The ROI of Direct Mail [Podcast Episode]

Wait…this is a digital marketing podcast. Why are we talking about direct mail?


But direct mail can actually be a great component of your otherwise solely-digital strategy.

Digital Marketing Consultant Tod Cordill explains how direct mail can reach your audience in a way email can’t always achieve and how you can track this effort in Google Analytics.


, The ROI of Direct Mail [Podcast Episode]


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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The value of direct mail
  • How it fits into your marketing automation 
  • How to track your direct mail efforts
  • What kind of companies would benefit most from direct mail

Related links/resources:


Amanda: Hey friends, welcome to Cashing in on Content Marketing. I’m Amanda Milligan, the marketing director at Fractl. And every week on the show, I interview marketing experts about ways to know the value of your work and get buy-in for your strategies. This week on the show, I am pleased to be joined by Todd Cordell, he’s a digital marketing consultant who is going to talk to us about direct mail, something I know almost nothing about, which has definitely changed in 2020, and beyond, we’re recording this in December 2020. So, you’re probably listening to this the beginning of 2021. So, Todd is here to share his insights on how direct mail could be beneficial to you. So, welcome to the show, Todd.

Tod: Thank you, Amanda, it’s good to be here. There’s a little oxymoron that some people might think that you stated, they’re saying, I’m a digital marketing consultant, I’m here talking about direct mail. A lot of people will think those are two completely different things. But maybe by the end of this half hour, people will kind of change their minds on that. So–

Amanda: Yeah, that’s why I’m personally just very interested to hear what you have to say, because I have not done any kind of physical marketing, like offline. So, to see how this all ties together would be really interesting. I think just to start, I like to start with kind of like, lighter questions or more, you know, general questions. So, like when you think direct mail, like I think like postcards, and that sort of thing, like what are the different forms that direct mail can even take?

Tod: You know, I always think of postcards first, too, because I just love them because they get in your hand and you see the whole message right in front of you. But postcards are the most basic and when I think of postcards, I think big like you know, six by eight, or you know, six by nine large, oversized postcards. And not just little post cards, actually those sizes that we’re thinking of, like, three by five cards, or whatever they are, that you get from your dentist for your reminder, appointment reminders. Yeah, so there’s postcards, they are printed on both sides, variable data on both sides. There are self-mailers, which you just think of a postcard that you fold up. So, it’s self-mailers, one printed piece that gets folded somehow, and maybe some fancy cuts on it or something, but it’s just folded up. And so, you can unfold that and there’s kind of a reveal, it’s a user experience, really with direct mail, when you open it up, you’re revealing the message and revealing this experience very tactile. There’s postcards and self-mailers, then there’s, well, we’re all familiar with letters, with eight and a half by 11, the common size is folded in thirds. And then there’s this whole category, but letters can be one simple letter, or it can be four pages, it can be colored inserts put in, a lot of things you can do with a letter. And then the last category which can be construed is lumpy mail, which is actually what gets opened the most. And it’s three dimensional. So, lumpy mail might be, think of a FedEx envelope, when I used to open my own FedEx envelope, it had a little toy inside of it. So, it’s a big one inside this FedEx envelope. And it gets people open it, you know, the curiosity just drives people to open that. So, that’s one B mail, it opens well, and then the other 3d is packaging. The package, it could be a box, it could be just kind of a folded up thing that’s big. It has a lot of heft to it. So, lumpy mail, I kind of put them together, lumpy mail and small packages are kind of three dimensional.

Amanda: Yeah, because I can totally see why people would want to open those more, I would die to know what’s in either. That would be really hard to just throw in the trash can. But you also said recently, you’ve been talking about virtual event kits, which sounds very much relevant to today, maybe not something that was always done, but why do you think that that might be a good strategy, so people are attending all these virtual events? What do you think is useful about receiving something in the mail?

Tod: It just makes it real. You get something in your hand. It just makes it really, I’ve got this big monitor in front of me and got it in a corner that I’m watching, but it’s just not real. It’s competing over here on the left with the table I have in my email on my other monitor over there. It’s just not very real. And when you get something in your hand and you feel it, maybe you smell it, some taste it, it’s just in your hand, it’s something real. Get it. The other thing it does is it gives people something to talk about, you know, even on break, breakout sessions if you send attendees T-shirts, some people will put them on, you’re just branded right there, snacks, fun snacks. Okay, I’ve heard a lot about people being excited about snacks that they got in an event kit. 

