By Nate Wells

Sometimes a counterintuitive approach to social media, email, and banner ads can yield huge ROI. My company Applied Underwriters, a global risk management company, has made a number of recent acquisitions, challenging our internal brand communications team to amplify, or integrate new brands or subsidiaries under one brand umbrella.

Thinking of traditional physical mailboxes as relatively “empty”, our team is finding great success creating innovative direct mail pieces that deliver high lead gen and brand affinity. The key to spectacular direct mail is creating pieces that both bond and resonate with targets, and have an added value beyond the piece, resulting in longer lasting and positive brand experiences.

If considering adding a direct mail campaign to your next marketing push, here are five steps to take the assets you create from ordinary to spectacular:

1. If They Don’t Get it, You Won’t Get It

Approach each direct mail piece as if the audience does not know the company, or approach as if you are talking to a new viewer or target each time. If the direct mail piece is esoteric it won’t resonate and the target won’t bond with the piece. No matter the novelty, it must be simple to understand within the context of what you do or want to do (launch a new product? raise brand awareness? enter a new market?).

During the winter/football season we created an Office Penalty Flag, playing off the idea of all the funny office infractions that happen daily. Very lighthearted, but built around the theme, “if you’re not saving money with Applied, you should be penalized…”

We also created a Football chalkboard, that folded out with an easel, where recipients could write office notes on. We created a way of printing chalk onto the chalkboard, with a customized silk screen message, “Write Your Own Winning Play.” Not only did these pieces get mindshare, they also claimed deskshare while generating a warm, positive brand experience.

2. Create “Keepers”

As part of an ongoing campaign, consistently touch targets with stuff they can’t or won’t throw away. Our approach is always to make a land grab for that desktop real estate. If you’ve done that, created an asset that bonds with the user and stays ever present, you’ve done your job.

We know from market research our agents really like their golf. In another example, we created a book that unfolded into a playable golf course, including a miniature club and balls. Each page featured our brand mascot — the Applied Underwriters Big Dog — representing our presence across the U.S., with an 18-hole golf course for each city.

We actually got a patent for the hinge design that made the book stay open and flat while you played. Always ask: “How can I make the user experience better?” The golf course book was absolutely spectacular, unique, and interactive, and people fell in love with it. But this piece would not be effective though if it did not include our core brand messaging.

3. Build Value Beyond the Piece

As great as the direct mail piece may be, for the piece to “take on a life of its own” the campaign cannot end at the physical direct mail piece. It must be supported with a promotional website, social media and even possibly a “thing within a thing”. We created a direct mail piece for our annual Harvest promotion, built around a wine coaster set of five, beautifully illustrated by well-known scratchboard artist Steven Noble (market research also tells us agents really like their wine!)

Each coaster has a QR code that when scanned, takes the visitor on a 360 VR stroll (highlighted by the illustration now coming to life) through a Napa Valley vineyard. This kind of detailing really bonds the piece with the recipient. Moreover, she may use these coasters to augment the experience of sharing wine with friends and family at home, and as such, this DM piece creates an intrinsic “personal value” beyond the promotional aspects.

4. Know Your Audience, Don’t Cast a Too Wide a Net

Know your audience and don’t cast too wide a net or you could waste big bucks fast. We know a lot about the 36,000 or so agents and brokers across the U.S that we target, and we know that they’re interested in insurance. We can do clever things and take chances with spectacular DM and know it won’t fall on deaf ears. The key with any direct mail piece is to appeal to your viewer/target. Do your market research before you commit to producing the piece.

As mentioned above, we know in the workers’ compensation industry, agents like their seasonal favorites like wine and golf. We also know this is a small and finite audience that appreciates brands they perceive as clever. Would taking out banner ads be a better use of funds or work another time? Possibly, but for this audience we know that cementing a reputation as a perceived “clever” brand that knows its audience is the best way to generate the feedback we seek.

5. Feedback Beyond the Piece

Engaging customers about their thoughts on the DM piece is a great way to get a dialogue started. All direct mail pieces should be considered as a first touch point to eventually increase the engagement of the recipient/viewer. This is not a strategy like sending a postcard and saying, “Hey, we are open for business.” Instead, the direct mail piece provides an excellent feedback mechanism that can also be tracked via Salesforce and other programs. Ask your customers, did it work? Did they see it? Did they share it? Ultimately the goal of direct mail is not necessarily to drive sales but to effectively build brand awareness and interact with the customer.

Nate Wells is Vice President Global Communications, Applied Underwriters.

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Lloydmedia, Inc is based in Markham, Ontario, Canada, and is a multi-platform media company which delivers a total audience of more than 100,000 readers across four national magazines, three industry directories, and a range of events and online marketing.