Email inboxes, social media feeds, and internet experiences are filled with marketing messages. However, what’s old is new again in marketing.
Direct mail can be an effective way to cut through the noise and grab people's attention.
Today’s guest is Ryan Cote, Director of Digital Services and Partner at Ballantine. Ryan talks about how to make the most out of direct mail by integrating it with digital strategies and tactics.
“Print is definitely not dead. It's just changing like anything, like SEO, like any digital channel. It just changes. We've had to change with the times.”
“It's usually less competitive in a mailbox. If you think about your inbox—how much email you get. Email is still very important, but it's just very congested.”
“They're basically just using direct mail and digital to fully blanket their customer because you don't know where you're going to get them to respond.” “If you have the budget to do both print and digital, that's always the best-case scenario because you're getting multiple touchpoints.”
Cutting through the noise by integrating direct mail with digital marketing, with @ryancote from Ballantine Digital.
Ben: Hey, Ryan, how's it going?
Ryan: Hey, Ben. I'm doing great. How about you?
Ben: Fantastic. I'm recording this on a Monday morning, just getting my week started. Before we get too much deeper into this conversation, would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself to our audience and explain what you do over at Ballantine?
Ryan: Sure. My name is Ryan Cote. I'm Director of Digital and partner Ballantine. We go back to the mid-60s. My great uncle started the company in 1966, so we're going on about 55 years. I'm a third generation. We have two divisions in our business. We've got the direct mail side that is what we started with—obviously, not digital. Digital is about five years old. It's like a startup-ish in a bigger company. We work with different types of clients. In the direct mail side, we work with large companies. We do a lot of direct mail. Typically, it's like the profile. On the digital side, it’s manufacturers, contractors, professional services, and companies that need leads. Probably the specialty focus on the manufacturers, industrial companies. That's what we do. I started out doing marketing for the company, but now that we have a digital division, I still do a little bit of marketing like these podcasts. But my main role there is sales, strategy, and a couple of other things on the digital side. My role has changed over the last 15 years.
Ben: For sure. Something that stands out to me—and that I think is interesting—about Ballantine is making that transition from the print marketing world, direct mail marketing world into digital, and bringing those two things together. My first question along that train of thought is, obviously, you've been in business since the ‘60s. Clearly, there's still a high demand for print marketing, probably in multiple forms. I think that when we talk about marketing within the industry today, it's almost assumed that you're talking about some digital tactic, channel, or strategy. With that in mind, what would you say to some marketers who are maybe under the impression that print marketing is dead or maybe never considered it because they never thought that it might be viable for them?
Ryan: I'd say it’s definitely not dead. We had a great year last year. It's definitely changed. Not that I was with a company in the ‘90s. But it's in my family, so I hear little stories. In the ‘90s, it was large volume campaigns, not as much targeting—just everyone. You think about the [...] house days with the little stamp mailers that we would get. Nowadays, smaller campaigns are more targeted. We also have clients and niches that it makes sense to do direct mail. Nonprofits is a big focus for us, travel, and hospitality. They need to use direct mail. The demographics and just the product—you just need it. Print is definitely not dead. It's just changing like anything like SEO, like any digital channel, it just changes. We've had to change with the times, with the companies that we work with, and et cetera. I would say it’s definitely not dead.
Think about it this way. It's usually less competitive in a mailbox. If you think about your inbox—how many emails you get—it's ridiculous in most cases. Email is still very important, but it's just very congested. Whereas direct mail, especially as we record this with the pandemic, you're competing with maybe 10 pieces of mail in the mailbox and so it's less competitive. It is usually more expensive, of course, but it's a way for you to physically put your marketing message in someone's hand. This is a very long answer, but I'm racking up [...] here.
Ben: Go for it. This is great.
Ryan: I think about some of our larger clients and do a lot, a lot of direct mail, and they still do a lot, a lot of digital. They're basically just using direct mail and digital to fully blanket their customer because you don't know where you're going to get them to respond or to actually even notice them at marketing. Whether it's in their mailbox, in their inbox, in their social feed, or on Google. Print is definitely not dead. It just changed. It's just worth a test at least to see if it's something that is viable and get some results.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. I would imagine that for a lot of companies, particularly maybe more like digital-focused companies these days. If they're looking to print, it might be because they are looking to stand out. People's inboxes are flooded. Organic reach on social is hard to come by. SEO is competitive. But I'm also curious, in your view—and just in a very general sense—because I imagine, if you get into the nuts and bolts of how it works, it could get very complicated. How do you see print and digital tactics potentially complementing one another? How can those things work together as different pieces of an integrated campaign?
