Direct mail and brand measurement (2022 Update)
Brand-building is really what it’s all about for marketing teams. When you build a brand, you create lasting demand for products and services, and provide your entire organization with a platform that you can sell over and service from.
The content and branding provider simplified.co recently listed its five reasons why brand-building is important. Those reasons were:
- Improved customer recognition
- Enhanced competitive edge
- Greater customer loyalty
- Heightened credibility
- Added attractiveness for investors
That’s great stuff. If you knew that by focusing in one area you could have better recognition (quality and quantity) with key customers, greater loyalty from those customers, and an edge vis-à-vis the competition, and look good to investors in the process, you’d be like, “Heck, yes! Where do I sign up?”
It’s brand, people. Focus on building your brand. And direct mail can be a big part of the brand-building process.
Over the last year-plus, we’ve looked at how direct mail can help build your brand. However, while brand-building is fantastic for all the reasons previously cited, it’s merely an idea unless you can measure your success.
Furthermore, if you’re using direct mail in your marketing mix, it’s going to be especially important to understand how much of that brand “lift” you can attribute to your direct-mail campaign.
You may not think direct mail offers a lot of insight into your brand’s performance, but it can, if you’re intentional from the outset about creating a campaign that not only helps you meet short-term goals but also provides information on brand impact.
Here’s how you create such a campaign:
- Create with measurement on your mind
- Always be linking back to your brand
- Brand your call to action (CTA)
- Think like email
- Cross-reference with your list
- Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark
Create with measurement on your mind
The best way to have a measurable campaign is to keep measurement top-of-mind at every step – and that starts at campaign creation.
Specifically, you want maximum certainty surrounding the key questions:
- Was it received?
- Was it opened?
- Was it read?
- Did they perform the desired action(s)?
If you really want to know your mailing was received, sending the mailing in a form that requires a signature will give you that information – at a steep cost. Returned mail will also provide a rough measure of receipt – with the emphasis on “rough.”
A much better way of getting a handle on receipts and opens is by having a clean list – and working with a direct-mail specialist who knows about list maintenance and cleaning.
As for your mailing being read and acted on, consider the placement of your key CTAs. Placement towards the “beginning” of your mailing will show it’s been opened; placement towards the “end” will show it’s been read – but remember that not everyone reads to the end of any marketing piece, including mailings.
This gets really complex with multi-piece mailings. There are multiple potential consumption paths and patterns. Do they read the letter first, or go straight to the shiny object?
If your mailing has multiple pieces, make sure to include a call to action with each piece – identical calls to action if you’re looking for the impact of a mailing, unique CTAs if you’re looking for the impact of a given piece.
To see how and whether your CTA is being consumed, test prototypes of your mailing with colleagues and friends, and ask whether they interacted with the mailing in the sequence you designed. Was their “beginning” your beginning, or did they skip right to the “end”?
Also, ask whether the call to action was clear and compelling – and whether they made it to the CTA without bailing.
If this process seems foreign to you, look at it as user-experience testing, taken from its normal website setting and applied to a mailing.
On the back end of the mailing, make sure your URLs are unique and tied to your main website URL. Have the developer insert the appropriate code snippets so your new pages can be measured via Google Analytics.
If you’re using cookies, have them in place prior to the mailing.
The best way to ensure a measurable campaign is to think measurability from the get-go. It’s significantly harder to tack on later.
Always be linking back to your brand
Let’s be clear: for your direct-mail campaign to measure brand, it has to be brand. It has to serve your brand in the context of everything else you’re doing to build your brand.
It’s been mentioned many times (including in this blog) that direct mail can benefit from a QR code or a URL that takes people to a unique landing page, either via a personal URL (PURL) or a campaign-specific URL.
That’s absolutely true, but you need to take things further and examine whether these pages you’re creating for your campaign are advancing your brand image and aims.
Do the pages (and your campaign) follow brand guidelines for color, font, and logo placement? Do they use the appropriate brand language – not just slogans, but also product terminology, capitalizations, brand voice, and any brand-specific terms?
Finally, does your landing page include links to learn more about your brand? You don’t want to distract people from the activity you want them to complete, but you also want to make it easy for interested people to learn more about your brand.
Once the back end of your mailing is set up to deliver appropriate brand messages, then and only then can you measure the brand impact of your mailing.
If you don’t get the branding right, nothing you measure has utility. It’s all just a bunch of numbers.
Brand your CTA
While you want your CTA to encourage people to complete a concrete action, you also want the action to be identified with your brand.
Here’s an example of how things can go awry: You want to build your mailing list, so you run a promotion where prospects are sent a postcard with a QR code, where they’re directed to supply their name, address and email address to be entered into a drawing for a Visa gift card.
This sounds fairly standard … but what can you measure from a brand standpoint?
The postcard may carry some branding, but it may also carry little more than the name of your company and a logo. The CTA doesn’t reference your brand or product, the landing page is minimally branded, and the giveaway is non-branded. Nothing addresses your brand attributes or reinforces your brand messaging in any measurable way.
A CTA is a rare opportunity to tie your brand to a concrete action, whether it’s going to a website or going to an auto dealership with a key.
