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What’s in a Name? A Lot: Tips for Direct Marketing That Deliver

Make each customer feel like your only customer. I’m amazed every time I get a letter that starts off “Dear Ken Greenberg.” Amazed because for as long as I’ve been in the business, it’s been pretty easy to address the letter properly—the way you would if you were actually writing one: Dear “Mr. Greenberg,” or “Dear Ken.” As a result, when I see “Dear Ken Greenberg,” I know I’m reading junk mail. Even if it could be important, I’m immediately turned off. How would Mr. John H. Jones, III, feel if he got a letter that started “Dear John H Jones III?” (They never get punctuation right, either.)

What’s so difficult about doing it the right way? Nothing really. It simply takes more time to run a single field containing all the parts of a name through special software or routines that will break it apart. Yet I can’t imagine that any good mailing house doesn’t have that software.

Effective personalization increases response. In most cases, having a person’s name on the mailing piece and in the letter makes them pay more attention than when they get a piece addressed to “occupant” or “current resident.”

Today, personalization can go even further with variable color imaging. We’re seeing response lifts of up to 35 percent using this method. The recipient’s name can appear in any color or within any graphic. For example, maybe you’ve gotten a piece of mail showing a vacation paradise—a beach—and your name is written in the sand.

Variable color imaging goes even further. If you’re mailing to a diverse audience and have an indicator for ethnicity or nationality in the mailing file, you can actually vary the pictures in the mailing to reflect the people you’re reaching. The possibilities are truly endless.

Who should receive your mailing?

Choosing the correct recipients is one of the most critical decisions in direct marketing. Sending a home equity loan offer to people renting an apartment, for example, would be a complete waste of marketing dollars since they can’t possibly qualify for the loan if they don’t own a home.

In retail and bank marketing, location is a major factor. Marketers can’t ignore the “distance decay factor.” This simple rule shows a direct correlation between distance and responsiveness: the closer people are to your location, the more likely they are to respond. Sure, there may be exceptions—an extraordinary clearance sale, for example—but for the most part, convenience is too critical to ignore.

Fortunately, you can take the guesswork out of who your targets should be. Sophisticated tools from Pitney Bowes Business Insight let you map your locations and select geographies within a drive time or radius. We like radius selections (simple rings around your locations) in urban settings, but prefer drive times for suburban settings. In suburbia, where most people drive, we can map a drive time or series of drive times, and then select any slice of geography inside: zip codes, letter carrier routes (CRRT) or Block Groups. Since a CRRT is so much smaller than a zip, it enables you to buy lists in tiny increments. A CRRT might have 300 people; a ZIP code might have 30,000!

Why is this so important? Imagine you want to mail in a tight three-minute drive time around your store. If you work with a typical list company or mailing firm, you’re more likely to be limited to a radius around the location. In most cases, it’s actually around the post office—or the center (centroid) of the zip code. That’s fine if you’re just down the block from the post office. But what if you’re a mile away? A one-mile ring around the post office location would entirely miss your own location, and you wouldn’t select the people you really wanted to reach—those immediately accessible to your store.

Taking the same example, let’s say you’ve budgeted to mail 6,000 pieces for that store. It turns out there are 12,000 qualified leads based on your selection criteria. Most mailing companies will suggest an “Nth” or “random select.” Since you have twice as many leads as you need, they randomly drop every other name. Random is never good in direct mail. Since the selection is random, they could just as easily toss more of the closest people and keep more of the folks farther away—the ones less likely to come. (Remember the distance decay factor!)

We prefer to start by making our list selection from within the nearest drive times. Selecting CRRTs means we’ll be buying small pieces of geography. We start with proximity, then overlay up to 70 additional filtering criteria—such as age, income, presence of children, length of residence, homeowner status, size of business, year established, etc.—to really narrow our selection. If we wind up with too many names we can eliminate the ones farthest away. In other words, proximity is just the beginning, but it’s an important start.


There are so many factors that affect direct mail responsiveness. Today we focused on two important ones: personalization and list targeting. You can’t afford to cut corners on either one. Get the personalization right. Work with pros who aren’t cutting corners with how they address people’s names. (First impressions!)

Then target those recipients who are closest to your corner. While we could write a whole article just on targeting, here we’re concentrating on using sophisticated mapping tools to plot your location, create a drive time around the location, and then select letter carrier routes (not whole ZIP codes) that fall within the desired drive times. That’s actually just the beginning—you can use any of more than 70 different criteria in addition to distance to further pinpoint your idea target audience.



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