Leader Column in the current issue of Deliver magazine, written by Steve Cuno
And brag we should, in press releases, our own direct mail, blogs and other forms of self-promotion. It’s a great way to share what we learn, attract new clients and grow the industry. (In moments of unguarded candor, we might also admit to enjoying just a smidge of ego gratification.) Yet how we express our successes can undermine or enhance the brand perception of direct mail.
A time-honored practice is to express direct mail results in terms of percent-of-recipients-who-respond. It’s not unusual for practitioners to say, “Our direct mail pulled a response of”—whatever number—“percent.” This usually elicits a gasp of wonder, oft followed by an uninformed comment along the line of, “That’s great. I mean, I always heard that three percent”—or some other number—“is considered really good.”
In that moment, it can be tempting to affirm the number cited so as not to ruin a rare moment of basking in unabated admiration. Yet there may be some benefit in resisting that temptation and setting the record straight instead.
A response is “good” only if it returns a profit. If you need a 3.25 percent response to break even, then three percent isn’t so good. On the other hand, if you can break even with response of just 0.01 percent, you would be within your rights to throw a wild party in celebration of a 0.02 percent response.
Setting that particular record straight is no mere obsessive-compulsive nod to pedantry. Giving standard-status to an arbitrary number risks priming employers and clients to be disappointed, profitability aside, with anything less than that number. The last thing a direct mail pro needs is for a profitable program to be deemed “weak” because it fell short of a folkloric milestone.
We suggest expressing results not in terms of percent-who-respond, but in terms of Return On Investment (ROI). Suppose that a mailing of 200,000 pieces costing $90,000 brings in 5,000 responses that account for $100,000 in revenue. Consider how much more relevant, informative and compelling it is to say “the campaign earned an 11 percent net profit” than to say “it pulled a one-quarter percent response.”
Trumpeting direct mail success is a good thing. But trumpeting it in terms of ROI helps demonstrate the real power of direct mail. Which, we submit, is an even better thing.