Data Planning for Direct Mail Success

Everything you need to optimize mailing performance and reduce direct mail costs

Earn the best return on your investment
As a marketer, you can reach your prospects through channels like social media, email, webinars, pay-to-click advertising, TV, radio...sometimes it seems like the options are limitless.
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Direct mail is an extremely effective tool for driving new customer acquisition and retention, as well as revenue.
One channel that seems to lose appeal in the face of the flashy new marketing automation solutions is direct mail. The reality is that direct mail is an extremely effective tool for driving new customer acquisition and retention, as well as revenue. And when you pair automated direct mail with your digital strategy, you can see tremendous positive growth in lead generation, customer acquisition, and revenue growth.
If you're new to direct mail, you'll want to incorporate it in your marketing mix. Even if it's an established part of your campaign tactics, review the best practices outlined here to ensure you earn the best return on your investment. You want to optimize mailing performance while reducing the costs of sending mail to bad addresses.
As a best practice, and at a minimum, follow these three rules:
  1. You should not mail to people WITHOUT addresses.
  2. You should not mail to people with OLD addresses.
  3. You should not mail to people with INCORRECT addresses.
Part 1
The 5 pillars of a solid foundation for data quality
Reprinted with permission from NetProspex / Dun & Bradstreet
With increasing goals and static budgets, today's marketers need to get the most out of each program they launch. The quality of a marketing database can make or break a program. This section provides actionable steps and best practices.
The 5 pillars for data quality
5 pillars of data quality

Pillar 1: Know your buyer

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PFL Tip on Account Based Marketing
Automated direct mail can reach target account contacts you normally can't reach. These include contacts without email addresses or prospects that may have opted out of email.
As basic as it sounds, we work with companies every day that do not do this. Target your programs directly at the people who are most likely to buy from you. The best way to obtain this information is to look at past purchase data for trends. Try to identify demographic criteria like titles, industries, geographies and/ or company sizes that buy most frequently. Isolate those that tend to make large versus small purchases and, even better, those that are repeat buyers.
Once you've done this, compare it to the type of contacts you have in your marketing database. Dig into any behavioral trends you can see in your response data. Often, you will be able to group your contacts into influencers or buyers. Study how each group typically responds and at what time in the buying cycle.
Lastly, ensure that your marketing database has enough of each of these profiles in it to help you meet your marketing goals. Develop targeted outreach programs with messaging specific to the needs of each audience to ensure maximum success of your programs.

Pillar 2: Give your database a good scrubbing

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PFL can assist with the data scrubbing process when it's time to send direct mail, but we always recommend that marketers perform this cleansing earlier in the data process.
The experts at SiriusDecisions have determined that the average amount of usable records in a prospect database is 75%, with 90% considered best in class. If you're looking to improve your database, you have to start somewhere—and the best place to begin is by conducting a thorough cleansing.
For a focused effort, remove records that don't fit your target buyer profile or can't influence the sale. Normalize your data in terms of capitalization and formats of fields such as phone and title. Remove or append information to incomplete records. Get rid of records that have bounced or unsubscribed.
While it's not the fastest or easiest job in the world, starting with the cleanest list possible will make your life a lot easier and more successful.

Pillar 3: Build from quality sources

When you're actively cleaning out bad data, you may find less target contacts than you'd like in your database. Hitting your goals is a numbers game. Use a marketing funnel or calculator to determine just how many leads you need to hit your goals.
If you plan to purchase data, check that your vendor has a dedicated process to ensure and maintain quality. Validated data will cost a little more, but it pays off in the end. The vendor should be able to tell you how recent the data is that you're purchasing and should offer a guarantee or refund if a percentage of data is incorrect.

Pillar 4: Keep it clean

Okay, so everyone knows that data is never 100% perfect. However, by looking at all the ways your company gets marketing contact data, you may be able to mitigate some quality issues by heading it off at the pass.
For example, if you are gathering information from registration forms on your website, you may want to employ drop-down lists rather than open entry fields to prevent errors and promote consistency. Progressive profiling is another proven methodology for gauging a prospect's interest by getting them to engage in multiple offers while also allowing you to gather bits of information over time.
By keeping the number of fields per form low, you will not only increase conversion rates, but you will also decrease people's natural tendency to fudge the answers.

