saving the client more than $32,000 per year.

More significant savings

As you can see, the right industry know-how can lead to saving big bucks. For more innovative ways our team came up with to optimize direct mail and save this global banking institution some significant cash, check out our full series of mail mini case studies on our website.

How much money could YOU be saving?

10 Tips to Avoid Costly B2B Data Purchase Mistakes

Analyzing B2B DataPurchasing B2B data isn’t rocket science. There are common areas that can be learned quickly, and vendors can help with less common queries. However, once you expand your requirements beyond your country, you might be surprised at how complex buying can become. These 10 commonly overlooked areas require careful consideration, or your data purchase decisions could cause the failure of an otherwise fantastic campaign.

1)      Turnaround times vary, greatly!

In Western markets, 24 – 48 hours turnaround time for counts is the norm.  Other markets respond slower. Far Eastern vendors, for example, can take 5-10 days to return a count. Work this into your timelines. 

2)      Adhere to local data legislation.

Be careful to adhere to local law and best practice, and ensure your data suppliers follow regulations too.  In Germany, double opt-in rules mean there is no such thing as a cold email. Conversely, the UK operates opt-out for B2B, so you can have a broader reach with email campaigns.  This is not just important from a data perspective – there is no point creating a fantastic campaign if it cannot be deployed.

3)      No database is perfect.

Some databases are fresher than others, but none are 100% accurate.  Business data decays rapidly (Watch this video to see how rapidly!), so you need to know local benchmarks and the vendors’ guarantees. That way you can expect certain inaccuracies, order over-supply when necessary and identify if the quality of the data you purchased is genuinely unsatisfactory.

4)      Language.

Can non-English data be handled accordingly?  Can your systems cope with special characters found within many European languages such as German or Spanish?  What about double byte characters from Russia and the Far East?

5)      Variation of variables – do they meet your needs?

Not all vendors collect, manage and store data consistently. Variables like employee size and turnover can be banded or actual, and the latter could be local currency or US Dollars.  Check how vendors report these variables early in the planning process.

6)      NACE vs. SIC vs. NAICS – ensure consistency of selection.  

There are different ways an organization’s industry can be categorized. In Europe, a NACE code is used whereas in the USA, US SIC codes or NAICS is used.  While there are similarities between all systems, there are also subtle differences. Aim for consistent use of industry codes, especially when using multiple vendors.

7)      Put data volumes into context. 

If you listen to vendors’ claims, then every database is the biggest and best on the market. But don’t worry, a bit of common sense will ensure you obtain genuine datasets. If the vendor claims they have 40m businesses in the USA, then it’s probably not true. Why? Research shows there are only 20m businesses, so the 40m figure is more likely to be contact volume, not sites.

8)      Lack of data quality standards.  

In the UK, we have an established association, The DMA, who produce guidelines and member Codes of Practice on acceptable data quality benchmarks. However, in some developed markets – including North America – there are no comparable benchmarks and vendors set their own standards. Don’t make any assumptions; ask suppliers what their guarantees are and why. Ask probing questions about their data collection methods and quality processes.

9)      Know the cost and usage terms.

How do you want to be billed, €, £ or $? If it’s different to the vendor currency, ensure you work in the correct exchange rates and include caveats allowing for fluctuations. How do you access the data? Annual subscription licences vs. per record purchase? Must data be downloaded from a portal or can it be transferred by SFTP?

10)   Data formats vary.

With 180 + countries globally and many of them having individual address standards, there are different ways to represent an address.  Communicate to the vendor exactly what you need for the campaign. Taking international phone numbers as an example, should country code be a separate field? Does the number need leading zeroes?

Buying data can be complex, particularly for international campaigns in markets where you are unfamiliar. The 10 areas above are the tip of the iceberg. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about the above, or need guidance on how to apply these tips to your marketing programs.

