Evidence That Direct Mail is Alive and Well in B2B Demand Generation

February 4, 2011

Here are two case studies from Deliver magazine that show how integrated direct mail efforts can pack the biggest punch of all.

Given all the buzz that surrounds web and mobile platforms these days, direct mail has come to look like the plain-Jane country cousin of B2B marketing.

But my experience with DM campaigns, historically and recently, suggests that the snail-mail channel still has plenty to offer—when it’s used in a highly targeted and integrated way.

The numbers game

Mass-market DM was never a great way to meet and convert highly qualified B2B prospects, but that’s what most people envision when they hear “direct mail.”

Today the most successful targeting for DM goes beyond segmenting by vertical and often focuses on hundreds, not thousands, of targets.

Being clever with a purpose

The most effective direct mail campaigns do more than simply utilize another channel—they are intended to be clutterbusters right from the start.

The focus here is on getting attention and stimulating interest with something that’s hard to ignore. A clutterbusting DM is:

  • Dimensional—Think big, or at least oddly shaped; think color (NOT easily scuffed white)
  • Specially delivered via Priority Mail or any method that marks it as an important package
  • Personalized
  • Fun!

It goes without saying that we have to promote the right content and message for the right personas at the right point in the buying cycle within the piece, but that’s the part we’re most likely NOT to neglect.

Two entertaining pieces of evidence, for inspiration

This is one of those times where it’s probably better to show rather than tell.

And I’m lucky to have USPS publication Deliver magazine on hand for a couple of case studies that emphasize how diligent targeting and thoughtful messaging, thoroughly combined with entertaining creative, can produce outstanding results.

While the industry average for DM response rates is 1-3%, these campaigns garnered response rates of 10-15%.

(Full disclosure: both campaigns featured were created by my home base, Babcock&Jenkins, in conjunction with Omniture and Adobe.)

Sweet Charts

In my opinion, you can never go wrong with anything chocolate. And when the Omniture Business Unit at Adobe chose the concept of sending a chocolate pie chart to 500 of their hardest-to-reach prospects, they were rewarded with a response rate of 11.6 %—and estimated ROI of 289%.

(An essential ingredient in this DM pie was an overlay of a personalized URL, or PURL, that directed each prospect to  their informational microsite.)

Indulge in the chocolate pie chart story here.

Want S’more?

Omniture and Adobe presented 500 more tough-cookie leads with a S’mores kit meant to represent Omniture’s digital suite.

In the Deliver article that analyzes the program’s results, Adobe’s senior director of demand marketing and media Mike Chertudi says he believes clever DM linked to relevant educational content is more effective than self-serving “freemiums.”

With a response rate of 12.7% and ROI nearing 300% as of August 2010, the S’mores campaign certainly supports his view.

Click for a close up

Read the rest of the S’mores story here.

Have you had to fight for your right to use DM lately? I’d love to hear your experiences—good, bad and delicious—in the comments.

Proof That Personalization Can Open Doors and Close Sales

January 26, 2011

If you wish all targeted account campaign results looked like this, let me take you through the steps that made these possible.

These results demonstrate:

  • The value of targeting
  • The power of personalization to sell a high-value solution
  • The significant role that sales plays in demand generation marketing programs
  • That sometimes you need to break the rules

Targeting, personalization and sales integration

A large telecoms company wanted to engage with senior technology executives at top-tier companies, but these prospects were in markets where the company had little to no brand recognition. Not the easiest way to start a relevant, personalized dialogue.

Sound familiar?

Then one of the company’s sales engineers had a breakthrough idea: why not use the customized network diagrams he was preparing to help close contracts as an introductory clutterbuster? This would show not only how the company could address their unique network challenges but also how committed they are to providing great, personalized service.

The company tapped B2B agency Babcock & Jenkins (BNJ) to turn this provocative idea into a reality. (Full disclosure: BNJ is my home base.)

Collaborating closely with both the sales and marketing teams, BNJ developed a pilot targeted accounts campaign that included:

  • A multi-touch, high value series of communications, including  a dimensional direct mailer that included the customized network map in an architectural blueprint tube plus a handwritten note from the recipient’s named sales rep directing them to a personalized microsite via a personalized URL (PURL). Other touches included a “teaser” package (complete with brownies and coffee) and a follow-up note card and email “from” the sales rep.


  • A personalized microsite featuring a short welcome video from company’s CTO, direct contact information for and a picture of the prospect’s named sales rep, a 40-page recommendation specific to their company, and more.
  • Passive profiling to give sales deep insight into each prospect’s interaction with the site, plus a sales alert that immediately notifies each rep when their target responds to the site.

