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9 Essentials of Direct Mail Success

By Tony Rizzo

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 11.39.05 AMDirect marketing remains the only tried and true method financial institution marketers have to generate remarkable, measureable results. Yet many banks and credit unions still rely on non-measurable forms of mass marketing—TV, radio, newspaper, PR or even the yellow pages—and haven’t transitioned to direct marketing. It’s time to step up and out! Ladies, think of direct mail as the little black dress you’ve just got to have. Gentlemen, think of successful direct mail as sinking a 20-foot birdie putt.

If you are looking for a provable way to show senior management that marketing is more than an expense and can produce both revenue and profit growth, then direct mail is your Rosetta stone. Financial institution marketing departments that have embraced direct marketing campaigns as proven results generators spend at least half of their marketing budgets on direct mail and companion cross-channel events like email. Are you missing out on their results?

You cannot go from having little direct mail experience to seasoned expert until you understand the terminology and the benefits successful direct marketing practices can generate. Here are the key elements you need to know to make direct marketing your go to results generator:

The Terminology

After visiting France, Comedian Steve Martin remarked, “It’s like those French people have a different word for everything!” Can the same be true for Direct Marketing? Perhaps. At the very least, here are the three main areas of Direct Mail and where you can find success: 70% is the List, 20% is the Offer, and 10%, is the Creative.

While these percentages still apply, elements within each of these segments have changed substantially over the last several years with remarkable results. Let’s look into some of the basics first, and talk about some really cool direct mail campaigns later.

Understanding the following concepts is crucial if you want to get the most from direct mail and will facilitate your asking the right questions along the way.

• Data analysis and target marketing
• Offer
• Creative (branding, delivery of visuals)
• Variable messaging
• Marketing channels (multichannel messaging)
• Testing & control groups
• Call to action (PURL, QR code, phone, in-branch)
• Communication with Sales
• Measuring

Data analysis & target marketing

How do you create a direct mail list? The list is paramount for success in direct marketing and represents as much as 70% of a campaign’s success. Creating an accurate list depends on knowing what you want to accomplish and getting access to the right member and marketplace intelligence. Most financial institutions struggle with gathering these basic elements because member data is not readily available and, even when marketers have access to member data, they are not always sure what parts of the data are important to creating the right list.

Business intelligence, which is fundamental to most retail companies, is not always available to financial institutions even though they have the data. Many choose to employ an MCIF software program or hire a company that will manage and drive an MCIF for them. Yet once you have access to this member (business) intelligence, how do you make sense of it to uncover the actionable data? Filtering a member database for clues is a start.

Having a tightly filtered list of members/prospects who are likeliest to respond to your direct mail offer is vital. To make the most of your budget dollars, sending 2,000 pieces to a highly target group is better than sending 20,000 pieces to those who may or may not respond. You want a high response/buy rate on every mailing you send. The main reason database marketing/MCIF software is so popular is its ability to segment your list, along with its ability to measure the results of every campaign.

Many sophisticated direct marketers utilize life stage codes, demographics and even credit data for many of their campaigns. Depending on the project, this data may not be necessary for you to use to deliver on your strategic objectives. In time however, you may find that appending this data is invaluable.

To make data analysis or list generation simple to grasp, let’s examine two concepts. The first is Onboarding. The second is Re-Boarding. While there are many truly meaningful direct marketing opportunities, let’s start slow.

Onboarding is simply new member cross-selling. Onboarding is the process of creating a system of automated communications and sending them out to new members. Starting with a static series of letters, today’s systems can generate a variety of offers. Essentially, onboarding creates a decision tree whereby members receive individual offers that make sense for them, but not for a broad group of people. These programs will track responses for two important reasons. First, 80% of cross sales occur within six months after a member comes to your institution. This means that new members present enormous, target-rich, lead generation potential. Second, 30-40 percent of these same new relationships will leave your institution during the first year unless you quickly get them into another product/service. So, for cross selling and retention reasons, onboarding your new relationships will benefit you with more profitable and more loyal members. Direct mail can do this.

Re-Boarding is similar to onboarding, but re-boarding cross-sells to existing, not new, members. Let’s say you want to reach out to members who have been with you for more than a year but have only one product with you. Creating a list of names and a campaign targeting this group is called re-boarding, or the re-introduction of your products and services to a select group of members. Are many of your members single product households? From our experience working with hundreds of financial institutions, over 40 percent of your members have only one product with you. Re-boarding these folks offers target rich, lead generation potential.

