Develop Your Mail Out Muscle

Many shopping centre marketing teams are reluctant to use print marketing because they don’t know how to maximise the effectiveness of print beyond increasing the quantity and sending out more, they think print is a mass marketing tool, which they don’t have the budget for. Especially if they are promoting a single retailer, or a small community event.

They believe that mail outs are purely a numbers game, and to get any kind of result they need to put out a lot of flyers, and that comes with a lot of expense. It is hard to justify the cost of freight let alone the cost of print production. They don’t think that addressed mail outs can be a highly targeted, highly engaging, and cost effective in small quantities.

Often marketers will produce the artwork with their designer, or have the retailer supply the artwork, and then they stick it on Facebook, and their website, then email it out to their list, thinking they hit the same people and don’t incur any of the print and distribution costs, job done. Then when the campaign under-performs they congratulate themselves that they didn’t waste and money on print for that campaign because it was a stinker. What they don’t know is how much less effective an online catalogue is compared to a printed one. They don’t know how to increase the effectiveness of print without increasing cost.

“Mail outs can be a highly targeted, highly engaging, and cost effective in small quantities.”

Catalogue Readership

Targeted mail outs are very possible with today’s printing technology. Digital printing presses have removed the need to do print in large quantities to achieve an affordable cost per unit, digital printing allows for short runs with multiple artwork executions at a very accessible price point. Big mail outs and postcode letter box drops have their place, but a small targeted mail out has a number of advantages over mass mail outs and the digital marketing options and can yield a much higher ROI.

But how is a printed mail out that better than digital marketing? When you send an email to someone, they may see it, though as you would know email open rates are notoriously low, but assuming someone engages with your email, you have reached an audience of one. Print collateral sent to a household mailing address will likely to be read by everyone in that house, effectively doubling, tripling or quadrupling your reach. A study done by Roy Morgan in 2018 revealed a few interesting facts around this. First the readership of catalogues, online vs printed and delivered, is significantly different, a printed catalogue is around 10 times more likely to be read than an online catalogue. So if you are going to the expense of designing a catalogue, and then emailing it out, or leaving it on your website, you are leaving around 90% of your potential audience unreached. The second interesting finding was that every demographic read the printed catalogue, so if you send print collateral to a household, everyone will read it, regardless of their age.

” Every demographic read the printed catalogue”

AB Testing, Mail Out Vs Managed SEM

In my business I face the same problems as every other marketer in increasing sales, increasing cart size and lowering costs. Like every other marketer in today’s market I read all about the apparent rivers of gold that the internet is full of. I read article after article of the hassle free automated internet marketing with its granular targeting, look alike mailing lists, and geotargeting powers. With all that analytical power, I only had to spend as little, or as much as I could afford. My early efforts in digital marketing were purely self serve because it all just sounds so easy. This was a predictable failure, with Facebook and Google happily pocketing my funds and running my poorly calibrated campaigns to little result. Next I decided that I had best get a professional on the case, whatever they cost me would be offset by the higher results. I slowly worked my way through four different internet marketing agencies, each looking better than the last, each costing more than the last, and each encouraging me to spend more than the last. Over the course of a dozen or so campaigns with more paid help, more paid traffic, and little more success. I decided it was time to AB test two campaigns, one purely online, and run a concurrent multi-channel low cost campaign centered around some print collateral.

I allocated $5,000 dollars to a Google ad campaign spread across four months with a new team that seemed good. We carefully selected our key words, going for low competition niche words that only high value customers would use, and carefully scheduled the activity. Then my team monitored and adjusted. Everyone told me three months to calibrate the negative search terms and other variables, then one month to move the needle. Seemed about right, that fourth month should see some positive activity.

My print campaign cost about $500 and was beyond simple, it was a 80gsm copy paper letterhead that pretty much said, “Hey remember me”, followed 3 days later by an email that said, “I sent you a letter did you get it?” followed 3 days later by a phone call with a rough script “Hi, I sent you an email, did you get it? Remember when you bought that widget off me, did it perform to your expectations?” I sent this wonder of marketing to my list of past customers across the same 4 months, working my way through my list doing some every week

The results?
My professionally run and optimized Google campaign netted me slightly over nothing, it brought in one good customer, whose life time value may exceed the cost of acquisition, but it will take time. Meanwhile my $500 print campaign got me about 500% ROI which eased the pain of my hemorrhaging Google campaign.