Generic CTAs too often result in blah behaviors. Keep your branding elements strong and to the forefront; after all, you’ve placed your organization’s messaging right in someone’s hands. Take advantage of that.
Think like email
Think about the connection between an email and your brand. Normally the email has a header with your logo. The email is full of links to your website. There may be ads on the side, again reinforcing your brand. All can be clicked on and measured.
That’s a lot of branding, brand-building, and brand measurement. In a direct-mail piece? Not so much.
If you set one of your emails side-by-side with one of your direct-mail pieces, you might be amazed at how many more brand-interaction opportunities the email provides.
So … have you ever considered bringing that mentality over to direct mail?
There is no law against building a direct-mail campaign that uses a PURL and a campaign-specific website to deliver two levels of measurement: redemption of a personal offer as well as further investigation of your brand.
Code is relatively cheap, and assuming your developers have some bandwidth, doubling up on the brand measurement may provide valuable additional insights into how your customers and prospects interact with your brand.
Cross-reference with your list
Don’t forget about your list amidst all this messaging!
All prospects and customers are not created equal. Before this process began, you probably had a short list of people who you really wanted to get the message.
It’s vitally important to make sure your VIPs are getting your mailing, so earmark them on your list as the mailing goes out, and monitor them for signs of activity. If there isn’t any, follow up with a phone call.
Ask if they received the mailing but also ask some simple brand questions – and be sure to document the answers.
Sample questions may include:
- What did you think of the mailing?
- What do you think it said about our brand?
- Was the call to action clear?
- Did it change your impression of the brand?
- Do you have any questions?
In addition to going micro, go macro. Break apart your list by key attributes looking for commonalities among who’s opening and responding and who isn’t.
For instance, if no one in a geographic area is responding, maybe it’s time to talk with that territory’s sales rep. Similarly, if a high number of current customers are responding compared to prospects (and by “high” it might be a 20:1 or 30:1 ratio), maybe your prospect list needs reviewing … or you have a high level of brand loyalty.
Brand-building is most effective when every target audience is getting the message and understanding the brand. Looking at results in the context of the demographics of your mailing list helps you spot macro-level trends and make adjustments as needed.
Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark
When you break down brand-building, it basically means improving in two key areas:
- Brand equity
- Brand value
In a lot of financial settings equity and value are equal, but not when it comes to your brand.
According to the survey and research platform Qualtrics, “Brand value is a financial gauge of your brand’s worth; brand equity [has] to do with customer perceptions and how positive they are.”
Going further, Qualtrics defines the financial gauges of brand value as “the amount you would need to spend to design, execute, promote and amplify a totally new brand to the same level as your old one.”
This gives us something to go on as we benchmark brand value and brand equity, and understand how direct mail contributes to both.
If brand equity is the degree of positive customer interactions with your brand, you can measure that in lots of ways. Qualtrics would prefer you do surveys, but you can also look at:
- Social-media mentions
- Web traffic
- Customer-service interactions
- Email stats
- Direct-mail response rates
Everyone interacts differently with a brand at different stages of the customer journey. Understand the journey and the nature of those interactions, and measure regularly, and you’ll make better sense of this data.
Also, if you’ve done your direct-mail campaign properly, you’ll be delivering positive brand interactions to customers through the mail, so determine what data points will be most affected by your campaign and track them comprehensively, before, during, and after your campaign.
As for brand value, that’s a difficult hill to climb, not just in terms of direct mail but how it relates to your brand in general. It requires you to tally the amount you’ve spent on branding over your brand’s lifespan – which could be more than a century – and calculate how much it would cost to replicate in today’s dollars.
Most people who go through this process significantly undervalue their brand, because they neglect one important fact: Brand value-building is multiplicative, not additive. Every ad, every personal recommendation, every placement on store shelves, and every piece of direct mail amplifies everything that’s been done before.
To re-create the impact of your mail campaign if you were starting from scratch, you’d have to spend the dollar equivalent of all those impressions times each other.
Looking at it that way, the change in brand value from your mail campaign might be 0.000000000001%. But if you don’t do it now, it becomes much more difficult and expensive to replicate that impact down the road.
Bringing things back down to earth, there’s tremendous value in conducting regular brand-awareness and brand-favorability research. With a major direct-mail campaign it’s particularly useful to measure the “lift” provided by the campaign.
Key questions to ask are:
- Is your brand top-of-mind? Can customers and prospects name it without being prompted?
- What attributes do people associate with your brand – positive and negative? How does this compare to competing brands?
- Have people tried your brand? Have they tried your competition? How frequently? How recently?
- Have people seen your mailing? Your ads? What do they think of them?
- Would people buy your product again, or recommend it to a friend?
As part of the process, examine the demographic breakdown of your survey respondents and compare it to your list composition. Look for commonalities and areas of divergence. Remember, who’s not getting your brand messages is at least as important as who is.
Your brand is everything. Direct mail can help you understand how customers and prospects view your brand purpose through how they interact with your brand.
Want to learn more about how we can help with brand measurement using direct mail? Contact us for more information.
By Dan Topel 4/18/22