Deliver readers need no reminder that direct response mail is the original measurable form of advertising. Direct mail doesn’t require inferring success from gains in awareness, recall and name recognition — nor does it offer that luxury. People either respond, or they don’t. Should results disappoint, there is no place to hide. All the more reason to celebrate, even brag about, our stunning wins.
And brag we should — in press releases, our own direct mail, blogs and other forms of self-promotion. It’s a great way to share what we learn, attract new clients and grow the industry. (In moments of unguarded candor, we might also admit to enjoying just a smidge of ego gratification.) Yet how we express our successes can undermine or enhance the brand perception of direct mail.
A time-honored practice is to express direct mail results in terms of percent-of-recipients-who-respond. It’s not unusual for practitioners to say, “Our direct mail pulled a response of [whatever number] percent.” This usually elicits a gasp of wonder, oft followed by an uninformed comment along the lines of, “That’s great. I mean, I always heard that 3 percent” — or some other number — “is considered really good.”
It can be tempting to affirm the number cited so as not to ruin a rare moment of basking in unabated admiration. Yet there may be some benefit in setting the record straight instead.
A response is “good” only if it returns a profit. If you need a 3.25 percent response to break even, then 3 percent isn’t so good. But if you break even with a response of just 0.01 percent, you could throw a party celebrating a 0.02 percent response.
Setting that particular record straight is no mere nod to pedantry.
If you give standard-status to an arbitrary number, you risk priming employers and clients to be disappointed, profitability aside, with anything less than that number. The last thing a direct mail pro needs is for a profitable program to be deemed “weak” because it fell short of some folkloric milestone.
So rather than expressing results in terms of percent-who-respond, show them in terms of Return On Investment (ROI). Suppose that a mailing of 200,000 pieces costing $90,000 brings in 5,000 responses that account for $100,000 in revenue. Consider how much more relevant, informative and compelling it is to say “the campaign earned an 11-percent net profit” than to say “it pulled a one-quarter percent response.”
Trumpeting direct mail success is a good thing. But trumpeting that success in terms of ROI helps demonstrate the real power of direct mail — which, we submit, is an even better thing.Opinion, Prospecting, ROI, Strategy