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Caution! Shiny Objects Ahead

Three Shiny Objects in Direct Marketing

We marketing types are notorious for falling prey to shiny object syndrome – latching on to the latest and greatest new method or technology as the next silver bullet to achieve all our marketing dreams. We know deep inside this isn’t usually (okay, hardly ever) the case but we still hope. We’re optimists maybe?

Often shiny objects shine brightest in the online world – social media especially, but direct marketing has its share as well. Here are a few that seem to keep popping up.*

1. QR Codes (and their newer cousin NFC Chips)

On average 19% of people in the U.S. have used a QR code, per a Pitney Bowes QR code study. That’s not a huge percentage, at least not yet. Especially when you consider that only a percentage of your recipients will be respond in the first place, which leads us into the unattractive territory of percent of a percent.

NFC chips are the newest kid on the block for direct mail integrated technology. It remains to be seen if they will see faster or more widespread adoption, but the key thing to remember with both of these is that each layer of technology on a call to action will naturally reduce the potential audience.

Not everyone has a mobile phone. Not everyone has a smartphone. Not everyone has a QR code reader or a phone model equipped for NFC. Not everyone knows how to use it if they have it — or wants to bother to take the time. But everyone receives that tangible piece of direct mail.

So should you skip QR codes or use them? DSW, as an example, has learned that while men are likely to respond to direct mail pieces with QR codes, women often ignore them. For this reason, the company only sends QR codes to men. Know your audience. And test.

2. Personalized URLs (PURLs)

Caution: QR codes, NFC, PURLs and big data in direct marketing

PURL or GURL? Personalized or generic website landing page? Your gut reaction might be that personalization is always better. We know from the direct mail world that personalization, with variable data for instance, typically lifts response.

However, does having a web address that is unique to you, including your name for instance, make you more likely to respond? And more importantly, will it boost response and sales enough to make a positive impact on ROI?

There is additional cost associated with generating unique PURLs for each recipient vs. developing a single or even multiple generic landing pages. When deciding how to proceed, consider the following:

  • Why am I sending my recipient to this webpage?
  • Do I know enough about this recipient to add meaningful personalization to the page?
  • Will a personalized page convey the message more effectively?
  • Will it make my recipient significantly more likely to respond?

If you’re not 100% confident in your answers to these questions, you may be better off running with a GURL (generic URL) or just testing PURL with a GURL as your control.

3. Big Data

Big data as a big concept is useless. There, I said it. What matters more than flinging around the jargon in your next management meeting is acting on the data you have, no matter how “small.”

Check out this perspective on data from a Direct Marketing News article:

“What has surprised you about the increased use of data?

Grazia Ochoa, Director Global Digital Marketing, with Starwood Hotels and Resorts: The lack of real actionable information that we can glean. Seriously, we have to view this as an analytics continuum: from data to knowledge to intelligence to action (and repeat).”

Printing Social Media Icons.
Sorry – we can’t click on paper yet. Unless your call to action is for a recipient to follow you on social media, and you give them a proper web address to direct them to your page, it’s probably a waste of your valuable direct mail real estate.

For most of us, success lies not in the Big Data but in Relevant Data. Understand the data you have and how you can best use it to increase response and your bottom line. (Not sure how to mine for the gold in your data? Contact me at and we’ll help draw you a treasure map.)

* A disclaimer:
These “shiny objects” are certainly not all duds. Used in the proper context, all of these can have great, or even extraordinary, results. But the problem with shiny object syndrome is that we tend to elevate the “what” above the context of “why.”

Make sure your what always fits your why – and when in doubt, test!

This post was written by Karen Renzi, a former Compu-Mail employee.