Ryan: If you have the budget to do both print and digital, that's always the best-case scenario because you're getting multiple touchpoints. The customer sees that you're marketing more frequently across different channels. There are definite ways to integrate both print and digital. Some ways, just top of mind here. You're sending out direct mail and you've got their email address. Obviously, send them an email as well with complimentary creative and so they're getting the direct mail piece. Again, they get an email, and they could tell it's all part of the same campaign. If you have their email list too, obviously, upload the email list to Facebook and to LinkedIn. Well, it depends on who the market is, who the audience is but Facebook and/or LinkedIn. Then they're getting the direct mail, they're getting the email, and now they're getting the ad in their newsfeed for Facebook or LinkedIn. That’s covering 99% of the world. They're either checking their mailbox, their inbox, or their feed. There's really what else is left that I can think of right now. Another way that your audience might not know about this yet—and not that it's particularly new, but it's not as utilized yet, and it’s something that we're starting to get more into. It's called Informed Delivery. Have you heard of that with USPS—Informed Delivery?
Ben: No. That's completely new to me. I'm curious to hear about this.
Ryan: Okay. As consumers—me and you, if we sign up for Informed Delivery, we get an email with that day's mail is coming. You basically get an email from USPS and it says, hey, you're getting a piece of mail from Capital One, Crate & Barrel, and some magazine. So you can get a glimpse as to what's coming in your mailbox before it even gets to you. Mailers like it—and this is where the integration comes—because, with that email, the USPS also puts in a link to your website. If I'm Capital One and I'm using Informed Delivery, the consumer’s getting an email saying, hey, this piece from Capital One is coming. And here's their website. You can click on it. It's an active link. So that's a very easy way to integrate print digital because you're sending the direct mail. And the consumer that's getting the direct mail, they're getting an email from the USPS with a snapshot, a glimpse of the mail piece with a link to your website. There's no cost for the mailer to do this or for the consumer to sign up. It's a free service from the USPS. Obviously, they're trying to make themselves stand out. It's a pretty cool service. We're trying to get all of our clients to do it because why not? You're getting basically a free email. Yes, it's not a solo email. There are other mailers in there, but who cares? It's a free touchpoint.
Ben: Yeah. That's super interesting. I think that leads well into my next question. Say I am that marketer who's primarily been focused on digital in the past. All my experience is in digital, all of my budgets are in digital, but I'm looking for ways to help my brand stand out. I've determined that print might be an option for me. How could that marketer best identify whether print marketing or direct mail could actually make sense for their brand? How could they self-assess (in a way) whether or not that could be a productive opportunity for them?
Ryan: There are a lot of factors. The value of a customer to you, is it $2 or is it a lot more? Because direct mail is a lot more expensive. If you're using digital to drive traffic to a website, you can use print to drive traffic to a website. It's an additional touchpoint that might lift the digital results as well like a rising tide lifts all ships. I would recommend starting off with something simple, something inexpensive. A 6x11 postcard that mails out at standard postage rate versus the first-class rate, which is more money and mails at standard class rate. It's pretty big. A 6x11 postcard is fairly sizable, front and back. The printing is fairly inexpensive—obviously, it depends on the quantity. But you can mail out 10,000, 15,000, or 20,000 postcards and get a pretty good sense as to if it's a viable channel for you. Obviously, be very specific with the list that you mail to. Very targeted—however, you want to slice and dice that. It depends on what data you have, but try to be very specific. Start off with a 6x11 postcard. On the print side, we do work with some online companies, and they'll use a tri-fold self-mailer. They'll use a postcard. They're usually using print, but they're not using this big jumbo package with all these different inserts like it's nonprofit. I would say just start simple, start small, and then pay very close attention to the list that you're mailing to. Give it the best chance to work, and then see if it works. It may or may not, but then at least you know.
Ben: Let's say, that same marketer, they're sold on the idea of bringing in some print marketing into their overall marketing strategy and really trying to integrate that with what they're doing on digital. Let's say, they've never done anything with print, have no idea how that world works. No one in their company (let’s say) has any expertise internally with print production or how any of that stuff works. What would you recommend they do first? What's the first thing that person should do?
Ryan: They need to find a good partner, and I'm not going to roll this into a pitch for Ballantine.
Ben: You're going to need help, though.
Ryan: You're going to need help, yeah. The thing is direct mail, they rarely teach in school anymore. With some of our clients, we almost become like a mentor teaching them direct mail. They know digital marketing like the back of their hand, but direct mail is not taught in school because there's a lot that goes into it from the letter shop, to the printing, to the image, the address, and paper stock issues. It just goes on and on. What I would say is to find a broker or a production company. There are two differences here. A production company or broker, and then there's an actual printing plan6t We are a broker production company, and we work with plants. We have a network of about 25, 30 plants. So when a client works with us, we're guiding them on what to do. We [...] to all the stuff that happens with the printer and putting out fires that they don't even know about. If you go directly to a printer not knowing much about print, it might be tough. But if you go to a production company or a broker where they're going to manage the printers for you, it'll be a lot better for you starting out. That's why I would say find a production company or a print broker to work with.
