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New Study: 18-34 Year-Olds Prefer Direct Mail Over Email

I can’t remember the last time I got a personal letter. Even my birthday and anniversary cards are likely to come via email these days. But my daughter got a postcard yesterday from her soon-to-be First Grade teacher telling her how excited she was to meet her when school starts in a few days. Not only was it totally unexpected, but the look on my daughter’s face has already sent the teacher’s Brand Perception through the roof in our family.

My daughter is not alone in responding favorably to Direct Mail. According to the August, 2010 Consumer Channel Preference Study by Epsilon Targeting, 18-34 year-olds overwhelmingly prefer to receive information via postal mail compared to any other medium across a wide variety of categories, with one exception (Travel). (You can download the full study here. And thanks to the TM Tipline newsletter for tipping me off to the new study.)

As you can see from the following sample of products and services, the preference for direct mail over email is staggering. In no case is it less than 2 to 1, and in one case, direct mail beats email by nearly 6 to 1.

Product/Service Mail Email
Sensitive Health 43% 9%
Prescription 41% 11%
General Health 37% 11%
Personal Care 37% 10%
Food Product 36% 11%
Cleaning Product 34% 9%
Financial Services 40% 7%
Insurance 38% 8%
Travel 28% 13%

There’s more in the survey. For instance, when it comes to household products, Newspaper Inserts are in second place, preferred 2 to 3 times more than email. For health related products, information from friends, family and doctors is more desirable than email, although still not as desirable as direct mail. (Maybe that’s because direct mail can be more private and less confrontational than asking your best friend, lover or doctor about a medical need?)

The survey also assessed trust, and found, as expected, that for health care, medical professionals are most trusted. For everything else, friends and family are at the top. The next most trusted source is newspapers, followed by company websites. Social Media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are in the basement at 7-8%.

Source Trust
Doctor/Nurse 80%
Friends or Family 57%
Newspaper 26%
Company Websites 22%
Television 20%
Direct Mail Brochures or Flyers 18%
Radio 16%
Email 12%
Other Online Sites 11%
Cell Phone 9%
Blogs 8%
Facebook 8%
Online Forums 8%
YouTube 7%
Twitter 7%
Other Social Media 7%

So what are we to derive from this survey? Well, aside from the premise that more people prefer and trust dead tree communications (direct mail, newspapers) over electronic ones, I think the big lesson here is that you can’t put all of your communications in one basket. At its best, direct mail only reached a 43% preference. That means that 57% of potential customers want to be communicated with through a different medium.

As the Director of Integrated Marketing at Tanen Directed Advertising, a channel-neutral direct marketing agency, this is good news to me. It supports what I’ve always believed: combined arms tactics beat single tactic strategies every time.

It also means you can never stop testing. What works today may not work tomorrow. Just a few years ago, email was outperforming direct mail. Adults 18-34 may prefer direct mail now, but what will that cohort prefer when it’s made up of today’s tweens and teens? Will people who’ve never even read a newspaper trust one?

Media channels may rise and fall in popularity and effectiveness, but I think it’s safe to say that in the rapidly changing world of advertising, there are no silver bullets, no perfect answers. A multi-channel strategy gives you the best chance of success. More importantly, communications across each channel often reinforce each other, creating synergies you can’t get with a single communication.

Even some of the most successful “social media” campaigns in recent memory have been multi-channel. As Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media has said,  “If your customers are there, you need to be there too… You need to listen… see how they behave and act similarly.” He was talking about social media, but I say his insight applies to all forms of marketing and advertising.

People live multi-channel lives. They want some information one way, and other information a different way, sometimes at the same time. So can someone please explain to me why there are still some advertisers who operate with a one-channel-fits-all mindset?

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Branding Business CRM Directed Advertising Marketing Relationship Marketing

Don’t turn your customers into quitters

The other morning on my way to work I was listening to CBS-AM, and Joe Connolly of the Wall Street Journal told the story of someone who had gotten a collections letter from their bank that sounded more like it had come from a repo man. (Or maybe it was the Sopranos… sorry if I’m misquoting, Joe.)

I’ve been seeing a lot of collections letters recently, and not because I’m up to my eyeballs in debt.

It turns out my agency, Tanen Directed Advertising, is pretty good at writing collections letters. And not the kind Joe was talking about.

For the most part, collections letters tend to fit into a few basic molds.

There’s the impersonal, computer-generated type that remove all humanity from the equation… and from the recipient. (You’d be surprised how many of them aren’t written by computers.)

There’s the escalating, threatening letter that’s meant to scare the recipient into compliance but frequently just pummels them into paralyzed inaction.

And there’s the sickeningly sweet, fake “we know what it’s like and we want to help” letters that allow the sender to hide behind feigned consideration without presenting any real options and just serve to drive the recipient further away.

We don’t write those kind of letters. You see, we look at collections letters as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools.

After all, the recipients are your customers. They bought a car from you. They took out a mortgage with you — or with a bank thrice removed, but they’re your customers now. They get their electricity from your utility. They’re your patients and you’re their doctor.