The great thing about past customers is that they are pre-qualified in all the important ways. They buy what you sell, they know like and trust you, and you have all their contact details. Everyone has a list of past customers so any business can do this. The campaign was simple but it ticks all the boxes. It is multi-channel, personalized and relevant, the end result being, it is effective and the ROI was great.

Internet marketing presents itself as low cost, but the real barriers to entry are high, they just spread it out over months instead of a lump sum. They always say, if only you’d spent more per month for longer, likely people reading this are thinking the same. But where does it end? Why is commitment to potentially throw good money after bad when a print campaign that cost 10% the cost had such a great ROI? Why not take that money you would have poured into Googles bulging pockets, and spend it on something that can work for a lot less?

“A typical online campaign will payback 62% more when there is a direct mail in the marketing mix.”

Multi Channel Campaigns

Another study performed by Brandscience in 2012 found that a typical online campaign pays back 62% more when there is direct mail in the marketing mix. Simply by including a letter like I did, you will significantly increase the ROI of any digital campaign. There are many channels of communication to us today, and we all have our favourite, and so when creating content we all have a bias towards our favourite channel. Push back against that tendency, because you are not your market, certainly not all of your market. Other people have their own favourite channels. Consider your graphic design content and make sure you are accommodating and enabling connections though all of the channels your market might use. It costs nothing more to include QR codes, email addresses, URLs, phone numbers and street addresses in your print, and there is always space in the design for more. If adding a QR code onto the corner of a design gets you an extra 1% response rate, and cost you nothing put on there, it is absolutely worth doing. Use you print marketing as a central piece and integrate across your digital ecosystem to support your printed piece.

My campaign was very simple, but had great results, but a little more thought and development in the actual printed piece can increase the effectiveness even more. Some easy examples are to send the letter in a C4 envelope rather than a DL envelope, or a coloured or rigid envelope, so it looks different, from every other letter piled in the corner of the desk. Looking for ways to subvert the expectations of the mailing system is a great place to start to improve your print campaign and doesn’t require some amazing copy writing or the perfect offer.

Support Your Campaign or You Will Get a Leaky Bucket

One of the great aspects of digital marketing is all the data, there are so many ways you can slice and dice all those juicy numbers, it is fantastic. Print marketing gives you exactly no tracking data, none, zero zip. There is no tracking system that you don’t set up. Sales and reception staff need to be prepared for the marketing campaign with scripts for what to say, who to pass them on to, and importantly, where to record the data when someone rings in, emails in, or walks in. Companies that leave this preparation out will have consistently underperforming print campaigns if only because they have no idea how their customers are finding them. Tracking systems must be developed and put in place before the print campaign executes or you will have paid a lot of money and built a leaky bucket with a poor ROI. It doesn’t have to be much, a simple spreadsheet on the shared drive, and when someone rings your receptionist asks “Where did you hear about us?”, or you add that question to you customer sign on form. Easy, simple, old school no cost, but you have to do it.

Now that you are using your print marketing to direct people to all your different channels, and have prepared your sales and reception team with data tracking systems, you must make sure that all of these touch points are consistent with the printed piece. It’s no good if the flyer says “50% off, just ask Jo”, but Jo has no idea what you are doing so when Jo gets on the phone she just says “huh?”.  Or the customer hops on your website after reading the flyer, and the aesthetics and message on the flyer are not visible on the website. People need to know that they are on the right path and in the right place, and you do that by keeping everything consistent with the piece of print marketing that got them there. Instead of sending traffic to your home page, send them to a specific landing page, or instead of using the generic contact us email address set one up specifically for the campaign like. In each case ensure that the content is relevant and consistent with the printed piece.

“When it comes to print collateral you can’t afford to use the cheapest option, because it costs more that the expensive option”

Actionable Steps

People are always asking the same questions about print. How much does it cost, and how fast can you do it, with the implied question “Can you do it cheaper and faster?”

