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.