My particular area of expertise is digital marketing, media and ecommerce.

However, whilst I remain excited by what is possible with purely digital marketing, I am most intrigued by marketing that makes intelligent, creative and effective use of a mixture of media.

Multi-, or Omni-, channel marketing that choreographs an experience across touchpoints both physical and digital. 

You may have seen the recent campaign from MarketReach, the Royal Mail’s direct marketing arm.

Whilst MarketReach itself is growing as a business, marketing spend on direct mail is falling year on year, by around 5% according to Ofcom figures, as these budgets get allocated to digital. 

The ‘Mail Men’ campaign, conceived by Publicis Chemistry, ran across digital, print, outdoor and, of course, direct mail.

I noticed it first as a print ad in Marketing Week with this memorable quote from Poke’s Nik Roope: 

Reminded of the power of direct mail I was inspired to conceive something that combined direct mail with digital and social media, to eat my own modern marketing dog food and see how it worked.

My simple idea was to use what we digerati call a GOL (Good Old-fashioned Letter) to prompt a tracked visit to my LinkedIn profile with the desired action being a request to connect with me.

The experiment

Here is how it worked. I bought a direct mail list of digital, marketing and ecommerce professionals. I de-duped that against my existing LinkedIn connections. I then sent a personalised letter to those new possible contacts using Royal Mail’s Mailshots Online tool.

In that letter I asked the recipients to visit a URL I could track (via bitly) that resolved to my LinkedIn profile and then, if they thought it worthwhile, connect to me.

I ended up sending 2,000 letters and the whole process took about two hours with most of that time spent writing the actual letter. The total cost was around £1,500. The average return on investment, or lifetime value, of a high quality professional connection on LinkedIn?

Harder to say for sure but a single recruit, new customer or event speaker would massively repay this small investment.

The results

The results, in terms of profile views and connections are still coming in. I could not track opens or reads of the letter, of course, nor have I been able to track any possible negative sentiment from those who have not responded.

However, to date there have been 188 uses of the custom URL so a 9.4% response rate with 56% of those views coming within the first two days of the letters landing.

I have had 156 new LinkedIn connections from those I sent the letter to, so a 7.8% conversion rate and an average cost per new connection of £9.60.

Clearly there are all sorts of reasons why you cannot draw too many generalised learnings from my small experiment. However, apart from the results, there are some interesting points.

One is simply about data protection and marketing. You cannot legally cold email people. In B2B it is a little greyer but even if you get away with it you get so little response and risk such reputational damage that it is not worth it.

But you can mail people. So using direct mail to win a digital connection and permission to contact in the future seems to me a clever way to join up traditional and digital.  

Most interesting were the many personal replies and comments I received, particularly from digital professionals extolling the virtues of a letter:

“Great to receive your LETTER, what a breath of fresh air” Senior Ecommerce Manager;

“You sent me a letter - old skool. I liked it.” Marketing Director.

Of my new connections 18 are Marketing Directors at major brands and 33 are Ecommerce/Digital Directors so the quality is very high too.

Do you have other examples of successfully combining direct mail with digital in compelling ways?

We will certainly be interested for our Festival of Marketing Awards among other things.

Ashley Friedlein

Published 28 April, 2015 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Michael Costin, Owner at Local Digital

Very interesting. Would be great to see an example of the letter you wrote too.

about 2 years ago

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Karen Pritchard, Product Director at Millennium Data

A fantastic experiment! Direct Mail remains one of the most effective channels, particularly now that our letterboxes are being used less and less! When combined with digital it is possible to create an immersive experience for the campaign's targets and if well executed and creative receive a high ROI in return. As one of your recipients says 'Old Skool' but as we all know sometimes the oldies are the best. DM has stood the test of time.

about 2 years ago

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Karen Pritchard, Product Director at Millennium Data

A fantastic experiment! Direct Mail remains one of the most effective channels, particularly now that our letterboxes are being used less and less! When combined with digital it is possible to create an immersive experience for the campaign's targets and if well executed and creative receive a high ROI in return. As one of your recipients says 'Old Skool' but as we all know sometimes the oldies are the best. DM has stood the test of time.

about 2 years ago

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Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

We were talking about this last night at the Digital Doughnut event. A real letter is so rare these days (apart from bills!) that it tends to get to the person and gets opened. Which is more than many marketing emails.

about 2 years ago

Simone Kurtzke

Simone Kurtzke, Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Robert Gordon University

Somewhat related - I did an old skool flyering / poster campaign with my students this week @our uni campus (RGU Aberdeen), to promote their new site 'The Digital Scot' - http://digitalmarketing.scot/. All it took was great Creative (feat. an Octopus mascot) turned into PDFs (for A4/ A3 posters; A6 flyers) , access to a colour printer (using my staff card) and running off 100-200 copies.

Then go 'Guerrilla' and flyer / poster the building in unusual / quirky / highly visible places (incl. where students WILL go and HAVE to look e.g. in toilet!) Cost: ZERO (access to colour printer was free). Return: TBC (will monitor brand searches / direct traffic increase). Easy, free, and fun.

about 2 years ago

Jessica Vandenbruggen

Jessica Vandenbruggen, Online Analyst at nib health funds

My favourite part about this, is that you were able to generate the personalised direct mail, digitally.

Letters are so rare that if you send me one, I am unlikely to have even checked my mailbox for it.

I would be interested to see how this would work as a sales tool versus a networking venture. I suppose it would be heavily reliant on the format, if it is a letter with a more personal touch is it much more likely to be read than brochures, fine print and formal information letters.

about 2 years ago

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margie dana, founder at margiedana.com

Save for obvious junk/solicitation mail, I've never NOT opened a letter that was addressed to me. I love this experiment and its results. Thanks for sharing.

about 2 years ago

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steve cash, personal at personal

I tried the old flyers,posters,mail technique for my cake shop in Toronto and the results were amazing. My target customers were local people, so I contacted a mailing service here in Toronto Troi mails ,they provide direct mail marketing services. I started sending our personal mails to my customers. With the promotion flyers i started including offer coupons. I got a great response , more people started visiting my restaurant and i got 30 new regular customers within two months.

about 2 years ago

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