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Online, offline DM lists form knockout combination

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Instead of choosing between e-mail and traditional mail lists for putting together a direct marketing campaign, marketers are quickly learning that using them together in the right combination—each to their strengths—often delivers the most impressive results. Following months of experimentation on direct mail integration, marketers have found that online mailings are best for qualifying and retaining clients, and offline ones are best for acquiring them.

"[E-mail lists] are an excellent way to test, very cheaply, which types of people are interested in your product and service," said Julie Simard, head of research at Click Communications Inc., a Chicago-based e-mail marketing consultancy.

Full-scale integration is becoming even more inexpensive and simple as providers, keen on becoming all things to all clients, are merging their offline and online data into one list. "Offline subscriber lists are increasingly being populated with e-mail lists, so you kill two birds with one stone," said Jim Hathaway, director-business development at GráficaGroup, a Chester, N.J.-based advertising and direct marketing agency.

However, using those lists in tandem on a direct campaign is still a developing art rather than a mastered science.

Offline: Hunting and gathering

Most direct marketers said offline direct mailings are best for those who want to gain new b-to-b clients. "Our clients prefer to acquire customers offline and then as quickly as possible shift them to less expensive permission e-mail lists," said Patrick Dineen, VP-client services at USAData Inc., a New York-based consultancy. "From a prospecting perspective, offline is light years ahead of e-mail."

Offline lists are usually richer in data than online lists, with executive information that b-to-b clients need to develop targeted campaigns, said Michael Holmes, president of EasyMail Interactive Inc., a Cincinnati-based opt-in e-mail strategy firm. "They know the job function, title, all of those specifics," he said.

Online lists often don’t give the specificity marketers need when attempting to reach new customers. "With e-mail, that level of specificity is often not available," said Tom Gaither, VP-customer marketing at iMarket Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based b-to-b marketing software developer. "You might reach tech professionals, [but they’ll be] in a wide variety of industries."

If marketers want to reach C-level executives, offline lists are probably the most effective, said Chris Burke, president of Raleigh, N.C.-based agency BtB Marketing Communications. "Offline is a great way to reach higher-level folks who aren’t checking their e-mail all the time," he said.

However, a clear drawback to using offline lists is that the direct marketing campaigns that result from them are often ill timed or simply late in reaching their b-to-b targets.

Karen Breen Vogel, senior VP-strategy at Chicago-based online marketing agency B2BWorks Inc., said that almost always when she returns from a conference, she finds direct mail pieces from a vendor who’d wished to meet with her at that conference. "Just think of what a waste of money that is," she said. "That just doesn’t happen with e-mail."

Online: Qualifying and retention

Most executives said that timeliness and ease-of-use are the two biggest reasons for using online lists.

"With online, it’s clean and easy to use," said Fredrik Rydlun, manager of D.E.I. Management Group Inc., a New York-based sales training company that has extensively used both offline and online b-to-b lists. "It’s instant gratification," Rydlun said.

Indeed, when trying to create and execute a campaign in short order—say, to help meet an impending sales goal—time is especially critical, and online lists are a wise choice. "If you want to get something timely, online does you better," said BtB’s Burke.

E-mail lists are also best for reaching tech executives, a commonly targeted demographic, Burke said. "If you’re targeting someone who’s computer savvy, then you’re automatically self-selecting people in that market with an e-mail list," he said.

Online lists are also seen as the best way to reach engineers, information technology people and other technical types, said Michael Todd, director-interactive services at T&O Group, an Irvine, Calif.-based marketing agency. "Engineers who are designing components are very connected [to the Internet] and have a high propensity to buy if you send the right message," he said. "They are in the business of succinct information delivery, which can be brought in better online."

Integration: Best practices

The best practice for shrewdly combining both online and offline lists leverages each media’s strengths. Many companies use e-mail lists first to cast a wide net for qualifying prospects. When they have a good list of prospective clients, companies then can spend the bulk of their money on a targeted offline direct mail piece to make the full sales pitch. Then, afterward, e-mail is again used to maintain the relationship with the clients they’ve won and to find outwhy others didn’t respond.

Online lists are often viewed foremost as a broad, if inaccurate, prospecting tool, and their usefulness in making the initial sales pitch and acquisition is still being scrutinized. Online lists are adroitly being used as a follow-up to offline direct pieces—especially pricey mailings that marketers want to be sure prospects received.

"After the physical mailings go out, if there’s been no response, [you can inexpensively] send them an e-mail, asking, ‘did you see this?’" said Al Gadbut of Responsys Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif.-based CRM platform developer and consultancy. Hitting them both online and offline also increases the chance that clients and prospects haven’t missed the sales pitch, he said.

Once prospects are acquired, companies can save a great deal of time and money by migrating to a pure-play e-mail list they own themselves. In the end, success in integrating direct mail efforts depends on marketers’ ability to create an adaptable, ongoing marketing communications plan, said Click Communications’ Simard.

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