So, it makes the event real, it really gives it a physical aspect, even though it’s a virtual event. And if everybody gets the same thing, it’s this collective thing. And, I was just thinking about that, I’ve gone to one three day conference where, you know, I didn’t get anything, I was actually a little disappointed. But I should have expected that. But I went to another local digital marketing agency, they had a wine tasting and learn, where you signed up for it a week or two ahead of time, and they sent you a package with three wine, three small bottles of wine in the box. And then during this hour long video conference, webinar type thing, they went back and forth between the president of the agency talking about some digital marketing thing, I forget what it was, I’m sure it was around digital advertising, because that’s what they specialize in. And then align Somalia a little, they’d kind of go back and forth. And so, you’d open up your bottle of the Somalia that they were talking about and pour yourself a glass and there’s 20, 40, 50 people all going through this at the same time. So, that was a really good example of making it physical, and the event was at five o’clock, four or five o’clock in the afternoon. So, having the wine was not a bad thing.

Amanda: Well, nowadays, when everything is virtual, and you have a ton of these events, even if it’s just meetings at work, how do you separate your own event from anyone else’s in someone’s mind? Right, like your world? I remember that, because that was interesting and different, there were like a million other meetings that you had virtually, probably you’re going to melt them together or not really.

Tod: They just, yeah, they just blend together, they do.

Amanda: So, I assume people compare direct mail most frequently with email. I don’t know if that’s even the right comparison. 

Tod: Oh, yeah. 

Amanda: Direct mail has the benefit of being able to send somebody more interesting things like you’re saying, like, a wine package. But what are some other benefits, pros and cons to both? So, somebody sitting there deciding on either both strategies, what are some things that you know, each can do that the other can’t?

Tod: So, direct mail has been around just a little bit longer than then email, maybe by a century or so. But they’re very similar, you can think of them very similar in a lot of ways, the designs are different, there’s so many things that are different about them. And timing, obviously, you’re not going to sign up for it, you get a white paper and have it show up at your doorstep 10 seconds later, like the email will be. But a lot of things are very similar in a lot of ways that you’ve measured them. We’ll maybe go into measuring later, but you can actually measure them quite similarly. The things are different, but they are same, but there’s certain things that direct mail can do that email doesn’t or there’s certain times when email isn’t working, you may want to interject direct mail. One of the most common typical one is email fatigue. When people quit opening their emails, you know, you’ve got a lot of choices. You can have a salesperson, give them a call, you can just wipe them off your list and say they’re not going to be a prospect, there’s a lot of things you can do and some of those things are quite expensive, especially salespeople taking time or even visiting. So, one easy way to do it is to send a oversized postcard if somebody quits opening your emails or quits clicking in your emails. And I first thought of this one strategy, it’s been about seven or eight years ago, first ever marketing automation, lunch and learning event I went to and it was a large marketing automation company. But the largest top sales guy afterwards he goes in, he said, yeah, there’s one thing we don’t really talk about much because we do email marketing automation. But he says when we have a really good lead, they score really high on all the industry, the role the person has, when we have a good lead and they stop engaging in our emails we sent in the direct mail, and he’s a sales guy. He didn’t know what the ROI was, he didn’t know what the response rate was. But he said we’re a data driven company and we do it, and we’ve been doing it for a while. So, I know the results are good. So, that’s what is email fatigue is really an obvious one. And the other is even when there’s not email fatigue, we all know that our inboxes or email inboxes are just crazy busy. In Google puts all these emails and other tabs, and I never look at, the hits go down below the fold, and they’re gone. 

