Final Deliver magazine Leader Column by Steve Cuno
Author’s note: In my farewell tribute to Deliver I wrote, “What a great ride it has been. I will miss Deliver. In fact, I miss it already, even though one last issue remains in the pipeline, due out in October. I won’t be in that issue, at least as far as I know.” But today the magazine arrived in the mail, and there was my article, “Data Sans Wiggle-Room.” It’s an honor to be in the final issue. Here is the piece.
Astute marketers may have noticed that the first word in the term “direct mail” happens to be “direct.” It is apt in more than one sense. The U.S. Mail allows you to direct advertising to carefully selected targets. It allows people to respond directly back in return.
But the mail offers another, valuable variety of directness not to be overlooked: data without wiggle-room. It is ideal for marketers less interested in defending the latest effort and more interested in finding out whether and how well the latest effort performed.
Traditional mass media campaigns tend to be indirect. Instead of responding immediately and directly to an advertiser, customers respond over time and indirectly, via a third party such as a store or website. Between receipt of the message and action taken at a store, other factors such as politics, breaking news, the recession or retailers’ practices can come into play. Therein lies the wiggle-room. When sales rise, it is natural and tempting, and may even appear reasonable, to credit the latest campaign. Yet when sales disappoint, it is convenient to invoke “other factors”—and credit the campaign with having kept things from getting worse. And why not? In the absence of direct, causal data, one inference is as good as another.
No wonder the late Scots poet and novelist Andrew Lang famously lamented, “An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts—for support rather than for illumination.”
On the other hand, there is no evidence that Lang used direct mail. Had he done so, he might have taken delight in its uncanny ability to eliminate wiggle-room.
While direct mail can be and is effectively used to drive shoppers to third parties, it also stands as the original interactive, measurable medium. Besides putting marketers in direct contact with customers, it allows them to control for outside factors in order to arrive at direct, causal data. With properly planned and executed direct mail, there is no need to resort to inference. You can know what works and what doesn’t, and the extent to which outside factors do and don’t affect results.
Deliver® is committed to illumination. From reader feedback, we gather that you are in accord. That is why these pages rarely include imprecise inferences like “we feel that our campaign was successful.” Instead, you’ll find empirical observations like these, which are taken verbatim from a recent issue: “Our return on investment was over $100,000—at 4 to one 1 rate.” “… a 280 percent lift in response, with 40 percent redemption.” “The delta … doubled for the mail using a QR Code and increased 60 percent for the SnapTag.” “…41 percent of recipients completed the online survey.” “The overall integrated campaign generated a 300% ROI and has helped the business grow more than 20 percent since its launch.” “…a 4.7 percent phone and pURL response and, most important, resulted in four signed … lease agreements totaling $59,280.” “Nearly 6 percent of the recipients visited their microsite and 4.5 percent answered the survey questions and agreed to a visit from … a sales representative.”
Direct mail tends to attract marketers who are eager to give a project their best, and then face the data without wiggling. For brave marketers more interested in illumination than support, there is no better lamppost.