Pillar 5: Rinse and repeat

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Data decays at a rate of 2% per month or more, so you can expect 20-30% of your organization's contact data to go bad per year.1
You may have started out with a clean database and applied best practices for bringing in new data, but it won't stay that way for long without ongoing hygiene practices.
Data gets stale as a result of employees finding new opportunities or switching positions. Duplicate records may get imported or created. Ensure you have a way to keep track of the state of your data on an ongoing basis.
Remove hard bounces from your database as they occur. Sometimes, auto-reply emails will provide the contact information of the new contact and your prospect's company. Take advantage of the windfall by providing them with a welcome message to introduce them to your company and get them to opt-in as well.
Much of this type of activity requires significant manual effort, so you may want to take a more scheduled approach for cleaning your database. Scrubbing your data against third-party sources can remove the personnel cost of doing this internally, provide improved campaign performance, and help to keep your overall email deliverability rate high as it reduces the hard bounces.
Part 2
Give incentives to get clean data
If you really want to get the most up-to-date contact information, provide a little incentive.
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People are more likely to submit accurate information when they know a gift is coming their way.
We have experienced massive success testing this process. This technique kills two birds with one stone. First, the campaign helps obtain cleaner data, as the recipient won't receive the gift if the address is incorrect. Second, the campaign provides another touch point to help build the relationship with your prospect or customer.
Does the incentive have to be a physical gift? No. The incentive could include:
  1. Free eBook
  2. Contest entry
  3. Free trial
Try different incentives to see which delivers the best ROI for your organization.
Part 3
Rely on a partner
Even when your company practices good data hygiene, bad data creeps into your system. As an option, consider working with a third-party vendor to get your data in order.
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"Address information such as street, city and state is missing in over 40% of customer databases." 2
Percentage of records with the indicated field completed: 2
  • First name     77.5%
  • Last name     76.9%
  • Title                62.9%
  • Street             54.6%
  • City                 59.5%
  • State            58.5%
  • Phone         36.2%
  • Email           89.2%
  • Company    77.2%
2 2014 NetProspex Annual Marketing, Data Benchmark Report

Data appending

Data appending is the process of adding information to leads that companies can leverage for sales and marketing purposes. This data includes address information, demographics, psychographics and lifestyle profile information that can enrich existing records in your system.
For example, instead of asking your leads for their mailing address, you can let the partner append this information. Typically, when a lead is created in a marketing automation system like Marketo, that system will reach out to the third party's database and attempt to match the lead against its data warehouse of names. If there is a match, the partner will append the additional fields to the record.
For direct mail, the accuracy of the company name, address, city, state, postal code, and country are the priority items.
Data Appending
Part 4
Leverage progressive profiling
Progressive profiling is a Marketo feature that allows marketers to collect more information each time a lead fills out a form. Prospects don't want to share all their information before trust is built, so the best practice is to ask fewer questions up front and then deepen the relationship over time.
If you try to ask for too much information up front, conversion rates will drop. These graphs show decreasing conversion rates for both increasing information presented (shown by the number of text areas) and information demanded (shown by the number of form fields).
Conversion rate by number of text areas Conversion rate by number of text areas
Conversion rate by number of form fields Conversion rate by number of form fields
Address-focused profiling
Consider adopting an address-focused progressive profiling strategy if address collection and verification is an important part of your process. Keep in mind that the accuracy of data collected via a user submission can vary greatly.
If your company decides to go this route, make sure to give your data a review. If you see a lot of data like "555555" or "7 Mickey Mouse Way," you might need to use one of the other processes instead.
Progressive Profiling Forms
Set yourself up for direct mail success
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The most significant initial component?
Good data.
Direct mail is a powerful and effective marketing channel for your organization, particularly when it is automated and integrated with your marketing automation platform.
Doing it correctly, and seeing the most return on your investment, requires planning and forethought.
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