So, that inbox competition is something that direct mail can really address, the you get, you send a direct mail piece, a letter, whatever it is, it’s there, people get to see it, even if they don’t read it. If it’s an envelope, and they don’t open up the envelope, they at least have a touch point, they see your brand. And that’s why I like the oversized postcards, if it’s in their hand, and you’ve got your main message you want to convey to them, printed big and bold on the front side, and a little more detail on the back side, but not small print. People see it even if it’s going right to the recycle bin, they’ll see your message, whether they respond right away or not. It’s a really good touch point. I’m old enough to remember all the discussions at work that people always complain in gripe about junk mail, that’s what we called it in the day. And you typically get 10, 20 pieces of whatever in your mailbox, maybe not 20 most of time, it’s the holiday season, but you get 10,12 things in your mailbox almost every day. And it just goes, and this is even before recycling. In some cases, you know, they to go to the garbage cans. So, people can gripe about that, and it’s been over a decade since I’ve heard anybody complain about junk mail, but we certainly hear about spam in our email inbox a lot. So, that inbox competition is another really good way to compete against that, the response to that is with direct mail. And then as always, unsubscribes you have a good contact, good prospect that unsubscribes, you’re not going to be sending in marketing emails anymore, you can still send direct mail.

 Amanda: Yeah, it’s the fun ebb and flow of marketing where everybody rushes to a channel that it’s saturated. And then everybody like realizes that the original channel is actually pretty effective now, because it’s much less diluted.

Tod: Market channels don’t die very often, they change, they might integrate with other channels, but they don’t die, they don’t die away very often. 

Amanda: Yeah. You mentioned before the automation piece, and how the sales guy kind of knew that it fit in with their strategy, they had all the data for it. So, I think that’s a good transition for if somebody is going to do this kind of strategy, and incorporate direct mail into their approach, how can they integrate it into whether it’s their marketing automation or anything else to track that it’s actually working and that they’re reaching people.

Tod: So, okay, I’m going to break that into two things. One is how to integrate into marketing automation, the other is tracking, which is a whole different thing. But yeah. So, you can trigger direct mail just like with an audit marketing automation platform, just like you trigger an email. The person, their lead score gets high enough to where they become marketing qualified, and you want to send them something. There’s a lot of ways to do it, there’s platforms out there, where you could actually just put another box in your flow on your marketing automation platform. This says send direct mail piece, and it’ll automatically send the information for that contact, as well as all the meta information, their role, what campaign they’re in, whatever, and then you can send that, there’s various ways to do it, you can send it to the printer eventually, but you can send it to a spreadsheet, which automatically goes to the printer, or the direct integration. And once a day, once a week, whatever kind of things you have set up that direct mail will get sent out and would be a very personalized direct mail for that particular person where they are in the channel, what industry they’re in. You can personalize, customize that direct mail piece with all that data. It’s not just blasts out, the same direct mail piece to thousands of people. It’s a one-to-one marketing, and there’s tools out there. I have a buddy in a Boston company called Postalytics, they integrate with HubSpot and many other directly and active campaign and pretty much any marketing automation platform, they can integrate into where it’s just a step, that step in the flow of the marketing automation processes since the data, it can get printed and emailed, sent out. And the timing isn’t like an email, but generally we’ll get there in four days. So, if you have longed for b2b or considered purchases for b2c, where the sale cycle sales time is measured in weeks or months, instead of instantaneous, that three- or four-day delay is really not going to get too much.

Amanda: Do we want to get into any more of the tracking stuff, or is that a whole, that’s too big of a–?

Tod: You know, that’s the whole point of your, isn’t that your mission with your podcast? To talk about how you measure this stuff. 

Amanda: Right.

Tod: Yeah, we should get into that. So, yeah, there’s a lot of ways, you know, going back to what you said earlier about email and direct mail kind of being quite similar, they’re kind of analogous. You know, in email, you’ve got bounce rates, in direct mail, you have change of address. And the nice thing about direct mail is the postal service will forward it, if it’s a first class mail, somebody changes their address, it’s going to get forwarded to them, now on the consumer side and the business side, that’s not going to work so well. But on the consumer side, they’ll still get it even if they change their address versus somebody changes their email address, they’re lost. You know, they lost their CRM system, probably the last few markets, you know, your email platform, they’re lost, or they’re gone for good until they decide to come back some other time. So, direct mail, so instead of bounces you have two things. One is if post office has the address form that will get forwarded. The other is, it will get returned and you’ll know so you can clean up, and let’s say, this is no longer a good address, for whatever reason. So, there’s bounces and there’s returns or forwarding. There’s you know, we don’t have an open rate, you can be notified the day that the letter gets delivered, leaves the post office in the morning, you can be notified. And you can automate that into your market automation system, send an email saying, hey, when you get home tonight, look for this package we just sent to you or look for this mailer, or you can wait a couple days, whatever. So, there is that feedback that you could put into your marketing program. But getting more specific, you know, the real goal, what I usually tried to do with direct mail is measure it the same way I do everything else. And that’s with Google Analytics, and there’s a lot of ways to do that. One is like with an email, if you create a landing page for a campaign, you can do that in direct mail too, you send them to a particular URL, a particular landing page. And if that landing page isn’t used for anywhere else, isn’t searched by Google, if the search results aren’t coming in, you can know how many people went to that landing page, if you send out 10,000 direct mail pieces, and 300 people came into that landing page, you know, you had a 3% and a half right, 3% response rate. 