People want print to be cheaper because they don’t know enough, they think it is expensive and doesn’t really work. In an effort to lower cost they use thinner cheaper paper stock, which has the side effect that their print marketing is perceived as low quality, so the service is probably low, and the results of the print marketing campaign is bad. This only serves to reinforce the marketers preconception that print marketing doesn’t work. When it comes to print collateral you can’t afford to use the cheapest option, because it costs more that the expensive option. Your print collateral is the only ambassador that you have in the room, it represents you and your business. The paper is more than just a vessel to carry your graphic design, it is car your message is painted on. Should your business ambassador be a Ferrari or a Daihatsu?

Mail Out Calibration

Run the following tests to make sure you list is ready for action. Sending collateral to the wrong address is just throwing money away.

  1. Review You Mailing list – Go through your list and break it up into meaningful segments, perhaps by age, gender or purchasing history.
  2. Test the List – Run a low cost mail out to test the list and update the list as the return to sender envelopes come back.
  3. Follow Up With Email – Follow up your envelope about a week later, anyone who says they didn’t get it, reply and confirm the mailing address. You will pick up incorrect mailing addresses and discover people have left and been replaced.

Cost is an Issue

If cost is a concern there are ways to lower the cost that don’t mean you need to lower the quality of the material. The easiest way to lower the cost of any printing job is to review the size.

  1. Make sure you are using a standard size, don’t make sizes up, use something from the A series sizes, they have the best efficiency; custom sizes can bloat costs considerably.
  2. There is a massive cost jump going any bigger than A3 due to the production method required, if you can keep it smaller than A3.
  3. Decrease the size, simple as that. Paper is wood, the less you buy, the less you spend. Does your flyer have to be A4? Could it work as an A5? Print it out and check for legibility. The A series sizes can scale up and down, you won’t need to change the artwork at all.
  4. Joint Venture, are you friendly with a non competitive or complimentary business? Send out your marketing flyer with theirs in the same envelope then you share the freight cost.

“Get back to your graphic designer as fast as possible. Don’t let your slow responses be the reason the project runs out of time.”

Time is an Issue

If time is an issue, your work with the designer can be a great source of delays. Artwork is the foundation piece of every print job, if you can get this bit correct you can avoid many problems that delay print production. Get you graphic design finalized as quickly as possible.

  1. Clear Brief – Be clear with your brief to the designer. Make lists of the elements you need in there, make sure they designer has all the logos and images they need. If you have a clear idea, draw it on a piece of paper and send them a photo of the sketch.
  2. Clear Changes – Be thorough and decisive with changes and make them in batches. Don’t trickle them in as they occur to you. Go through the design, find all the changes and send them together.
  3. Finalize Quickly – There should be no more than 2 rounds of changes, if you need much more than that, you are the problem, listen to the designer let them do their job and get out of their way.
  4. Artwork File Specifications – While your designer is working, get in touch with your printer, and get the file specs off him and get that straight to your designer. Incorrectly prepared artwork is the source of 95% of delays in print production.
  5. Confirm Artwork is Print Ready – You’ve supplied your designer with the file specs, once they have given you the final artwork, ask them to check that they have applied the specifications. You won’t be able to check most of the requirements, but the designer can. Specifications are suggestions, they are requirements. Just ask them to double check it is all there.
  6. Respond Quickly – Get back to your graphic designer as fast as possible. Don’t let your slow responses be the reason the project runs out of time.

Be Different, Do Print

But why should you use print when everyone is talking about digital. You should use print BECAUSE everyone else is doing digital marketing. If you want cut through in a competitive and noisy market, the best way to do that is to do what everyone else is NOT doing. Being different and brave is how remarkable marketing is created. You won’t stand out by doing the same thing as everyone else.

I work with customers from all kinds of industries and help them to apply the 7 Principals of Print Marketing. Check out my Print Marketing Quiz to see how well you are applying the principals to your print marketing. Contact me if you would like to know more about the 7 Principles and how you could apply them to your next print campaign.

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