With Direct Mail, the Same Marketing Rules Apply
This month marks seven years since I moved into my apartment. It’s a co-op that I bought from a woman whose parents had lived there for decades. Her father died about 15 years ago, and his wife died not long before I moved in.
Despite being dead for more than 15 years, the husband continued to receive a lot of mail from a very well-known bed-and-bath retailer. At least once a month, this particular retailer sent him a 12- to 20-page sales circular, and it would follow up about a week later with a coupon postcard. At first, I just threw them in the paper recycling bin at the end of the hall. But with each passing month, my frustration grew, and I started writing “return to sender” and dropping the materials back in the mailbox.
Even after my best efforts, the mail continued to come, and so my communications with this retailer got more hostile. I still went the return-to-sender route, but started writing more detailed and less-than-pleasant notes on the envelopes to let the retailer know, in no uncertain terms, that the intended recipient was dead and I didn’t want to receive the mailings. Still the circulars and coupons came. I sent an email, then a nasty letter, and still they came. Then I called its customer service line. And still they came. I called once more, this time with threats that I would be contacting a lawyer if the mailings continued. That might have finally resonated, because I didn’t receive anything last month.
This supports a key point raised in one of the main features in this month’s issue. The article, “Get Back to Basics with Direct Mail,” points out that maintaining an updated mailing list is key to the success of any direct mail marketing campaign.
The article makes the point that many companies are finding renewed value in having the U.S. Postal Service deliver their marketing messages to customers. When done right, direct mail marketing can lead to good or very good returns, and 83 percent of companies that have integrated direct mail into larger multichannel campaigns have seen tremendous success, the article points out.
Conversely, when done poorly, direct mail can have some very damaging and costly consequences. With rising postage and printing costs, the financial impacts of return-to-sender mail—or, as the USPS calls it, undeliverable as addressed (UAA)—can be big.
At least in my case, the damage to the company’s reputation was far worse. Based on how the company mishandled its direct mail mistakes, I am not likely to buy from that retailer.
Every company has some data quality issues; I get that. And even when companies do put in the effort to reduce their volume of UAA mail, some pieces will inevitably slip through the cracks. If that was all this was, I would have been far more forgiving. The problem was far worse than an out-of-date mailing list. For whatever reason, the company was unwilling or unable to update its mailing list, despite my alerting it to the mistake twice a month for several years.
Companies should not forget that with direct mail, the traditional rules of marketing apply. Having accurate data is first and foremost, of course, but then companies need to make their print materials both relevant and personal. Technology exists to help with this, of course, but too many companies still don’t use it properly.
“Most direct marketing, whether digital or traditional, is poorly targeted,” argues Rod Hagedorn, a professor in Walden University’s MBA program, in the article. “Companies routinely waste millions of dollars sending the wrong message, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience.
“Eventually, consumers become so annoyed with the constant barrage of irrelevant marketing messages that they simply begin to ignore them and automatically direct them to the trash,” the professor warns.
I wasn’t quite as passive, but the underlying effect was the same. Don’t let yourself fall into the same trap as the retailer that hounded me for years with the wrong messages.
Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.