The Sin of Assumption: Alternatives to the Restoration Hardware Failure

Tweet about RH direct mail failureOne of the biggest sins in the marketing world is to assume that you absolutely know your customers. That your customers will never change and that you are assured a successful campaign working from your old ideas of what the customer wants and needs. Restoration Hardware recently released a direct mail campaign that delivered 17lbs worth of catalogs to each customer’s door–an assumption about consumers’ wants that cost them dearly.

Unexpected (?) Reaction

Instead of receiving this gift of information, customers began unsubscribing from Restoration Hardware’s mailing list and raising alarms calling the campaign a crime against environmental awareness. Here are some reactions to the campaign on Twitter:

Obviously, we can call this a bit of a stumble on Restoration Hardware’s part. Even though the company took steps to play down the environmental panic by releasing a website called Our Source Book Sustainability Initiative, the damage was done.

At some point, Restoration Hardware disconnected from their customers, not to mention the world itself. Today, companies are taking pro-environmental stances and organizing green initiatives, not sending out 3,000-plus-page catalogs en masse.

Alternatives: Add Some Direct Mail Technology

Don’t get me wrong–direct mail campaigns still have their place in the marketing world, and Restoration Hardware had the right idea. There is something definite about holding a piece of correspondence that you pull out of your mailbox rather than reading something from your email inbox. But there are many ways the decor company could have exposed customers to the same content without the huge paper waste.

Custom QR Code

For example, the company could have sent out just one catalog, or even a single postcard, with a custom QR code leading to a personalized URL with ongoing offers. Because of the associated data collection, these offers could change each time the consumer interacts with the mail piece, maximizing engagement. If they wanted to go a step further, they could print the QR code on a re-positionable sticker that the customer could stick right on her fridge or next to her computer for easy, repeat access.

Augmented Reality

Another option? Get creative with augmented reality. Send a brief catalog that encourages readers to scan any item they’re interested in to see complementary items and accessories. Say you scan a sofa. The site would pull up matching throw pillows, blankets, artwork, end tables…you get the picture. There are plenty of technological solutions available that allow you to not only expose your mail recipient to LOTS of information, but also carefully target that information and encourage engagement.

Less is More

Restoration Hardware may have been a bit overzealous with this latest direct mail campaign, and they have paid for it through negative feedback and criticism. There is a lesson to be learned through this debacle: customers do not want to be bombarded with mail when a smaller piece could do the job. Integrating digital elements to the direct mail campaign would get the job done–and encourage repeat engagement–without pounds of paper and showing up at your door.

Next time, the company ought to push aside their assumptions, take a quick pulse of the market, and consider all the ways in which technology has enabled BETTER direct mail without all the waste.

Mail is BACK: Direct Mail Trends and Marketing Innovations

Woman getting direct mail out of mailbox

By: Charley Howard

With over thirty years in the direct mail and postal industries, I’ve had the privilege of watching trends rise and fall, marketing innovations come and go. One of the most interesting turns of the tide has been that of direct mail.

For years now, digital communication channels—email, social media, mobile apps, etc.—have earned far more marketing attention than traditional channels. With the rise of fast, catchy and inexpensive digital communications, paper mail– with its comparatively long lead times and high costs– seemed to fall out of fashion almost overnight. This rise in digital communications also contributed to the creation of an entire generation of young people that has never used direct mail and has little interest in receiving it. Finally, a rise in postal rates coincided with a drop in the economy, which could have been the final nail in the direct mail coffin.

Digital Consumer Burnout

But the tide has turned again. All of the excitement around email marketing has created an overload of emails and consumer burnout. You would never send a prospect three direct mail pieces every day or drop a postcard in her lap while she’s having lunch, but such overly zealous attempts at email marketing have pushed many consumers over the saturation point, leading them to tune out and unsubscribe.

Case in point: a friend of mine described to me how one national retail chain used GPS to track subscribers’ smart phones and ping customers with an email offer when they walked into a store. While this may have seemed like clever plan that promotes engagement, many loyal customers got fed up, saying they received far too many communications while they were trying to shop.

