In the Mail - PURLs Put the Polish on Direct Mail

Mike Cowan (August 2008)

The upswing of direct mail is no surprise. This is the age of ever-increasing media fragmentation, 'Do Not Call' registries, the growth of the Internet, and the emergence of other factors that have caused marketers to place a premium on one-to-one communications with consumers. Further, technologies have also made it easier than ever to measure ROI on marketing dollars, putting an added burden on marketers to justify their strategies. Overcoming such challenges has led to smarter solutions.

If you believe that great direct mail is about relevant personalization, then you’re going to love Personal URLs – or PURLs – the latest development in the personalization, efficiency and effectiveness of direct mail.

As any marketing professional knows, personal communication always delivers better results. PURLs not only enhance the personalization of direct mail campaigns, but they provide a number of other benefits that multiply their impact and returns.

Imagine creating direct mail pieces for donors, existing clients or prospects, customized with graphics, photos and text to match each individual’s preferences. Tailoring an offer to appeal to one person, and then modifying it to target another. Now imagine that functionality achieved in one press run, and further, driving each recipient to a personalized website where you can capture additional information and engage in a one-to-one conversation.

With PURLs, you can expect automatically-triggered follow-up emails to respondents, variable email content determined by web activity, and automatically-generated leads distributed via email, PDA or cell phone.

What’s more, all customer visits and online activities are tracked, and reports generated, to help fine-tune marketing activities, and data is automatically delivered for immediate upload to CRM systems. You can even watch the real-time results of your campaign in action. Tools like these offer the ability to optimize programs and offers, and ensure that your program achieves results.

Effective channel integration is the goal of every marketer.  How do you integrate email, direct mail, internet and mass advertising into a single campaign, and then watch the results from all channels unfold in real time on your desktop?  PURLs are the bridge connecting all the channels and the tracking mechanism.

Remember that 30+% of direct mail recipients prefer to respond online. Are you there for them? Direct mail and the Internet make a smart pair, offering two distinct flavours. And consumers like a little of both. 

So why do we continue to receive direct mail that is almost certain to engage the shredder instead of the intended recipient? The answer isn’t that complex. Some traditional direct mail campaigns continue to realize fair results, supporting the 'why change?' argument. In other instances, some mature organizations are simply challenged to execute change.

But if realizing greater returns from direct mail is part of your strategy, PURLs offer a smart solution. With relevant personalized messaging coupled with PURLs, it’s not uncommon to see response rates increase twofold.

With the Do-Not-Call registry due to launch in September, and the challenges this will pose to marketers, that PURLs' direct-marketing solutions will find their way into marketing plans. After all, when the Do-Not-Call registry launched in the US, 60% of American households signed up. I don’t believe we should expect anything less in Canada.

PURLs aren’t just a solution for big business either. As the cost of PURLs is primarily driven by the actual number of personalized URLs used, this solution can be tailored to match the needs and budgets of businesses of all sizes. A small retailer with a compact target audience has the same ability to execute a program as a national client utilizing two million PURLs. 

To make the most of today’s advanced PURLs however, it pays to follow some sage advice. Start by working with a PURL pro, someone who has learned from experience and understands how to navigate potential logistical issues. Make sure your PURL has compelling visuals, and flawless execution and web functionality. Before you move too quickly, develop a strategy. Finally, have a few people outside of your organization test- drive the PURL to see if it makes sense to them. Best of all, engage a one-stop-shop that offers all the solutions from digital variable printing, data work, and URL software under one roof. It will save you headaches, time and money.

Since this firm embraced PURLs late last year, we've been amazed by the results. As each execution unfolds, we discover new and unique concepts to make the delivery more creative and engaging. My hunch is that, as more clients try this technology, PURLs will increasingly win favour as the must-have component of any modern, direct mail campaign.

Mike Cowan is Director of Business Development at Vancouver's Kirk Integrated Marketing Services.

 

Sidebar: The PURL Process

Just a few years ago, the transition to intelligent direct mail was significantly more complex. Today, variable digital printing technology combined with PURL software is nearly bulletproof.

A PURL is an individual web address that marketers can use to have prospects log on to a website. That website is specific to that prospect. An example would be www.mikecowan.kirkmarketing.com, which would direct Mike Cowan to a landing page tailored specifically for him.

A typical PURL assignment project starts with a brief consultation with the PURL provider. The database is handed over to the provider and a unique PURL field is assigned to each individual record. Artwork is uploaded and the web pages are designed. Questions and content can be tailored to support the program objectives. Each PURL can have different content, specific to the responder. The direct mail pieces are variably imaged with the PURLs, and then mailed out. Once the recipient logs onto his personalized web page, he is engaged and the interaction process begins. As the survey pages are completed, information is tracked in real time and available immediately via the tracking and reporting tools. The response triggers are immediate and come in two categories, internal and external. External triggers can be a thank you or confirmation of services e-mail, or a direction to complete an e-commerce transaction. An example of an internal trigger is a sales lead notification sent via e-mail, PDA or text message. This allows the service or sales process to be extremely prompt.

Pricing breaks down into three areas; actual set up, access to measurement and reporting tools, and individual PURL  assignment, which is typically a cost per record. Costs for set up and dashboard access are usually flat fees, regardless of PURL quantity. The cost per PURL generally decreases as the quantity increases.

The processes are really no different than those of a traditional direct mail campaign, except for this one additional step. Like any good integrated marketing campaign, all creative execution should be consistent between direct mail, e-mail, digital and mass media solutions. Choose the right partner and PURL integration is seamless.