In this ever-changing world, we continue to see new prospecting tools, but there is a staple that many marketers continue to rely on and that is direct mail. Of course, direct mail takes on different forms, ranging from targeted, unaddressed pieces to parcels that demand attention, simply based on size.

Given that this article recommends unaddressed mail as a prospecting tool, I also want to provide a few guidelines, including some elements that have application for all types of marketing.

Depending on the nature of your business, prospecting and sales can happen at different levels. A fast food franchise might use unaddressed mail to deliver sales flyers, with the objective of generating short-term sales to customers, be they current or new patrons. On the other hand, many other businesses are looking at longer sales cycles, where the direct marketing piece is that all-important point of first contact from which they hope that a business relationship can be developed. This article will tend to focus more on the latter, under three main headings: benefits of mail, basis of an unaddressed strategy, and results and incentives

Benefits of mail

Still the best slice ever

Before delving into the specific topic of using unaddressed mail as a prospecting tool, I want to point out that every piece of mail has a distinct advantage over other forms of advertising—that it must be handled and looked at. Why? Because promotional mail is usually intermingled with other mail such as bills, other administrative correspondence, etc. This, in turn, gives every piece of mail a “time slice,” however brief that may be. Our job as marketers is to get noticed and deliver the right message to ensure that we engage the prospect.

It is also important to note how recent studies have shown that this little “slice of mail” results in better comprehension, retention and response levels when compared to identical content in an online environment. Although we have expected this all along, it is nice to have the science to back it up.

Effect of CASL limitations

Before the implementation of CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) we could rent email lists and target new prospects without incurring print, mail prep and postage costs. Properly executed, these types of campaigns did deliver results.
Although a qualified email list is an extremely valuable asset, today it is not as simple to target new prospects via email in order to build our in-house email lists. Of course with direct mail we can still target as we wish and with well-designed unaddressed mail campaigns we can seek the approvals that we need to expand our email lists.

Print drives digital

We have all heard that content is king, but most of us know that there is some great online content that is not being read! It is quite likely that if more of your potential prospects could find your content, they might be interested in signing up to receive your regular electronic communications or better yet sign up as customers. Unaddressed mail is often used to make that all-important first connection and to drive new prospects to your web content.

Remember that when using unaddressed mail for prospecting we are not always looking for a short-term sale, but an opportunity to establish new relationships that we can nurture. We will look at this further, below.

Basis of an unaddressed strategy

Why will the customer buy from you?

There are different reasons why people might buy the products or services that you are offering, but it often comes down to three main questions:

  1. Do your products or services solve a problem or satisfy a need?
  2. Will the value of the benefits you provide outweigh the costs?
  3. Is there a sense of urgency for people to respond?

These points will all be taken into consideration by the buyer, but sometimes you also have to look at your Unique Value Proposition or Unique Sales Proposition, which is the reason or reasons why people should buy, specifically, from you. Uniqueness can sometimes be inherent in the products that businesses sell, especially if they have exclusive rights in certain markets. In other cases, it can take some real soul searching and perhaps even an outside perspective to identify these strategic reasons. The key is to look at what you have to offer that others do not. If you cannot identify advantages, you should look at developing something that sets you apart from “the other guys.”

Even though you may have a competitive advantage to offer, your marketing materials should also focus on the benefits of your products or services. Some people confuse benefits and features. For example, focusing on the fancy name for a new coating on brake pads would mean very little to the consumer, unless we also tell them these brakes will allow them to stop faster and offer them longer brake pad life.

Single or two-tier offers

Every marketer knows that a direct marketing piece should have a call to action. Interestingly though, we usually see a single offer, such as “Call before April 30 to take advantage of our 15% early bird discount.” That’s good and it can work; however, when we are using unaddressed mail as a prospecting tool one of our main goals is to gather new contact data, which we can also accomplish by using an integrated microsite (or landing page) to attract those that do not respond to the primary offer.

The secondary offer usually has some form of incentive which should be consistent with the value you place on turning those in the targeted group into qualified prospects. These types of microsites usually include mandatory fields for gathering contact data, optional fields for gathering profiling data and a CASL-compliant email opt-in.

Timing and repetition

Common sense usually prevails when it comes to timing. For example, you would not promote tax preparation services one week after the tax filing deadline, nor would you promote wheat seed to farmers in the middle of planting season.

It is also important to note, that repetition applies to direct mail, just as it does to other forms of marketing. If you have a highly attractive product or service with a stellar offer, one mailing may do the trick, but we have seen great success with campaigns that feature good creative and a good offer, delivered three times to the same audience at one month intervals.

Targeting and direction instructions

If we are using Canada Post’s Neighbourhood Mail, we can target apartments, houses, farms and businesses. On the consumer side, we have a broad range of criteria we can choose from within the Canada Post Precision Targeter system. For farms, we know they are farms, but do not know whether they might be dairy, livestock, cash crops etc.; however, knowledge of farming activity by region, combined with information from Statistics Canada can help in qualifying target markets for farms. Lastly, with the basic criteria available within Precision Targeter we cannot identify industry type, size etc. for businesses.

As you can see, our ability to qualify target groups will vary by the types of markets that we want to target. As such, we sometimes have to become more creative to identify the Canada Post walks and routes that will give us the highest percentages of the type of prospects we are trying to reach.

Direction instructions, such as “Attention: IT Manager” are also very important when targeting businesses with unaddressed mail. With smaller businesses, the unaddressed mail piece will often be seen by the owner or office manager, but with larger organizations the piece will go to reception or perhaps to a mail room, so it important to know to whom it should be directed.

Results and incentives

Response rates on white card testing

People often ask us what response they should expect when using unaddressed mail. Well, that depends on what they are mailing and if it clearly conveys the value of their products as well as their company. However, we did do some experimenting of our own, which produced some very interesting results.

We were curious to know what the response rate to a plain white card with only a QR Code and URL would be in a B2B market. To ensure that no one recognized the domain, we simply registered the domain white-card.ca. The results were impressive, with response rates of roughly 6.7% in each of three business markets in different cities. Although this does not really help to quantify response rates when it comes to a printed card, featuring creative and an offer etc., it does demonstrate that curiosity can be a strong motivator.

Canada Post incentives

There is no doubt that our business mix has seen a resurgence in Neighbourhood Mail (formerly Unaddressed Admail) over the last couple of years. I think we can attribute this to the incentives that Canada Post has been offering, with some postage discounts as deep as almost 50% for qualified customers and that, with success, new users of this product have become repeat customers.

The Canada Post incentives have been appreciated by everyone that we have worked with and, together with some good planning and execution, they have turned some skeptics into believers in these products.

Conclusion

Unaddressed mail does work as a prospecting tool, if planned and executed properly. It also affords unlimited opportunities to integrate with other components of our marketing programs, accommodating ongoing dialogue with new prospects as well as opportunities to drive new prospects to valuable web content.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Dave Ward

Dave Ward is President of Highland Marketing and a proponent of intelligent direct marketing, which combines the practical elements of using the right mix of direct marketing services and Canada Post products together with options that serve to heighten engagement and improve overall ROI.

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