The Power of Direct Mail

Personal loan provider OneMain Financial is one of our longest-standing clients, working with us since Orange Element’s conception. And while trends and techniques have evolved over the past decade, a few things have remained the same. One of those things? The power of direct mail. In this guest blog post, Brian Cook, Senior Vice President of Marketing at OneMain, shares his philosophy and experience using direct mail as his team and Orange Element continue to develop innovative packages to use in this channel.

When David Ogilvy said, “never stop testing, and your advertising won’t stop improving,” I doubt he was thinking about direct mail. But truer words have never been spoken about this advertising channel. Probably to most, direct mail is outdated and undesirable, but research shows the opposite to be true. Not only are direct mail volumes on a steady rise, but surveys reflect a desire for mail, citing the credibility and novelty of physical mail as the reason for high response rates. In fact, mail is expected to take a larger piece of the marketing pie, as direct mail is a great driver for connecting marketing efforts, driving response through other channels and targeting specific audiences. In a world of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, where else can the consumer you’re trying to reach have a one-to-one moment with your message? Mail is advertising—with action. And if done right it can be highly personal, targeted, and relevant to your customer or prospect.

Not all advertising is equal.
General brand advertising and direct mail (aka direct response) have different goals. Brand advertising communicates a position and hopes to convey how you should think or feel about a product, company or service. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, the consumer chooses a brand based on its brand attributes. Direct response is a bit different; it uses those brand attributes and positions, not to clarify or create them, but to leverage and capitalize on them. As direct marketers, we want to use them to incentivize people to do something. As Don Draper famously said, “I create want.” So, in order to do what Don said in our direct marketing, we need to answer the customer’s primary question, “What’s in it for me?” and get them to act. Whereas brand advertising seeks awareness, direct response advertising seeks action—now. Direct response is sales in print. And with the advancements in technology and the use of data, not only can direct be a highly targeted one-to-one marketing piece, it can be the driver of a highly integrated, multichannel campaign where the consumer experience doesn’t end, but begins.

Benefits of onmnichannel marketing and unified, integrated campaigns.
Recently, my team led the creative strategy and developed a new campaign that has a consistent look and feel, tone and manner from direct mail to a digital banner ad to social media posts. This was all driven off the intelligent mail barcode that allows us to anticipate when the mail will be in the target audience’s mailbox. This allows the digital channels to optimize the timing of their content. Recently, the Winterberry Group described direct mail as the “alpha channel” in our data-driven marketing world. Their 2016 study, From Theory to Practice: Bringing Omnichannel to Life, shows U.S. marketers believe targeted acquisition is direct mail’s sweet spot.

Data-driven direct mail.
One-to-one messaging has been a big direct marketing trend over the last few years, and it continues to grow without showing signs of stopping. Not only does data-driven mail better resonate with a prospect or customer and increase response, it is now an expected part of every campaign. Consumers are becoming data-sophisticated and are interested in targeted, relevant marketing. My team recently tested a lifecycle campaign to our existing customers. We researched the data and developed creative that resonated with different points in their customer lifecycle. This led to increased response rates with lifts over our controls from 10% to 30%.

Millennials and direct mail.
Believe it or not, millennials love direct mail for all the reasons mentioned above: it’s targeted, relevant, connects to digital, and gives them an opportunity to engage directly with a brand on their time without competing messages. If you’re interested in learning more about the younger generation’s engagement with direct mail, read direct mail manufacturer IWCO’s blog post here.

Whether you want to use direct mail for the first time or want to improve your current strategy, here are a few things to think about:

1. Does the combination of target audience and product make sense for the DM channel?

2. How I can use DM to drive engagement in my other channels?

3. Work with a good agency (if you’re reading this, you already are).

4. Use a direct mail partner that has multiple print and mail solutions. The best are the ones that have traditional print and new digital technologies.

5. Data, data, data. The more you have, the better your message will be.

6. Test, test, test. The more you do, the better your advertising will be. And the great thing about direct is that you’ll get quantitative, measurable feedback from your audience. You may think it’s award-worthy, but your audience may tell you different or vice versa. They are your ultimate focus group.

Want to learn how direct mail is made? Check out our field trip recap from IWCO, a direct mail manufacturer for clients like OneMain.