Given its 10-to-1 ROI projection (including  impressive sales already closed) and other phenomenal results, the campaign is being fine-tuned for further rollouts. One happy sales rep noted, “This is the best marketing program I’ve seen in my 15 years in the business.”

The key elements

And the rule-breaking?

Well…most sales-cycle models (and seasoned marketing folks) typically recommend that early-stage outreach content stay on the soft side: thought-leadership content such as white papers or third-party articles. Specific solution and implementation information normally comes later, once you know more about your prospects and their particular needs.

However, the small size and tight targeting of the audience allowed delivery of specific relevant information upfront, condensing some of the usual getting-to-know you stages of content provision.

Have you broken (or invented) rules of targeted marketing for breakthrough results? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

The Secret Sauce of Lead Nurturing for B2B Demand Generation

January 20, 2011

Here are the key ingredients for creating lead nurture programs that work—and a benchmark for conversion rates.

Nurture programs are essential for companies with complex solutions and a relatively long sales cycle. You could say they’re what sets B2B apart from B2C.

As you probably know by heart, nurture programs are designed to engage with prospects over time, increasing their propensity for your solution once they’re ready to buy.

What you may not know (or may not have fully embraced) is that content is the most critical ingredient for nurture success. You should put as much effort into your content calendars as you do in building your target lists.

When mapping out an editorial calendar for a nurture campaign, create or include content that is:

  • Intrinsically high-value. You want prospects to immediately perceive a professional benefit to receiving information, not a hard sell. This also helps you establish thought leadership with your prospects.
  • Topical, but not sales focused. In order to build a long-term relationship, begin by focusing on thought leadership topics and interesting case studies.
  • A good mix of early stage and late stage content. For example, an early-stage prospect might be interested in an “industry trends whitepaper,” while a late-stage prospect will be more likely to download an “implementation guide.”

Whenever possible, build passive profiling into your online lead nurturing program, i.e., identify potential sales opportunities by tracking which content your prospects download. Not only will this clue you into their interests, it also indicates which stage of the buying cycle they’re in, enabling you to serve them more relevant content in the future.

Pinpointing an ultimate conversion rate is always tricky: Average sales cycle, lead source and relevancy/frequency of content play a key role.

But in my experience (and in alignment with SiriusDecisions findings), average conversion rates from Inquiry to MQL (marketing qualified lead) are 5-10% overall.

For an overview of realistic goals for lead nurturing, I highly recommend Eloqua’s Lead Nurturing Best Practices Toolkit.

Do you consider content the engine of your nurture campaigns, or are you unconvinced? I’d love to hear your experiences and viewpoints in the comments.

Why Microsites (Still) Matter for B2B Demand Generation

January 17, 2011

Consider this your cheat sheet for explaining how microsites serve an important role in the marketing mix—especially in initiatives that are demand generation-focused.

For both B2B buyers and B2B marketers, it comes down to three issues: relevance, access, and control.

Why Microsites Matter to B2B Buyers

Immediate access to relevant content: Whether they’re C-suite decision makers or rank-and-file influencers, B2B buyers don’t have time to deep-dive through corporate websites for content relevant to their pain points and position in the buying cycle. A microsite instantly aligns content to a visitor’s area of interest or persona.

Easy sharing: Rarely is a single person responsible for B2B purchases, so being able to share highly relevant content easily and quickly is a big plus. Sharing a single microsite URL and directing colleagues to one place (instead of collecting and sending bits and pieces) greatly streamlines the process.

Personal connection: Microsites that include a PURL (personal URL, e.g., http://www.sitename.com/jane) enable a completely tailored experience for each visitor. That could mean the B2B buyer not only receives content appropriate to their role, they may also have direct access to and information about their dedicated sales rep. A microsite could also include an area where information requested by the B2B buyer can be uploaded and archived.

Why Microsites Matter to B2B Marketers

You’ll capture more valuable leads with the microsite’s sharp hook than the corporate site’s wide net. (Naturally, you need to do testing and optimization to ensure this is done well.) A corporate website serves more successfully as the central repository for an organization’s traffic and complete content.

Pipeline profiling: Based on how B2B buyers interact with and consume content on the microsite, you can align them with business rules that will determine your next steps. Based on this pipeline profiling, you can decide whether to send them as leads to sales, or put them into a specific nurture program to receive additional content.

Control of content and production: Let’s face it, corporate websites often become battlegrounds for control; every department wants their content to take priority. Creating a microsite gives you control to do and choose what’s needed, so you can sidestep company politics and delays.

Now, the next time you hear, “Microsites are a dying breed. Corporate websites will reign supreme” (as I did recently from an esteemed analyst), come back to this post, see if their proposed alternatives address B2B demand generation needs, and let me know your views.

Of course, not every microsite is a good microsite. See 10 Best Practices for B2B Demand Generation Microsites for guidance.

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