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How to Cut Through the Online Noise with Direct Mail Automation 

User IconDiana Lamirand
Clock IconDecember 9th, 2020
Glasses Icon10 Min Read
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Trying to cut through the digital noise to reach new customers and grow your home services company? Today's marketers believe the solution lies in combining marketing automation with direct mail marketing to achieve the best response rates.

"Email, social media, all marketing is just so overwhelming right now," says Sam Yarborough, Director of Partnerships at PFL, a marketing technology company based in Montana. "If you're just creating more noise, you're not going to be very successful in your campaigns."

To strategize effective direct mail campaigns, it's critical to first understand your audience and what services they're looking for, Yarborough says.

"If you can really reach your audience where they're at and solve problems for them there, that's where you're going to be successful," she adds.

Most businesses think in terms of "What do I want out of the relationship?" instead of shifting the mindset to "What does my customer want out of the relationship?" says Marne Reed, PFLs Chief Evangelist. 

Start the process by creating an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), Reed suggests. What pain points do potential customers experience in real time? How can your company solve those pain points? Is the customer a good match for your company? Who does your company provide value to?

"You're not going to be able to serve everybody," Reed says. "Get really clear on that upfront, before you do any of your marketing. You have to get really clear on who you can serve, and what problem can you solve for them?"

In a recent webinar hosted by ServiceTitan, Yarborough and Reed explain how to leverage the power of automated direct mail by integrating cross-channel marketing efforts for better customer retention.

The PFL marketers explain:

  • Tips for segmenting your customer database for direct mail campaigns

  • How to create eye-catching mailers with clear CTAs

  • How to measure direct mail performance

  • Best practice for integrating direct mail messaging into other marketing efforts

Segment the right audience for direct mail pieces

  • Understand who your customers are 

  • Offer to solve their pain points

  • Personalize the message for better impact

Direct mail automation helps companies target the right customers at the right time, using their own CRM data. 

“Instead of the old batch-and-blast, send 5,000 postcards to a zip code, and hope you get some results out of it, use that database you have to market specifically to the right people," Yarborough explains.

For instance, when an HVAC or plumbing company provides high-quality service to a new customer, marketing teams need to send direct mail postcards thanking the customer for their business and promising to follow up in six months. Or, marketers might automate direct mail to notify new-install customers when it's time to schedule their next HVAC maintenance appointment.

"That makes the direct mail piece directly relevant to them," Yarborough says. "If you're just sending random noise, it's not going to get any traction."

By narrowing the direct mail audience, companies show potential customers they understand who they are and what they need. It's also a perfect time to send personalized postcards with the customer's first name, what kind of service they received, and how your company can help with any future needs.

Brainstorm ideas for direct mail campaign templates by performing a simple sticky-note exercise with your entire team, Reed says. Ask each employee to write down a word or two that describes a problem your company solved for a customer. What does "bad" look like for them?

"Do this exercise with the people who have feet on the street," Reed advises. "They're in the homes, they're providing customers the service, they know what bad looks like. 

"Then you can start to identify the Ideal Customer Profile. Here are the problems we solve for them, and try to understand why they should care about you and the services you provide," she adds.

PFL, a former printing company, narrowed its focus a few years ago and now operates as a 300-person marketing technology business helping other marketers boost their digital marketing efforts. Applying laser focus on PFL's ideal customer helped the company understand how trying to serve everybody often leads to failure.

“It stretches all of your resources super thin and it really dilutes that personal connection to the individual you’re selling to,” Reed says. "By honing in on that Ideal Customer Profile, you're really focusing your resources on that most critical customer, who you can serve and provide value to." 

This helps to improve your company's internal workflow, helping everyone on your team know who you are, who you serve, and why, Yarborough adds. It also boosts branding efforts for cross-channel marketing campaigns.

"If you are doing everything for everyone, you’re really not doing anything for anyone," Yarborough says. "But, if you’re solving this particular issue, when customers have that issue, you’re the first company to come to mind."

Create eye-catching mailers with clear CTAs

  • Create direct mail pieces with eye-catching CTAs in red, orange, or green 

  • Make sure CTAs instruct the customer to take specific action

  • Market to fear of loss, rather than gain

Some marketers come up with an idea for direct mail campaigns and then identify the audience, whereas others strive to first identify the right audience for a specific direct mail message. 

Either way, make sure your direct mail marketing message solves a problem for your Ideal Customer Profile at some point in their buyer's journey, Yarborough says. 

The buying journey begins by making potential customers aware of your company, gets solidified by providing a service and thanking them for the business, and continues by following up and turning them into repeat customers.

"It's about visualizing your customer and knowing where they are in their buying journey, and making sure whatever printed piece you send them is applicable," Reed says. "You don't want it to look generic, and you don't want it to look like you don't know who they are or how they're interacting with you."

Put yourself in your customer's shoes. When you receive postcard campaigns by USPS, what do you do with them? 

