The Marketer’s Guide to Direct Mail Response Attribution

11 July 2018 / By Mike Gunderson

The key is to be prepared to capture the unique offer code wherever and whenever the recipient responds, regardless of channel.

Mike Gunderson

The focus of direct mail optimization is continual testing of list sources, creative and offers. To know what’s working you need to generate accurate reports and analyses of your programs. And to do that, you need accurate response attribution.

Attribution requires a two-pronged solution:

1) Understanding all of the ways that recipients can respond to your mailing.

2) Ensuring mechanisms are in place to attribute response to campaigns.

 

Best Practice — Unique Offer Codes

Best-in-class direct mailers use Unique Offer Codes (UOCs) as the foundation for response attribution. These codes are unique to the individual or business and unique to the specific campaign. Ideally, they can be captured in any response channel. UOCs are only used once and link back to all relevant data associated with the mailing, including cell, list and creative codes and the myriad data associated with the unique consumer or business. With this structure in place, direct mailers are primed for robust reporting and analysis when the responses come in.

For companies that are unable to support a UOC structure, there is the option to use Static Codes, sometimes known as Adkeys. Static Codes are not linked to the individual but can identify campaigns and important segments (e.g., creative, list and offer tests). While UOCs are the recommended best practice, the principles and tactics discussed in this article apply to Static Codes as well.

 

Capturing Unique Offer Codes

There are typically many ways for people to respond to a direct mail offer. The key is to be prepared to capture the UOC wherever and whenever the recipient responds. The incentive for responders to enter the code is typically tied directly to an offer.

It’s safe to say that no business can achieve 100% accurate attribution. Below, we review tactics that can get you close enough to effectively manage and optimize your direct mail program.

 

Web Response

Many direct mailers prefer online response. This is typically the case if the product or service is web-based and not overly complex. The best practice is to provide a simple URL that is dedicated to direct mail responders; for example, www.bestcompany.com/mail. This dedicated landing page would prominently ask the prospect to enter their UOC, after which relevant marketing messaging and calls to action would follow.

In many cases, it’s appropriate to provide the option to call for more information on the page (more on phone response attribution below).

Sophisticated marketers know that once they’ve captured a UOC they can personalize the responder’s experience, including pre-filling form fields and downloading cookies to understand each responder’s digital interactions with their brand.

Some companies choose to use a Personalized URL (PURL), which, like a UOC, is unique to the recipient and campaign and will never be used again. In most cases, the recipient’s name is actually in the URL: www.bestcompany.com/mail/courtneythompson123.

When entered into a browser, the PURL delivers the responder to the landing page while it passes the UOC to the website in the background. But PURLs have potential downsides. They may degrade response given the requirement to enter a long character string into the browser, and phone responders may be harder to track unless a UOC is also featured in the creative. It’s a good idea to test PURLs before rolling them out.

Of course many responders may prefer to do more research, or they simply don’t want to type a lengthy URL or PURL into their browser. In such cases they might just type “Best Company” and land on your homepage. But you can still attribute them to direct mail with a couple of techniques. For example, as they take action and fill out a form or make a purchase, you can ask them a simple question: “How did you hear about us?” Direct mail should be one of the options to select and, if they do so, you can try to capture the UOC.

 

Phone Response

Many people still prefer to respond by phone. They may have questions and want to talk directly to a rep. In many cases, a company’s products or services are relatively complex and a call is the most effective way to close a sale. Also, some products or services simply cannot be purchased online.

Whatever the case may be, there are a number of best practices that help maximize the collection of UOCs in a call. The first place to start is to include a dedicated direct-mail-only phone number in the mailer. In the best-case scenario, call center technology will recognize that the caller is responding to a direct mail offer and generate scripting that features the collection of the UOC. As with the web, once the code is collected there are opportunities to personalize the conversation. Sales can be optimized when call center agents are trained to collect the codes and are monitored on an ongoing basis.

Some companies use a dedicated phone number for each campaign—and even multiple numbers per campaign allocated based on important segments such as creative, list or offer tests. Such a structure will provide another data point for analysis—the number of front-end inbound call responses—which may be helpful if there are gaps in other parts of the data (e.g., incomplete capture of UOCs).

In many instances technology and operational issues make automated code capture difficult, if not impossible. In these cases, agents should be asking “How did you hear about us?” and capturing that data along with the UOC on the customer record. Agents may skip this step as they focus on closing the sale, so ongoing training and monitoring is required.

 

Mail Response

Some companies provide the option to respond by mail, either with a form and business reply envelope or with a business reply card. In either case, it’s very easy to print the UOC as a variable code on the piece that will be returned. The UOC can then be captured when the response is processed, either by automated scanning or manual input.

 

In-store Response

For businesses with retail locations, the most straight-forward way to collect a code is to provide an offer/incentive that requires the prospect to bring the UOC to the store. This is usually in the form of a coupon or certificate, which can then be captured in the point-of-sale (POS) system.

 

Matchback Reporting

Another best practice is for marketers to match their mail files to their customer files to identify responders for whom a UOC was not captured. For companies that do a good job capturing codes in other ways, the volume of such responders may be relatively low—but is incremental nonetheless. But for businesses that do not efficiently capture UOCs, the volume could be significant and potentially critical to measuring a program’s success. Another valuable benefit to setting up a matchback reporting process is that it allows you to measure the incremental impact of your mailings when you conduct holdout testing, as discussed in an earlier blog post.

 

You Can’t Measure What You Don’t Track, and You Can’t Track What You Can’t Attribute

Attribution planning and processes are an essential part of your direct mail plan. Think through your response channels and sales procedures early in your program development stage so you’ve got mechanisms in place to capture and attribute response before your mail lands in your prospects’ mailbox.

About The Author

Mike Gunderson

Mike Gunderson is the founder of Gunderson Direct, Inc., a direct marketing agency that helps businesses drive new leads and close more sales through traditional offline channels, especially direct mail.

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