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Driving Digital Response In Direct Mail


How Does Digital Boost Direct Mail Response?

We’ve established that BRM is being used less for customers to respond to direct mail offers and appeals. Here’s a breakdown of other response options available.

Getting prospects to respond to a direct mail campaign is a process that ends — hopefully — with a positive action taken by the recipient. For years, that meant returning a reply form or postcard through the postal system. Phone calls were another option, as well as fax (to a lesser degree).

But that began to change with the arrival of digital options, such as email and the web. These new channels delivered immediate benefits to both the marketer (or nonprofit) and the customer.

For example, quicker order fulfillment means more satisfied consumers. And faster response lets marketers know how successful their campaigns are earlier than ever before — and see the financial results sooner.

A few months ago, we published an article that asked “Should You Still Use Business Reply Mail?” Because Business Reply Envelopes (BREs) and Business Reply Cards (BRCs) were commonly mailed to return response devices, we wanted to see how the rise of digital channels affected their usage.

Among our findings:

  • education mailers used 63.8% less BRM from the 2000-2004 period to the 2017-2021 period
  • finance companies have decreased BRM usage by 45.5% over that same range
  • nonprofits saw only a 32.6% drop in the BRM option up through 2021

This isn’t to say that BRM isn’t still a viable option for your mail; our article actually provides examples of how to get the most from business reply today.

Also — we didn’t look at Courtesy Reply Mail (CRM) but we believe that those letters and postcards have also seen decreases as well.

The bigger story here is what marketers and nonprofits use today instead of (or in addition to) the traditional reply device.

Marketers are meeting customers where they are — in the digital space. As always, the goal remains to speed their action. To accomplish this, it must be simple, clear, direct, and foolproof.

Examples of Other Response Devices in Direct Mail

We’ve established that business reply mail is being used less for customers to respond to direct mail offers and appeals. Here’s a breakdown of other response options available.

1. Websites

Let’s face it — everyone by now knows how effective websites can be at engaging with customers meaningfully and consistently.

Here’s a good example, mailed by the University of Chicago in May 2020. The postcard showcases its summer offerings — all online — to prospective students. Three web addresses — each with a specific purpose — are shown on the mailer.

University of Chicago postcard

2. PURLs

With a Personalized URL, mailers like Paycom (see the example below) can send them to a customized landing page that not only includes their name, but possibly leverage other data to create a 1-to-1 offer.

Paycom postcard

3. QR code

Adoption of this channel has been growing in the last few years. For long website addresses or PURLs, it’s a real time-saver for consumers.

In the May 2021 example below, Capital One highlights the value of this point-and-scan option as “0 Hassles to APPLY”.

Capital One envelope

4. Informed Delivery

Consumers who sign up for USPS Informed Delivery receive an email (or can log in to a dashboard) with a preview scan of their incoming postal mail. Images are usually grayscale.

However, marketers can choose to create a free campaign with a color image as well as a small graphic that links directly (“Learn More”) to a landing page. As a result, recipients may take advantage of an offer before they get home or the physical mail piece arrives at their home mailbox.

This synchronized Comcast Xfinity upgrade campaign was mailed in both postal and email forms on June 24, 2020.

Comcast Xfinity informed delivery

5. App

For some customers, such as those enrolled in a loyalty or rewards program, an app offers a broader brand experience as well as a way to immediately jump on a tempting offer when it arrives in the mail. Target mailed a discount offer to Circle members with this December 2020 self-mailer.

Circle direct mail

Sometimes, response channels can be combined to entice a consumer to take a desired action. In this example, Wawa promotes its app to customers living near its new store — and uses a branded QR code to prompt a download of its app to order food.

Wawa direct mail postcard

6. Social Media

As a marketer, you want to engage customers wherever they are, and present a consistent face for your brand. National Driver Training includes call-outs to its social media channels on a page of this brochure.

Did you notice that it also includes a QR code as well as a push for its apps?

National Driver Training direct mail

7. VACA (Voice Activated Call to Action)

Smart speaker technology — think Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, etc. — enables customers to respond without even lifting a finger. Mike Gunderson, mail expert and president of Gunderson Direct, says:

This multimedia brand experience enhances their [marketers’] mail campaigns by adding an audible experience and allows the prospect to request a text to complete the transaction. Think of it as a QR code for voice.

Mike GundersonPresident
Gunderson Direct

In this mail piece, financial advisory firm Personal Capital urges recipients to respond to its offer: “tell your smart speaker to …”, keeping it brand-neutral.

Personal Capital direct mail

On the other hand, in this example from June 2021, window treatment retailer Smith & Noble notes that using Alexa commands opens access to specific content on the website.

Smith & Noble direct mail

Bonus: Under the USPS Emerging and Advanced Technology Promotion, First Class and Marketing Mail campaigns may be eligible for a 2% discount when using smart speaker tech. But hurry and act now — the promotion ends August 31.

8. Email

Putting a personal email address (or a company inbox) is a quick way to gather information on prospects from a direct mail campaign.This insurance agent’s email address is one contact channel found on his lead generation postcard.

insurance agent postcard

9. Phone

As a response channel, the phone call has the greatest longevity and universality. Respect it, as it continues to work well in many categories for both driving leads as well as sales.

This October 2020 postcard from Liberty Mutual highlights only a toll-free number on the front.

Liberty Mutual postcard

Why More Marketers are Multichannel

Today, companies and nonprofits know they have to put their marketing dollars into media channels with proven results. Their customers live in several online places at the same time, so it’s smart to maximize impact by running campaigns across those channels.

In a 2020 survey, USPS Delivers surveyed marketers about their use of direct mail in multichannel marketing. It revealed that direct mail today drives a wide range of actions — some online, some offline:

  • Website visits – 77%
  • Purchases – 64%
  • Program signups – 56%
  • Store visits – 53%
  • App downloads – 53%

Who’s Mailing What! Digital Response Trends

Recently, we looked at trends in direct mail for 2021. One of our findings (see chart below) was that our data shows a rise in digital response options. Giving customers more online avenues to reply — whether it’s through QR codes or “follow us” invitations — has climbed since 2000. Usage of these response terms in the mail has doubled in just the last 4 years!

digital response trend in direct mail

We also zeroed in on mail just from 2021 (so far) to discover what digital callouts have been trending this year. As the chart below shows, social media touchpoints rank first, followed closely by QR codes, then by a generic “visit our website”.

Trending digital callouts in 2021

How to Find Non-Business Reply Examples in Who’s Mailing What!

With Who’s Mailing What!, you can use the samples in the collection to inspire or assist your own reply devices or options. As the wide variety of samples above shows, you may find copy variations and positioning that will help you.

To start:

  1. Just type an appropriate phrase (or variation) in your search field. Some examples:
    “Visit our website”
    “QR code”
    “Download our app”
    “Call for a FREE quote”
  2. Apply oneor more filters to customize your search.
  3. To narrow your search, select your category of interest (or specific subcategories). Other filters include time range and format.
    Control filter will help you explore time-tested creatives that companies were using regularly in their campaigns.
  4. Look through our best-performing samples in our FREE Look Up tool.

free look up tool

Final Thoughts

Without Business Reply Mail (or any traditional order form), you need the right strategy and a building around a compelling call to action that triggers that last step on the customer’s journey. So, here are a few final tips:

  • Be Benefit-Focused (e.g., “Get $500 Off — call now”)
  • Be Specific (e.g., “Go to [web address] to have your gift matched 3-to-1”)
  • Be Urgent (e.g., “Scan this QR code and respond by August 31”)

The ultimate goal is making it easy and irresistible for the customer to say “Yes”.

Direct Mail Evangelist

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