The second coming of B2B direct mail

As the digital landscape becomes increasingly competitive, innovative marketers are turning to offline tactics to engage prospects at key accounts. Here’s what you need to know about the resurgence of direct mail in B2B.

Direct mail was once lauded as a highly effective B2B marketing tactic. In 1983, David Ogilvy called it the “secret weapon in the avalanche of new business acquisitions” which made his agency “an instant success”.

A few years later, the rise of email marketing sent direct mail into decline. Meanwhile, a series of B2C scandals damaged the medium’s reputation, earning it the nickname ‘junk mail’.

But today, direct mail looks to be heading for a resurgence. Many B2B brands are already enjoying huge success with the format.

“Before we were acquired by Marketo, we found ourselves behind plan with only a month in the quarter,” says Dave Rigotti, former head of marketing at attribution specialist Bizible. “Instead of blaming sales, the marketing team quickly brainstormed a few ideas to make an impact.”

One of those ideas, a direct mail campaign to decision makers at open opportunities, paid off big
Dave Rigotti, Marketo

To underline the brand’s message that ‘Bizible helps you grow’, the team put together 37 customised packages containing Forrester Research’s Total Economic Impact of Bizible report, a hand-written card and some seeds.

“These were sent out to get our message in front of decision-makers,” Rigotti explains. “The result was $33,000 in extra revenue. Combined with a few other tactics, we beat the plan by over 15 percent!”

O2 has also enjoyed success with direct mail in recent years. Its Digital Dave campaign targeted IT directors at 50 target companies with a direct mail package featuring a personalised marketing message from a ‘digital hologram advisor’ called Dave.

The campaign successfully kickstarted conversations with key prospects, resulting in 13 sales appointments and £2 million in sales.

Examples like this prove that direct mail can be a powerful tool for influencing time-poor B2B decision-makers. But given its historic reputation, you may be unsure whether it’s a good fit for your business.

So, today we’ll outline the business case for a ‘second coming’ for B2B direct mail. Then, we’ll provide clear guidance about how to use direct mail in your own marketing strategy.

Why B2B marketers are revaluating direct mail

The digital environment is now so competitive that innovative marketers are turning to offline tactics to make an impact with their audiences. While it’s easy to tune out conventional marketing tactics like email, a physical package is tough to ignore.

The average open rate for B2B email is 15.1 per cent, according to the Data & Marketing Association’s 2018 benchmarking report. Yet, Royal Mail reports that 92 per cent of direct mail is opened.

Direct mail also outperforms digital media as a whole, delivering an average ROI of £3.22 for every £1 spent to digital’s £3.12.

In fact, Royal Mail says 48 per cent of UK adults took action after reading a piece of direct mail last year.

Eye tracking research suggests a neurological basis for this strong performance. A 2015 study from True Impact Marketing shows that direct mail requires 21 per cent less effort to process than digital media. As such, it’s both easier to understand and more memorable.

Better yet, direct mail becomes even more powerful when integrated with other marketing channels. According to BrandScience research, digital channels perform 62 per cent better when deployed as part of a multichannel campaign that includes direct mail.

These stats are nothing new. Direct mail has always been a highly effective and underappreciated marketing tactic. Ogilvy once complained that he felt like a “voice crying in the wilderness” trying to persuade the advertising establishment to take it more seriously.

It’s largely thanks to the growing popularity of account-based marketing that marketers are finally looking again at this neglected format.

Here, we have a school of thought that encourages marketers to use premium tactics to reach exactly the right B2B decision-makers with highly personalised content tailored to their situation and needs.

Direct mail ticks all the right boxes – and it can deliver staggering results when used correctly, as companies like O2 and Bizible prove.

What to consider before investing in direct mail

It’s easy to get excited about the latest marketing trends, even when the ideas themselves are very old! But no matter how powerful a specific tactic has the potential to be, you’ll only see the results you want if it feeds naturally into your marketing strategy.

So, before you begin brainstorming the perfect gift ideas for prospects at your target accounts, you need to define the role direct mail will play within your overarching campaign.

What are your content marketing goals? Who do you want to reach? At what point in the customer journey do you want to reach them? And what action do you want them to take upon receiving your package?

There are generally more cost-effective ways to source new leads. But if your aim is to improve brand recall, engage new audiences within a target account, convert key opportunities or encourage brand advocacy – direct mail could be for you.

While sending flashy gifts to thousands of prospects is unlikely to make business sense, targeting key stakeholders at the companies your sales team most wants to do business with may be worthwhile.

Consider how much it will cost to reach your audience, your target cost per acquisition and how much you typically spend on the other touchpoints in your customer journey when making this decision.

Direct mail is great for nurturing customer relationships

At the same time, timing is everything. Consider how you’ll use direct mail to reach your audience at key points in the customer journey:

  • Awareness mailers take advantage of direct mail’s great ‘brand recall’ stats to make a strong first impression with key prospects. A printed version of your brand’s magazine or a piece of flagship content would be perfect here.
  • Shareable mailers are designed to reach secondary audiences and grow the number of champions you have at a company. This could be as simple as a fresh box of cupcakes, or something clever like Bizible’s seeds.
  • Appointment mailers help you convert engaged prospects into sales opportunities. These typically include a strong offer and call to action, prompting the recipient to make an appointment with your sales team.
  • Closer mailers are sent to key decision-makers when you want to coax an open opportunity over the line. These are highly branded and personalised, generally combining bottom-of-funnel content with a carefully chosen gift or offer.
  • Advocacy mailers reinforce the benefits of working with your company and endear clients to your brand. These may combine printed onboarding materials with branded gifts designed to be shared on social media.

As you can see, direct mail is a versatile marketing tool. It can be a great way to grab your audience’s attention, build strong client relationships and nurture key accounts through the marketing loop.

Think back to the last gift you received and it’s easy to see why. We were very touched when LinkedIn included branded socks, pedometers and wireless phone chargers with our ‘Best B2B Lead Generation’ award.

Direct mail may have been unpopular for several decades. But thanks to renewed interest in delivering ultra-personalised content experiences, it’s enjoying something of a resurgence. It’s certainly an idea to consider if your business is experimenting with ABM.

As with any type of content marketing, the key is to target the right audience members, with the right messages, at the right time.

Key takeaways

  • Direct mail is a highly effective tactic for reaching time-poor decision-makers you struggle to engage through digital channels.
  • Using direct mail as part of a multichannel campaign will enhance the performance of every element of your marketing mix.
  • Ensure any direct mail initiative feeds into your broader marketing strategy to nurture prospects through the customer journey.

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