So, just having particular landing pages is one way to measure it. Another is very similar; you have a URL for that direct mail piece that goes on there. And you want it to be simple, easy to type in, it’s what I call a friendly URL, but that friendly URL when it hits the website, you can actually redirect that to whatever landing page you want it, whatever page on the website, you want, it attaches your UTM, your Google Analytics UTM parameters, and you can measure it that way. So, you can have a campaign, have its own direct mail campaign hobbits, has its own campaign, you know the channel with direct mail. So, you can measure it that way. The other, which is a little more complex, and it’s been talked about quite a bit in the direct mail industry is personalized URLs. Pearls, as people affectionately call them, to where each person individually send, the direct mail piece has their own URL. So, it might be your company name, and it might be their name with some, their first name with some digits after it or something to make people unique, there’s lot of ways to do that. And so, then you know when they come into the website exactly who it is, and that can tie in really well and leave a good mark on their platforms. I’ve seen that used or you know, less or I’ve kind of suggested people use that a little less because now with marketing automation you already know, some subset of your users coming in, they are known users, if they’re in your marketing automation platform, and they’re an unknown user, you could just send them any URL, and you charge them a fee when they come in. So, you know, when they come in, so I see the personalized URLs being not quite as compelling as it used to be because of marketing automation. So, those are the three main ways that I suggest people use for measuring.

Amanda: Yeah, that’s really useful. Just to know that there’s a couple different options out there for making sure it’s integrated with everything else we’re tracking. So, somebody listening to this, how do they know that this would fit well into their strategy? And I guess my question there means like, are there certain types of companies that it makes more sense for, or certain parts of the funnel that it makes more sense for? Like, when do you think is the best opportunity that direct mail can kind of step in and take over?

Tod: So that’s a really good question. So, direct mail, you know, you need to look at ROI, because people think sending an email is free, which in some ways it kind of is, you know, the incremental cost of adding one more email to a program that’s going on, isn’t much, direct mail is more costly. So, if you have really low margin, really low customer life value, lifetime value, it might not pan out very well. But when you have any kind of considered purchases, long lead times where people are thinking comparing over several months, or researching direct mail makes sense. When one company sends me, that piece of direct mail, it seems like every week, it’s a cruise company that specializes on river cruises, not ocean cruises. And it’s looking at, like three to $5,000 for one-person, double occupancy. So, they get this $8,000 sale for them, probably on average, maybe a little higher. And they find direct mail, because they do so consistently over the last few years, since they got on their list, it’s very compelling for them. So, when you have a good life, you know, a good purchase, a sizable purchase, where your customer value is high, anytime you have that it’s good. A lot of consumer companies, ROI is my favorite direct mail pieces that come in regularly. The lifetime value, you know, you don’t look at one sale, you look at the lifetime value of the customer and those touch points, keep bringing them back in. So, really the key thing is it’s good lifetime value, whether it’s from one big sale or from several smaller sales over time. Direct Mail can be very effective, it’s very effective for nurturing, and it’s very effective for retaining customers you already have, it gets used a lot in the company’s marketing programs, where the value of the customer, the value of the sale is high, there’s maybe a lot of players involved, you might send direct mails to the CFO, as well as the buy-in manager, whatever department it’s in that you’re selling to. So, it can be very effective, it’s a real approach deal. There are just all kinds of ways to use it, but the main thing is that they have longer sales cycles and high value customers.