Ben: Cool. Once this marketer has some print campaign going, whether it's like direct mail or they're creating some print collateral. Those pieces exist in conjunction with a broader integrated campaign. There are digital components and so forth. Let's say, they put a ton of work into this. The branding, messaging, and everything is on point. It's all coordinated together. It's consistent and everything. They've done a really good job executing the actual work. How can they actually measure the impact and the ROI of that campaign? Beyond just having good production quality, how could they actually then go to their CMO, CEO, or some other internal stakeholder and actually show them what the actual value of those print tactics were? Ryan: I would say three things. Do three things. The first thing is to put a trackable phone number on the mail piece, so you can track how many phone calls you're getting from the actual piece of mail. That's going to be relevant to some companies, not others. I just want to drive to this, but just generally speaking, put a call tracking number on the website. You're probably going to have a number on there, so make it trackable. The second thing is to set up a special landing page that's only on the direct mail piece. So your website.com/whatever it is. So you know that people are hitting that page. The only way they could have known about it is through the direct mail piece. Obviously, that landing page needs to fit into the funnel of the whole campaign and all that, but that URL is specific to the direct mail campaign. The third thing I would say is that some of this you really can't track because there are benefits to it that you might not be able to track. If you've been running digital campaigns for years, you know what to expect. You know the results you're going to get. If nothing's changed, and then you add a direct mail piece onto it, you might see a lift. You might see a lift in brand searches on Google. You might see a lift in other channels you're doing like your Facebook activity because now someone knows about you and they're researching you. There might be a lift in the overall digital that could be attributed to the direct mail, but you don't really know. But if everything's staying static, and then all of a sudden you just know it's changed because you add the direct mail to it. I think it's fair to say that there's something happening there from the direct mail.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. The last question I'll throw your way. This is something that came to mind because I've noticed maybe within like the last year or so, I've actually started getting a small uptick in the amount of direct mail that I'll get from other marketing software companies. Things that are in our space here at CoSchedule that maybe their companies I had some degree of contact with on the internet for some professional reason or capacity. Sometimes it's really creative. Sometimes it does get my attention because I'm not getting a whole lot of that stuff in my physical mailbox like I am in my email, social media, or wherever else. I have noticed maybe one or two instances of just getting some really bizarre, random-looking mail from companies that I don't know who they are, but it's obvious because they put my company on the mailing label or something. Then they'll get that data mixed up. They'll put my name, the company name, and then a family member's address on there. My suspicion as to what happened is that they were probably pulling data together from multiple sources, and they weren't skilled in how they mashed it up. Who knows where they even got all this information, but it just looks super, super weird. I don't think too much about it just beyond being curious about how that could happen. And the question I want to throw your way is how do you avoid that happening? If you're doing things where you're taking your email list and you're uploading that to Facebook, but you're also using physical addresses associated with those email addresses. You're doing all this stuff. I imagine that maintaining the integrity of that data becomes very important to avoid having a situation like that where a person is just like, how did this get to me? Do you have any tips or any advice in that area to avoid having a piece of physical mail or print marketing getting to somebody? How do you avoid making that look creepy to someone, potentially?
Ryan: There are two types of data. There's data that you have in-house like your in-house file. We have to assume that's being taken care of closely, the discrepancies are fixed, and the data is being cleansed on a regular basis. And then there's data that you rent. In the sample you described there, it sounds like someone had that information on you from whatever you signed up for back in the day. It happens when you're living at your parents' house, and then you move on your own. So you've got two different addresses floating around there. That's rented data. You could buy rented data where it's compiled, or you can buy rented data that's more like a response data. People that subscribe to Success magazine might be a good option for this product or something like that. That's where working with a really good list company comes in. Actually, that was my previous life before Ballantine. I worked at two list companies. That was my entry into the direct mail world. We don't do lists. We work with outside sources. That's where working with a very good list company that's going to get you good data that's cleansed, that's hygiene. Then when you have the data like for us, it's called a mail house or a letter shop. That's the company that's taking your physical mail and your data. They're slapping on the name, they're slapping on the address, and they're imaging all that on and doing all the personalization. Usually, at the letter shop, we'll have that data. The letter shop cleanses the data to run it through what's called NCOA, which is National Change of Address. Try to take out the people that they're deceased and some other things. We'll usually cleanse the data at the letter shop mail house to try preventing what you described there.
Ben: Cool. That's great insight and just something I think that's important, especially if people are new or maybe new to this world, potentially. That did it for all the questions that I had for you, Ryan. Before I let you go, is there anything else that you'd like to add or anything else about this topic that you think would be important for someone to know when they're maybe just starting out?
Ryan: I don't think so. There was one other thing we didn't talk about. We're just not doing a ton of it yet. I really can't answer much questions on it, but it's retargeting with direct mail. People that come to your website, then look at the direct mail piece. We're starting to do it. I just don't know enough about it to give you intelligent answers. But for your audience, it’s something to be aware of that you can now retarget with direct mail. I would say if anyone has any questions on direct mail—I'm like the digital guy, but being in the family business for 18 years I can answer these questions. But if someone wants to go really deep, they can speak to my brother Matt and my uncle John. Their knowledge of direct mail is 20 times mine. I would say, if anyone has any questions, just reach out to me, and then I'll make an introduction to Matt or John.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.