We have established two worthwhile segments to contact and every institution should be marketing to both. For more opportunities, take an outline of your institution’s strategic goals and overlay the data points and analysis found in MCIF data: The options become obvious.

Data drives direct mail success, and data is the main ingredient that drives the customized variable creative content we’ll describe later.


The list and the offer are uniquely tied together. One doesn’t make sense without the other. Establishing the appropriate offer for your segment is essential: You just segmented this unique group with something specific in mind. So what unique offer do you present to incentivize these likely buyers to action?

The offer must be visible, obvious and compelling. If you can’t get excited about what you are offering, why would your target group? The offer can be a variable, dependent upon demographics or life-stage of each person in the targeted group or by branch location. But whether it’s a rate, payment, savings, package, premium or convenience offer, in the end, your offer must be compelling.

One quick way to test the clarity of your offer is to tape your message up on the opposite side of your office and stand back. Can you clearly see what you are selling? Do you understand your offer? Would it make you act? If not, you need to improve your offer. Remember, it is action we want and action we expect from this targeted group.


Creative represents only ten percent of the success of a direct mail campaign yet, ironically, the creative element is where most marketers spend the bulk of their time and energy. Rather than trying to get the look “just right” you’ll achieve better results by spending more time on market segmentation and creating the offer.

Everything you do creatively must fit your brand. Your CU probably has brand standards that your direct marketing should follow. Make sure your creative team asks for guidelines and follows these standards. If they haven’t, find out why not.

Your creative should be simple. Resist cute or cerebral approaches. Remember, you want to move someone to action and, from a creative perspective, the easiest way to do that is to keep your approach simple.

How you construct a direct mail piece can influence response rates. Your creative firm can help you select the best and/or most cost effective presentation whether it’s a postcard, tabbed piece, lumpy mail, or even a standard letter with or without a perforated reply mechanism.

Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the tried and true “AIDA” model (attention, interest, desire, action), which has worked successfully for decades. Embrace the simple and proven methods represented by this acronym. Applying AIDA will deliver results.

Variable Messaging

In direct mail, variable content has become an increasingly valuable enhancement to creative. Traditionally, variable content simply consisted of mail merging a member or prospect’s name. Today it means offering a variety of different visual materials and offers within a specific campaign targeted to various segments based on life-stage codes. Some of the variables might include the picture and name of each branch manager along with the branch name, address, and phone number or a map showing targeted members the nearest branch locations along with driving directions.

Does using variable data improve campaign response rates? Unquestionably; it does make a difference. It’s been proven that variable content based on variable data elements generates upwards of a 50% lift in a single campaign!

But in order to utilize variable data properly, you must understand the data elements. You will need to append demographics, life-stage codes and/or credit data to your system. While this information is not expensive or difficult to get, it does require some skill to use it effectively. Creating complex variable elements in direct mail requires special software and a proven track record. If you are not familiar with how to leverage variable data, get help from a knowledgeable creative agency or direct mail firm and look for an agency or firm with the appropriate systems and experience to insure that there will be few mistakes. When done right, using variable content in your direct mail is well worth the effort.

Marketing Channels

Virtually every direct mail campaign benefits from using multiple channels that reinforce your message and offer. Sending a one-off direct mail letter will not pull the same response as sending similar messages twice. And you will get even better overall results if your e-mail marketing and web banner messaging share the same message and call to action as your direct mail solicitation.

The cost of including e-mail marketing and web banner ads to complement your primary direct mail solicitation is extremely low, especially when compared to broad based media and direct mail. Yet most financial institutions still don’t take advantage of the simple power this multi-channel approach offers. If you want to amp up your direct marketing results and get an even better yield from every dollar spent, use as many channels as you can.

Testing and Control Groups

Naysayers of direct marketing will insist that any results generated by a direct mail campaign would have occurred anyway because the CU has an established presence in its market. Use a control group in your campaigns to persuade non-believers that direct mail is effective.

A control group simply sets aside a small percentage of your segment members/prospects and deletes them from any mailing. Doing so allows you to compare the response rate of those you mailed to with those who were sent nothing. Effectiveness can be easy to prove if you know how.