Amanda: That makes sense. I know you’ve listened to some previous episodes, and I used to ask a question at the end of every episode, I want to switch that for 2021 I think it’s time to ask a new question. And I want to focus more on creativity, which I think is fun for direct mail because like you just said there’s a million different ways you can kind of incorporate it into getting people’s attention and fitting them into the funnel. So, what tips do you have for people and how to think about this creatively to stand out amongst all the other mail that people are getting in their mailboxes, and actually engage them?

Tod: So, you’ve changed it up on me here and I didn’t realize it. So, yeah, welcome to 2021 you all. My biggest tip on direct mail is that creativity is a perfect lead, and for this don’t think of direct mail as a separate thing. Don’t think that we do this email marketing and we got salespeople calling people, and then over here we did this direct mail thing that’s kind of pigeonholed into like we use it for this. Think of direct mail as part of your overall customer journey, any customer including customer retention, and just integrate it into everything else that you do, If you send a direct mail piece, send an email two days before they’re going to get it and send them an email a couple days later. Of course, the obvious thing is, if you send a direct mail piece, it’s got a really nice design. Be sure when somebody follows the call to action, goes to your website, and types in the URL, or use the QR code on their phone, which is starting to become more common again, when they get to that landing page, the message, the branding, the visual components of your direct mail piece tie into what they get to on the landing page. It all works together; all these channels are better together.

Amanda: So, they often say.

Tod: Yeah, I’m a digital marketer first, and I talked about direct mail a lot, quite a bit, I write about direct mail quite a bit. But at the end of the day, I do a lot of digital marketing for my clients, and they’re very similar, and they can be tied together and they’re all better together. And digital marketers get their head around that very often, it’s too different, you know, the direct mail people or some other department somewhere, if you’re doing direct mail, you got to get them together, you got to have them work together, plan their campaigns, plan their ongoing marketing programs, plan together, make them work together.

Amanda: I think it’s easier to be creative when you have a little bit more structure anyway, like when it’s just a blank page, like, okay, we’re direct mail, what are we going to do, like to have the greater campaign as a guide to know that this is your overall objective, and this is how everything else is looking, I it think can help you be a little more creative when you have some guidance set up.

Tod: It sure does. Yeah, guidance is not, it shouldn’t be construed as constraining, it should be construed as refrain. It does, it gives you some bounds and then you can get creative and stay within those bounds and may break them every now and then. But–

Amanda: Absolutely. Well, Tod, knowing the objective of this show, who would you recommend being a guest on a future episode?

Tod: Oh, well, I’ve heard you’ve done a few artificial intelligences. If you want to explore that a little more, somebody that I’d recommend is another Portlander here and she was here in Oregon, is Pam Didner. I’m not sure if you had her on the show.

Amanda: I haven’t. She’s literally about like fitting on a list of people I’m about to pitch today. I really want her on the show. Yeah, I want to reach out. 

Tod: Yeah, I’ll shoot her an email saying expect a call or an email from Amanda. Yeah, Pam is really good, because she’s recently written a book on ROI for marketers. And she’s got a lot of large corporations, she’s kind of the opposite of me. She’s worked at, I think she was in charge of global Content Marketing for Intel. So, she’s got this whole different perspective than I did, because I kind of focus on SMBs. So, she’s one, another one that’s interesting is Carter Posley from Intel. It’s a B2B, social media company that really kind of focuses on influential marketing, and content is all about what they do. Pulling it, getting content, working with influencers and content for their clients. So, that’s another one that might be interesting for your podcast.

Amanda: Awesome. Yeah, that sounds fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Todd, for taking the time to be on this show. And yeah, hopefully we get the chance to talk again soon.

Tod: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for having me on.

Amanda: If you’ve listened to this and want even more tips, sign up for our podcast newsletter by going to the podcast page on the fractal website. And if you’ve learned anything from this show, we’d love it if you’d subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and leave a review. Finally, if you have any feedback, suggestions, ideas, aspirations, fears, Spotify, playlists, pet photos, cookie recipes, or anything you’d like to share with me shoot me an email at, [email protected]. I’m a shameless extrovert who would love to hear from you. Thank you to Sean Kelly for podcast music and editing and to, Joao Pereyra for the logo design. And thank you, dear listener. I hope you’ll join us next time.

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