"If it’s not immediately clear what they want from you and it’s not super obvious what the postcard is trying to accomplish, it goes in your recycling," Yarborough says. "Maybe, if you’re lucky, it goes on the counter and you revisit it again later. 

"The point here is, you only have this much time, so use it as effectively as you can.”

Make your CTAs big, bold, and very, very clear—and don't get too cute with creative wordsmithing, or try to take up less real estate on the postcard by inserting an unsexy CTA in small font and light coloring in the corner (it may be overlooked by even the most loyal customers).

"Our attention spans are super short, people," Reed says, pointing to a recent HubSpot survey that found marketing and sales emails increased by 123% during the pandemic, while response rates decreased by 33%.

Rather than getting lost in the online email clutter, direct mail marketing gives companies an alternative to get noticed with a personalized message in a crowded, ecommerce world.

"Be bold in your marketing, do something different, stand out from the crowd," Reed says. "You can't keep doing what everybody else is doing. You're just not going to get noticed."

Direct mail pieces with an eye-catching CTA in red, orange, or green grabs the most attention, the marketers say, but make sure the CTA tells the customer exactly what to do.

Do you want the customer to call and book an appointment? Make it easy for them by supplying an 800-number to call or including a QR code they can scan with their phone that redirects them to an appointment-setting site.

Reed says studies show people tend to take action for fear of loss or failure, rather than gain—so sending a positive direct mail postcard with language that simply says, "This is what we can do for you!" may not be as effective as one that shows what might happen if they don't take action now.

How to measure direct mail performance

  • Know the difference between branded vs. take-action messages

  • Use customer behavioral data to inform your messaging

  • Call customers to follow up on direct mail campaigns

A branded direct mail campaign might involve sending a thank-you message to customers after providing service. A direct mail message with a specific CTA might notify customers who bought a new HVAC system in the past year that it's time to schedule a maintenance service visit. 

"Someone on your team at ServiceTitan said, 'If you do a branded postcard, let it be branding.' I thought that was so good," Yarborough says. "Both are equally important, and have their spot in the marketing funnel."

Branding, however, is a little more difficult to measure, she says, because there's no clear call to action for the customer, and you may not see as much of a lift from attributed revenue.

"Branding is more just, 'Thank you for your business. We look forward to serving you in the future.’ Or, ‘It's nice to meet you, here's who we are and here's what we do," Yarborough says. "The goal is to introduce yourself or to re-engage."

Direct mail marketing with a clear call to action, on the other hand, produces more measurable results.

Reed shared a simple, but impactful direct mail campaign created for one of PFL's clients, an oil-changing business with multiple locations. The company accessed its own CRM data to identify customers due for an oil change, then created personalized postcards to give them directions to the nearest location. 

Customers took notice of the "You're past due" message, and they appreciated the company's niche service offering, which gave them the option to wait in their cars while getting their oil changed.

"The company saw a significant uptick using rich, behavioral data from their customers to inform the actual postcard they're sending, and leveraging technology to do it," Reed explains.

In the old batch-and-blast days of direct mail campaigns, Reed says, companies might receive a 7% response rate to direct mail pieces. Today, companies see upwards of 20% to 30% response rates when using rich customer data to inform their marketing efforts through direct mail automation.

"It definitely makes a big difference," Reed says. "It's not just blasting out 5,000 postcards to everybody. It's really blasting out to the most important person, who you know is going to take action on it."

Prep your CSRs, techs, and salesforce before sending direct mail campaigns, so everyone knows your current marketing strategy and can help promote it. If you can spare the staffing, conduct follow-up calls after sending direct mail pieces, which tends to increase response rates better than follow-up emails. 

Best practices for integrating direct mail into other marketing efforts

  • Make automated direct mail another element of your marketing strategy

  • Get team feedback for effective messaging

  • Understand future marketing trends

Direct mail marketing works in conjunction with your company's overall marketing strategy through marketing automation and cross-channel collaboration. 

"It absolutely should just be another element," Yarborough says. "The message you’re sending in your email, social, and paid ads should just be continued in your direct mail. There’s no reason it should be different.

"When people interact with your brand, they should know who you are, what you do, and why you do it. That should be clear across all of your marketing."

To make sure the messaging comes across clearly, try conducting an exercise with team members where you hold up the message for a few seconds, and then ask them:

  • What did it say?

  • Did you care?

  • Would you take action?

If your team responds negatively, Yarborough says it's time to rethink the message and design.

Utilizing direct mail automation software, such as ServiceTitan's Marketing Pro-Direct Mail, helps companies serve up constant, relevant content to customers, much like how the marketing automation platforms of Spotify, Netflix, or Amazon cater to customers with personal messages based on past behavior.

"What PFL and ServiceTitan have done, where direct mail is just another channel in your digital marketing campaign, that is going to be the future of marketing," Reed says. "I think the batch-and-blast days will be over. It's just not as effective."


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