Surround customers with your message

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Staying disciplined and following up

The majority of marketers work hard to improve and refine their mail campaigns, even in the face of challenges. For example, Penny Ransom, vice president of strategic planning and brand management for Network Health, a Wisconsin-based health insurance provider, constantly strives to test and improve the company’s mailings that peak in the fall selling season.

“We’ve become sensitive to that fact that one message might be appropriate for one county but they might not respond to it in another area,” she explains. For example, a travel benefit might be important to one population that tends to get away from Wisconsin winters, but another less affluent area might respond more to what doctors are in the network. Testing allows Ransom and her colleagues to determine which copy points have the most influence and which offers work best for which audiences.

Insurance marketer Tim Bannon finds that the mailing list is also an essential testing element. “We sell to a very finite niche of educators and administrators, so copy points are key — but the quality of the list is also essential because we’re trying to find the specific universe of people we want,” says Bannon, head of sales and marketing for Meemic, a Michigan-based insurance company that provides auto, homeowner and other coverage to teachers and other educational employees. “We also test lists we can acquire, lists for educational and other types of organizations. It is an ongoing and recurring process to improve our lists to this niche segment.”

For Bannon, the biggest overall challenge in terms of direct mail testing is how to follow up on successful results. “We’re all focused on bringing in business, but for the most part we don’t have a way to go back to those households to welcome them, to cross-sell, or to seek a referral,” he says. “We are testing prescribed, cross-channel contact to new households by customer segment so we retain and grow these new relationships.”

Both Ransom and Bannon say their multichannel efforts are still in their infancy, while traditional direct mail campaigns are their bread and butter. Konow, on the other hand, says Ricoh’s integrated, multichannel campaigns — including e-mail, Facebook and mobile — add the complications of proper campaign sequencing and channel-response testing layered on top of the challenging variables of lists, copy and offers.

“I’m a big believer in integrated campaigns, but you need to test your sequence as well as ensure that you’re varying the message for each piece,” he says. “Perhaps one time you push the e-mail out first followed by the direct mail piece, or another time you push the mobile marketing message first. The problem is that marketers will typically begin every campaign with the direct mail piece. However, when the sequence is changed, then you need to change the message on the direct mail piece slightly to test which channel and message is working best.”

Mistakes that muddle

While modern marketers may face new challenges in today’s multichannel universe, however, all-too-common mistakes still plague mailers when it comes to testing.

One of the most common missteps, says Mezzanotte, is not keeping your attention on why you’re testing in the first place. “You can get really tied up in minutiae, so you have to think about whether what you’re testing is really going to move the needle,” she says.

Leaping to wrong conclusions is also a classic direct mail testing error, explains Goodman, of Goodman Marketing Partners: “Someone will look at two mail campaigns and insist one type of creative did better than the other, but it turned out they were mailed at different times of the year. So how do you know it was the creative and not the timing?” She also cites the example of a marketer insisting a postcard did better than a No. 10 envelope. However, the creative strategy was different for each piece. “It all goes back to setting up the test properly,” she says.

Refining the approach

Direct marketing experts agree that mailers have a long way to go in terms of elevating testing into a true feedback loop that moves toward true long-term, one-to-one marketing with personalization and relevance and that takes full advantage of testing results. “So much depends on the size and resources and sophistication of the company, as well as the intentions of the marketing leadership and whether they are really operating more instinctively than scientifically,” says Johnson & Quin’s Henkel.

“We’re learning and get better with each campaign we do,” says Meemic’s Bannon. “Have all of them been home run balls? No — but that’s why you test in the first place.”

For Ricoh’s Konow, that striving for improvement has turned into a resolution to do more campaign testing in 2012. “I’m going to continue integrated campaigns but be more critical about how many channels and paths I take — you don’t have to push everything out in every channel,” he says. “I want to stand back and be more selective.”

In the meantime, marketers will continue testing their lists, copy, offers and mailers, because, Mezzanotte points out: “Direct mail remains the channel that often has the best ROI. Because it works, we test to make sure it works its hardest.”

Upon Closer Examination

How testing helped one marketing agency hone a client’s campaign to achieve optimum impact.

Recently, marketer DMW Direct was approached by an insurance industry client offering an ancillary health insurance product (that is, a program other than its major medical offerings). The client wanted to test the idea of marketing directly to the consumer rather than simply selling group plans to employers, recalls DMW Direct spokeswoman Renee Mezzanotte. “We decided to just go out to a couple of states first and see how it would work,” she says.

The client tested two different packages that they sent to former group plan members who had lapsed — one was a simple informational package with a plain envelope and a two-page letter, while the other was a more colorful promotional package that included a brochure and looked like a classic direct mail piece. “You just never know what will work until you go out,” says Mezzanotte. The company tracked the response all the way up to actual sales, and also tested the online element (recipients could respond for enrollment both online and on the phone).