Every time you communicate with your customer, you have the chance to deepen or damage your relationship with them. Which outcome would you prefer?

Sure, you can beat them into the ground to get your money, and you’ll get it. Maybe all of it, maybe just some of it. Maybe you’ll be the last straw that breaks them, but you’ll get your money.  And unless you’re a monopoly, it’s probably the last money you’ll ever get from them.

What if it turned out that by simply communicating with your customers, by treating them like valuable human beings who have feelings and brains and are integral components of your company, and by going the extra mile to give them some options, you can actually get more of the money they owe you?

We’ve written collections letters that have gotten 400% more of our client’s customers to call in to discuss repayments than did their previous best performing letters (known as controls in direct marketing). We’ve increased the amounts collected by our clients time and time again.

If you know anything about collections, you know that you usually have to hunt down your customers to talk to them. Our letters get your customers to pick up the phone and call you. Willingly. Because we explain their options to them, we empower them to take control of what felt like an out of control situation.

If you keep a customer, their lifetime value to you continues to increase, rather than bottoming out. If you show faith in your customer, and work with them to come up with a solution, they tend to respond with something every business desires:  loyalty.

Last night our President reminded us that we’re not a nation of quitters. That given a chance, Americans will do what it takes to rise from the depths of despair and work their way back to the top.

I’ve heard our current economic situation described in part as a crisis of faith, and that not until we all have faith in the future and start spending and lending again will we come out of it.

I’d like to add that as businesses, if we have faith in our customers and help them through these tough times, the rewards can be far greater than can be gotten through threats and intimidation.

I’m not arguing for charity — I’m making a case for a more successful business strategy. I’ve seen it work for our clients.

So can someone please explain to me why there are so many short-sighted businesses out there who would rather turn their customers into quitters today than do what it takes to earn their loyalty for years to come?

Directed Advertising Integrated Marketing

In Praise of the Lowly Yellow Pages

If you asked my clients and colleagues whether I’m a lo-tech or hi-tech kind of marketer, they’d all say the latter.  It’s a rare strategy session that I don’t find some way to suggest search, or content syndication, or blogging, or widgets, or behavioral, or email, or… well, you get the picture.

But the fact is, like my agency, Tanen Directed Advertising, I am actually channel neutral.  If a tactic works, I say, use it.  Not blindly — you need a strategy, and the tactic has to have a measurable chance at achieving your strategic goals, but if it does, I say, go for it.

And that’s why I’m writing about Yellow Page Directory advertising. And no, not the online local search kind. I’m talking yellow cardstock cover, dead tree, “pile three of them on a chair so your 4-year old can see the monitor” kind of yellow pages.

You see, it seems that the lowly, lo-tech yellow pages has a ridiculous click thru rate.  According to a recent study, 78% of directory users contact an average of 2 businesses after referencing a directory.  The most popular action taken is picking up the phone, which happens 93% of the time.  But it’s not limited to a phone call: 31% show up in person, 10% go online, and 1% get in touch through the mail.

Those are monster numbers.  And when you consider that for many categories, there is far less noise and competition than Google, they’re even more compelling.

We all love search because we know that anyone who is in the act of searching is in some stage of the buying cycle.  (According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 81% of all internet users “look online for information about a product or service they are thinking of buying.”)

Local search is growing because it turns out that people who search online sometimes shop locally. (The increasing adoption and use of mobile phones and the growing utility and quality of mobile search isn’t hurting, either.)

Unlike most other forms of advertising, both types of search are non-intrusive and non-interruptive.  They are, in fact, requested and highly desired services.

The same logic holds true with yellow pages.  In fact, didn’t search really start with the yellow pages?  (This reminds me a little of how television advertising is beginning to return to it’s sponsor-driven, branded content and product placement roots)

The study was conducted by Knowledge Networks for the Association of Directory Publishers, so it’s lucky for them that the numbers came out as positive as they did.  But I don’t doubt their findings.  After all, how many times have you reached for the yellow pages in the last few months?  Not many, perhaps.  But, when you did, what did you do next?  See what I mean.

That’s the point.  We all still use the yellow pages sometimes, some of us more than others.  And when we do, we take action.  (Of course, that action isn’t always positive.  I’ve never thrown my computer across the room while cursing Google the way I have my local yellow pages because I can’t figure out in which poorly defined and barely indexed category my local movie 10-Plex is to be found.  Hint: It’s not movie theaters or cinemas, which aren’t mentioned at all.  And if you’re silly enough to look up  “Movies” you’ll be rewarded with “See: CDs, Records and Tapes, Retail; Video Tapes & DVDs Rental & Sales.”  Nope, it’s under Theatres, along with the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Greenwich Shakespeare Co. , New Canaan Playhouse, Stamford Center for the Arts, etc.)

Now, I’m not suggesting we shift our entire budgets out of AdWords and into printed yellow pages directories.  But given the ridiculously low comparative cost of yellow pages advertisements, the extremely long ad life/placement persistence and the comparatively high level of response surrounding their use, can someone please explain to me why more businesses aren’t including them in their media mix?