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Dimensional Mail Most Effective Direct Response Strategy for B-to-B Sales - Part 1

Jun 4, 2008
Want to boost response in your B-to-B mailings? Need to break into new markets, find a new application for an existing product to a new audience? Need to reach out to hard-to-get-at executives and get their attention? Need to increase your response rate to the tune of 300% while increasing ROI?

The answers might be found with one of your vendors, but it's not your list broker, your printer, or your data processing shop - it's at your packaging producer!

The average senior executive receives a minimum of 8,000 messages of various types a day, either through passive billboards and building signage, e-mails, pop-up websites, product packaging on shelves in stores, television, background radio, newspapers and magazines, mail in the in-box, and other sources.

If you want your message to stand out, you had better be prepared to do some homework on your target audience, and give them something they will remember and find actionable.

One of the best ways to show that you really know your target is to send them something they find valuable. Of course, you could send them each a few one hundred dollar bills in an envelope, and if the envelope looked like "unwanted" mail, the only one who would gain would be the clever garbage man who sifted the trash! Even if you send something that is exactly on track, you still have to get it to the recipient and they have to find it intriguing enough to open it. They won't find the value and all that research is wasted unless they get past the "messenger".

Studies commissioned by a major mailer carried out by a well-known research firm(us)have revealed that boosting open rates has direct correlation to sales carry-through. You had probably drawn that conclusion yourself through simple instinct and deduction, but the study proves it beyond a doubt. So now, based on that, the challenge becomes more basic - get their attention and make it intriguing enough to be sure it gets opened, and sales will follow. Well, not quite.

The study of 50 top executives at commercial companies of over 1000 employees along the East Coast made clear that while they were obviously going to have a better chance of purchasing something from a solicitation if they opened the package, those odds only increased by an estimated 20%. That boosts your overall response by .05% - not much help.

One of the more powerful drivers was brand - if they had heard of the firm on the envelope, they were more than 65% more likely to open it than if it came from an unknown source. Previous studies had shown that it takes from 5-8 repeated exposures to yield recognition from an unknown audience. It would then follow that if you send your best and most effective piece first, it stands little chance of getting any attention at all. If you warm-up the prospects to build recognition with simple brand-oriented messaging first, your big guns stand a better chance of being effective and well-received. Clearly, a more in-depth approach and a solid plan based on research is needed. One hit wonders need not apply.

The most revealing statistic to come out of the study was one regarding outer wrapper and its relevance to the target. Over 85% of the executives in the study said they would be more likely to open an item if it was especially large, odd-sized, or appeared to have come by a delivery service other than the U.S. Post Office - FedEx, DHL, even UPS fared better than the USPS to convey urgency. Some companies have gone to great expense to reproduce a faux FedEx envelope as a carrier to great initial success, but only for a short period of time, based on the other revealing statistic from the study. More on that later. These would have to be produced on a huge scale to gain any price economy, and the nature of B-to-B marketing trends toward smaller mail quantities, due to tighter targeting, reduced availability of good lists and market intelligence, and lack of manpower to do follow up necessary to close large-scale sales on high-dollar services and goods.

The downfall of this approach is two-fold:

First, the disappointment factor is very high - expectations are raised when the courier envelope appears on their desk, but upon opening it, they discover they have been "duped" by another irrelevant offer - into the trash it goes.

The second factor is lack of replicability. If you have several executives on your list from the same firm, spreading out the title selects to hit a broader spectrum within each firm, at the same address, receipt will likely occur on the same day at the same time, based on the nature of postal delivery and internal distribution schedules at large enterprises. Execs noted that if anyone lower on the org chart than themselves also received one, it was deemed of lesser importance than it appeared, and into the trash it went. A byproduct of this is that fatigue happens very quickly, and response decline is at least as rapid - recipients are now wary of the "faux FedEx" and are more resistant than ever to opening them. In a sense, they are the antibiotic of the direct response world - they work great for a short while, but the organism develops and immunity to it and it is less and less effective over time. Our research shows that these packages fatigue at an incredible rate, and recapture rates for mailing other offers is almost nil.

Clearly, a better plan is needed. Now that we've outlined the challenge, we'll need to address the strategic approach to overcoming it. When using dimensional mail, the lesson is "Live up to the promise of the package".
About the Author
David Poulos, Chief Consultant at Granite Partners has been offering marketing guidance to firms for over 25 years. Specialties include non-profit marketing and full-scale strategic marketing campaigns. He can be reached at http://www.granite-part.com, or 410-472-4570.
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