The results were clear: The informational package performed far better — two to three times better in terms of response rate as well as conversions. “It’s possible that the informational package, which didn’t include the brochure, caused people to have to call or go to the website to get more information, which in turn made them more likely to convert,” says Mezzanotte. “It could be the promotional package had too much information — it’s always tricky to figure out how much information you need to include in order to get a good, qualified lead.”

The company took the lessons learned from the direct mail test and used it successfully for the broad market. They were also able to use the tested messaging for a search campaign.

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Cultivating Contacts

Agribusiness leader Nufarm uses mixed media campaign to identify sales prospects.

By Lekan Oguntoyinbo

In the summer of2010 Nufarm, a leading international manufacturer of crop protection products, found itself in a tight spot. The Chicago area company had just launched generic wheat seed treatment products it needed to push.

In agribusiness, seed treatment, which fends off fungi and other pests, is a highly specialized growth industry. The seeds are coated prior to planting. Nufarm officials say this approach to planting reduces the need for spraying fungicides and insecticides on emerged plants and could save farmers as much as $60 an acre. It also shaves costs off of expenses like renting airplanes to help with the spraying. “It is a proactive, preventative practice,” says Nathan Wright, director of sales for seed treatment at Nufarm. “It’s good insurance upfront.”

Problem was, Nufarm had only two salespeople assigned to pitch this product in its primary target market area, a swath of the continent that encompasses more than 10 large states and stretches from North Dakota to Texas to the Rockies. Further, both salespeople were relatively new and had had little or no time to develop large numbers of prospects in the market.

On top of all this, winter wheat planting season was just a couple of months away, so Nufarm knew it needed to get the word out about these products – and fast. “We were looking to generate contacts and leads for our salespeople in a very tight geography,” recalls Brian Rund, Nufarm’s director of branding and marketing services.

So Nufarm developed its “Treat the Seed Right” campaign, an integrated marketing effort that blended personalized direct mail with personalized URLs (PURLs). Using multiple sources, including farm journals and dealer lists, Nufarm identified hundreds of strong sales prospects.

A strong idea takes root

The campaign had four objectives: Inform middlemen and growers about Nufarm’s broad range of seed treatment products; identify those already using Nufarm products; single out those willing to meet with a sales representative; and, perhaps most important, generate new sales leads.

Early in July, personalized, full-color, 4- by 6-inch postcards with images of wheat and wheat fields on the front landed in the mailboxes of more than 1,500 dealers, distributors and growers. The postcards included the name and contact information for the Nufarm salesperson for that area.

“A great seed starts with Nufarm. Treat it right with Nufarm seed solutions,” blared the green and gold lettering on the front of the card. The card also included the recipient’s name, his PURL, a list of several Nufarm seed treatment products and a $50 gift card offer.

As an incentive, recipients received a Nufarm hat for visiting their personalized web pages, which included a brief flash video featuring Nufarm images and branding before being directed to a page that asked five questions covering a variety of areas like use of crops and knowledge or interest in seed treatment. As an additional incentive, each recipient got a $50 gift card if he agreed to a visit from a Nufarm sales representative.

“We were trying to take advantage of the ‘personability’ of direct mail and the PURL to get a response,” Rund reveals.

Growing business from the ground up

In all, Nufarm mailed out three sets of postcards between July 5 and August 31. The second and third mailings were reminders for the non-responders.

The mailings got smaller with each successive wave. The second postcard carried a message that addressed the recipient by name and added “Your seed is waiting.” The third told the recipient that the opportunity “won’t last.”

“People who participated in rounds two and three probably wanted to participate after the first direct mail card but needed a reminder,” says Sherry Mitchell, marketing director of Laser Image Printing & Marketing, a Durham, N.C.–based printing and marketing company that handled the campaign’s microsite design as well as printing and mailing. “This is typical for direct mail campaigns: the second and third mailings are reminders.”

In the end, the $6,500 campaign got Nufarm — and its new salespeople — off to a good start with the seed treatment products in this market. Nearly 6 percent of the recipients visited their microsites and 4.5 percent answered the survey questions and agreed to a visit from a Nufarm sales representative. As a result of the survey responses, Nufarm representatives got more than 60 promising sales leads.

Mitchell says the campaign’s strategy of setting its sights on targeted prospects was a major contributor to its success. “This campaign had the right combination of elements,” she says. “It had a targeted list, a clear and relevant message with a strong call to action and a well-designed and well-printed piece.”

Rund figures that attaining this level of success without direct mail would have been impossible. “We use a lot of different tools, but direct mail for this market is the cornerstone,” he says, adding that in this kind of business direct mail is more likely to generate responses than e-mail or other forms of communication like radio or television advertising.

The wide dispersal of potential clients, the technical nature of the product and the relatively low cost of the campaign, he explains, made direct mail the ideal fit for this campaign.

“The nature of what we sell lends itself to a direct mail platform,” Rund says. “This is primarily a business sell. If you’re getting direct mail in a business context, you’re probably more likely to take a look at it.”

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Sharpen Your No. 2 Pencils

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