In addition to control groups, savvy marketers test and retest individual elements of their direct mail campaigns. For example, you might make a unique offer to one set of recipients to see if that offer gets a better response rate than others you’re using. Or you might try using different mail construction methods—postcards vs. folded & tabbed pieces for example. Testing enables you to fine tune the message, delivery, price or offer of your direct mail to get the best possible results.

Do you have to utilize control groups or perform testing of your marketing campaigns for success? No, but the more adept you become at refining your messaging to improve your results, the more better it will be for you, your career and your institution.

Call To Action

Mere marketing may make you feel, but great marketing will make you feel and act! A marketing statement should be logical, but it should also appeal to the target audience’s emotions. The emotional element motivates action. Personalized messages, customized to address who your members are and what they need, confirm that your bank understands them. In addition to making a compelling offer, you must make taking action as easy as possible for members and prospects, which means using today’s tools of action—the phone, your branch network, your web page, PURLs, and QR codes.

Are you familiar with PURLs? PURL is an acronym for “personal URL”—a unique personalized web address. Imagine giving each member and/or prospect a personalized web page and message! This is one-to-one marketing! Even if your prospect doesn’t buy after viewing his personal URL you‘ll know whether or not they opened their page because only they have the access code. Your sales team can follow up and try to close with anyone who has expressed interest by looking.

A QR Code stands for “Quick Response.” You may have already seen QR codes on some advertising. Essentially a QR code is a 2-dimensional bar code. Smart phone users can download a free QR Reader app to scan the QR code. Once the QR reader captures the image, it immediately launches the phone’s web browser and opens a special QR-based mini web page. Because QR codes are essentially smart phone apps, it is highly recommended that the QR landing page be a smart phone ready mini web site.

QR codes will become extremely commonplace within the next year. In fact, this white paper will probably seem stale one year from now, as it describes what QR codes will be instead of what they have already become.

If you aren’t using personal URLs or QR codes in your marketing to generate a unique call to action, you are missing out on business. Success in direct mail demands that you maximize response rates by using multiple channels for your call to action. Make it as convenient as possible for your members and prospects to act.

Communication with Sales

Occasionally, marketers are surprised to learn that the sales team is supposed to be working with marketing, and vice versa. Senior management generally sends the sales group clear goals and objectives. In order do deliver the success management expects, it is critical that marketing and sales work in tandem.

Marketing must also communicate effectively. This means that they must share the concepts, offers and objectives for every direct mail campaign with the sales staff. The last thing anyone in the retail branch wants is for a member to walk in holding a piece of direct mail containing an offer that no one knows anything about.

As a plus, when marketing shares the details of every direct marketing campaign with sales, sales is given the opportunity to call select segments within the direct mail campaign to drive up sales revenue and response rates, a benefit to both sales and marketing. Internal communication is pivotal for getting the most out of direct mail.


If it isn’t measured, it didn’t happen. Why bother using direct mail if you aren’t going to measure a campaign’s impact? Precious little marketing can be measured but direct mail is easy to track making it almost imperative that you to do so. Besides, only by tracking results can you begin to prove that what you are doing delivers measurable revenue and profit growth.

MCIF software programs or MCIF service bureaus make it easy for you to measure everything you do with direct mail. If you struggle with the tracking side of direct mail, you should explore what an MCIF can do for you, or find a partner who will measure your results for you through direct marketing fulfillment services.

The 9 Essentials of Direct Mail Success

Direct mail can help you generate measureable results and, although many marketers opt to manage the process—segmentation, list generation, offer creation, creative, etc.—all by themselves, the majority prefer to get help from experts. Unless you are comfortable doing it yourself, getting help may be your best first course of action. Once you gain confidence and experience, you can take over.

I hope you’ve learned a little about the essentials behind direct mail’s success. While it may be new to you, direct mail is not a new concept. In fact, direct mail may be the most tried and true of all marketing elements at financial institutions today. If you and your financial institution are looking for tangible and measurable results, then direct mail is your answer. It is the go to results generator. By following these nine essentials, you can achieve success, too.

Tony Rizzo is the general manager and creative director of MARQUIS Software Solutions. MARQUIS is the largest provider of MCIF/CRM solutions to credit unions worldwide, with a long-standing reputation for excellence.

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