Direct Mail 2.0

Considering that direct mail still offers nearly 20 to 40 times the response rates of email marketing, savvy marketers have started looking more seriously at direct mail again, searching for ways to make it more compelling and effective. Through a fresh outlook and new ideas, I believe these marketers are bringing direct mail back. This new version of “direct mail 2.0” will be smaller than the heyday of mass mailings and saturation mail, but it will be more powerful—taking lessons learned from the hard times and becoming smarter, more focused and more targeted.

This resurgence in direct mail will also be built to drive conversions both offline and online. The most innovative and effective programs will combine print mail with digital marketing in new and novel ways that play to the strengths of each, grabbing attention and creating high-touch campaigns.

Creating Offline/Online Synergy

How do you combine direct mail with high-engagement digital marketing? Let’s start by taking a look at the typical direct mail offer. You send out a coupon, you get a good response. But if you start sending coupons regularly, you eventually start seeing that customers only come in when they get a coupon. By adding technology into the mix, you can raise the interest level for your consumers and keep them coming back, independent of your mail cycle. Instead of barraging prospects with emails or encouraging bargain-seeking with a standalone mail piece, you can use a strategic combination of the two to create an interactive, technology-driven experience for your prospects.

For example, you can send a mailer with a peel-off QR code that links to a personalized URL. When your prospect scans the QR code, he is brought to a page customized just for him. He sticks the peel-off on his fridge for future use, and every time he interacts with the QR code, you can offer him new messaging based on his previous interactions. That’s true dynamic, relevant messaging! If your now-loyal customer feels like coming in to the store, he can scan the peel-off for a discount rather than waiting for a coupon. The peel-off is a physical reminder of your offer, and the QR code adds a high-tech, high-touch element to the program that enhances the experience and drives traffic to your website—and your retail store, if you have one.

You can even bring in a social element by adding perks for sharing on social media or sending the offer to a friend. As you interact with the same consumer over time, you can get to know his habits and preferences to further fine-tune offers for even higher engagement.

CoverGirl’s Example

CoverGirl demonstrated an innovative approach to mail at the Postal Vision 20/20 4.0 conference. The company sent out a mailing encouraging prospects to use their smart phones to match make-up to their individual skin tones. This mailing was a fabulous use of augmented reality. The user would scan the mailing to be brought to the website. She would then take a photo of her face and the app would bring up an entire list of products that matched her skin tone. That’s no technology gimmick; that’s using the combination of mail and technology as an effective tool to drive sales.

Use it Wisely

Direct mail has come a long way. The examples above are just a few of the ways that adding digital marketing tools to paper mail can enhance your marketing efforts. But just like email marketing, you still have to use it wisely. For example:

  • It has to be a good experience. If you use direct mail to drive your customers to your website, make sure your sites are user friendly, engaging and offer real value. If not, it’s a wasted effort.
  • Be relevant, focused and use it sparingly. Just like email, you can send too much direct mail. If prospects feel they’re getting too much, they start thinking about all the trees you killed.
  • Use targeting and segmentation. The more refined you get in your targeting, the more relevant the mail will be for the recipient. Consider dynamic digital printing; it allows you to be fully variable from one piece to the next, while still taking advantage of postal discounts, delivery performance, etc.
  • Plan ahead. Giving yourself more lead time allows you take advantage of more advanced direct mail techniques that deliver better response rates.
  • Make small changes. If you’re not ready for a complete overhaul, tweak your current direct mail efforts by simply adding a QR code that goes to a dedicated landing page. Then expand your efforts from there.
  • Track your results. Be sure to capture who did respond along with who didn’t to help you further refine your efforts.

Smaller but Better

I don’t see mail booming like the old days—after all, it is a digital world. But mail still works. It has always worked, and it has one of the best returns on investment out there. Direct mail ROI is only going to improve as more marketers learn to mix tried and true direct mail techniques with the best of digital marketing, creating a combination that is more sophisticated and attuned to the needs and desires of our customers.

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