Emerging technologies to help your direct mail

Direct mail has always been part of a successful marketing strategy. But how can a business go one step further to increase both its response and its return rates while simultaneously improving the all-around customer experience? One area where marketers today are finding tremendous success is the development and deployment of personalized URLs (PURLs). PURLs have been gaining momentum over the past six years, and are starting to show up in more and more direct mail pieces today -- and for good reason.

Marketers are beginning to hear impressive success stories about the attention gained by developing personalized landing pages (PURLS) as part of a marketing campaign. Some are generating response rates well over the two to three percent of traditional direct mail. Additionally, the online interaction that characterizes a PURL is easily tracked and therefore, easier to measure in terms of campaign ROI.

The anatomy of a PURL
A PURL is defined as a webpage -- or "microsite" -- tailored to an individual visitor through the use of variable fields and pages that is, in turn, linked to a database containing information about each potential visitor. For example, a consumer named Mary Smith will receive a direct mail postcard or other initial communication inviting her to visit her own personalized landing page, "marysmith.xyzcompany.com."

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Will Mary go to that page? Most likely she will, because one of the most appealing aspects of a PURL is the simple fact her name is part of the URL. Will she buy? She might, if she finds the initial offer appealing and relevant to her interest, which makes her more willing to answer the call to action presented at the personal landing page.

The most successful PURL campaigns cater to consumers' personal preferences and are mindful of the quality of their experience at the site. It is important that the initial direct marketing piece is creative enough that the recipient cannot help but open it to see what's inside before continuing on to the PURL itself. Then, once at the site, the subject must be something in which the customer has previously shown an interest. This makes the data a company has on its customer of vital importance, especially when it comes to making sure the information is up-to-date. Marketers are thus enabled to show that they know and care about their consumers as individuals which, in turn, keep them coming back for more. If done correctly, Mary will feel as though this experience was created specifically for her.

Coupling PURLs with QR codes
Along with integrating PURLS into the direct mail piece, quick response (QR) codes, too, have recently come on the scene and offer a number of benefits when it comes to creating compelling direct mail. QR codes originated in Japan years ago, and have made their way into the U.S. in the past three years. A QR code is a two-dimensional bar code that can appear in direct mailings, magazines, on signs, buses, business cards, or pretty much any object where users might need or like more information. They are easily scanned and read by a mobile phone with a camera and a mobile tagging application. Since smartphone sales are expected to outpace those of feature phones as early as next year, the sheer volume of customer opportunity indicates that code technology is worth review.

They are fast gaining momentum, but still have so much more potential to be integrated into your marketing mix going forward because most consumers are still not quite used to using or seeing the technology. Adding a QR code to the printed piece will, at the very least, peak the interest of recipient who will want discover what a 2D barcode is all about. One of the most notable attributes of the QR code is its ability to tie together the print, mobile, and web channels to increase the response rates on multichannel marketing efforts. Since QR codes make it easy for people to jump from print to an interactive response, this intelligent tool can significantly add to the success of a campaign.

Another benefit of this technology is that it offers the ability to lower the barriers often surrounding customer response, leading to an increase in overall campaign response rate. QR codes can make PURLs portable, since they can be embedded right into QR codes. The combination can be an effective and fun experience for both the seller and recipient of the direct mail campaign with the ability to provide upfront knowledge about a product and service for recipients to digest before they buy or take advantage of the offer. When a customer or prospect scans the code, they are taken directly to their personalized landing page.

QR codes allow the recipient to access their individual PURL without the need to sit in front of a computer. By simply scanning the code with their smartphone, the prospect or customer is automatically directed to the personalized website, thus eliminating the chance of typos and decreasing the amount of effort required by the recipient to access the information. And because people are on the go, and many carry their phones with them at all times, this portability is ideal in increasing the response rate.

Tracking and measuring success
One of the biggest benefits of both PURLs and QR codes is they provide the ability to easily track which recipients visit their personalized pages and gather additional contact information about each individual. Furthermore, various software programs have been developed that will also record the amount of QR code scans per day, what time those scans took place, the location of the scans, and the type of device being used to scan the code.

Every marketer knows there is nothing more important than being able to measure the success of a campaign. When traditional direct mail pieces go out, it is often difficult to tie them to sales or potential leads. However, the online interaction that characterizes a PURL or a QR code is easily tracked and therefore much easier to measure the campaign's return on investment.

When marketers can capture relevant customer data, it enables them to understand their customers and communicate with them on their terms. By adding PURL and QR code technology to the marketing mix, many businesses are trimming marketing costs, increasing ROI, and benefiting from the ability to have a continuous dialogue with a loyal customer base.

Frank Defino Jr. is vice president and managing director of Tukaiz.

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