Let’s talk real response rates for a couple minutes.

A client once asked how many direct mail pieces we’ve mailed. Curious, I went to the calculator. The closest I could honestly claim of pieces we’d developed and mailed was between 600 and 650 million pieces.

With that much experience, you’d think I’d be good at guaranteeing response rates. Well, let me tell you something I know for sure — absolutely sure — you never know until you mail, and count how many responses you receive back.

TargetLeads What Are Response Rates authored by Kent Merrell

What are response rates? Those 600-plus million pieces mailed represent thousands of individual creative packages — postcards, letters, brochures, catalogs, boxes, tubes, you name it we’ve mailed it. And we track the returns on each one. Response rates ranged from 0 – yes that’s zero – meaning nobody responded to 100% – yes that means that everyone responded. For sure, you’ll get a response rate between those two.

All that experience does give us a powerful track record. A track record that makes mailing with an experienced direct mail team like TargetLeads as risk-free as possible in a world that contains so many variables.

We test, we mail, we track, we mail again, and still, we are subject to the countless variables that make it impossible to guarantee direct mail response rates.

Let’s discuss a few of the variables which greatly affect response rates. Some we depend on and some we can’t.

TargetLeads What Are Response Rates authored by Kent Merrell

Number one is timing:

This includes the timing of events in your prospect’s life – birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, births, illness, job changes, retirement, moves, marriages, and separations. We can and do use timing in your favor when we know some of these dates.

Also, as part of timing is institutional timing: In the senior market, there are enrollment periods and seasonal deadlines like AEP and turning 65 periods. Seasonal tax deadlines, holidays, seasons of the year, school years, etc. Hopefully, since these are primarily consistent year to year, our mailing strategies take these into account.

And then there’s the completely uncontrollable timing of current events: the political climate, local and national news cycles, and of course weather, we have no control here. These kinds of events are common enough yet unpredictable enough, they add to the excitement and thrill of marketing.

TargetLeads What Are Response Rates authored by Kent Merrell

Number two are geographic variables:

Geography affects response rates for the obvious variations between the climate of one geographic area and another, (warm vs. cold, etc, which will certainly affect which products/services are relevant to specific geographic regions). Even with seasonal shifts in climate which we all understand, communities respond uniquely based on their geography.

Targeted direct mail response rates also vary geographically due to economic conditions in any given area. This is evident when comparing the affluence/education/literacy/culture of various zip codes even in a single geographic area.

The saturation of competition in a geographic area makes a huge difference in response rates. We find in the area of senior marketing, where many agents are chasing the same prospects, the sheer abundance of choices for a prospect naturally lessens the demand and thus suppresses the response rates.

Population awareness is often overlooked. For example, if some newsworthy event creates mass awareness within a market, that awareness may positively or negatively affect direct mail marketing response rates. This awareness may also have been created by advertising, which may have established a product more strongly in one geographic area than another. When this is the case, the message strategy needs to be modified from one area to another.

Retail and technological access is also a huge variable between geographic areas. One of our clients finds success only in rural areas where stand-alone retail outlets are rarer. Their research demonstrates prospects who have ready access to traditional brick & mortar businesses prefer to shop in person than online for their particular product. Others of our clients find their customers prefer to use technology to do business regardless of where they live or work. The difference between these two clients demonstrates the need to understand both the geography and the individual as it pertains to their specific products. Both of these clients tested to know where, when, and how to reach their audiences.

In addition to timing and geography, two other variables which you control with the best-planned strategy possible, are the offer you make and the creative message you use to make that offer. The offer variables and the creative message variables will be covered in our next article.

Keep in mind, as mentioned in previous articles, the quality of the targeted lists you mail to will affect the response rates as much as any other variable. Hopefully, you are seeing the imperative nature of the well-thought-out strategy to mitigate uncertainty by utilizing as experienced a team of professionals as possible. With as much experience as our team has navigating through all these variables and having developed proven messages, projections are still just projections simply based on our track record.

Do we ever start from scratch? Plowing unknown fields? Certainly. When we do, we’ll test new messages, new audiences, new geographic areas, new offers, and even different timing. Our clients have the luxury of accessing the up-to-date knowledge of our team members who watch the trends daily and count each response to each message, targeted to each prospect.

To learn more about what TargetLeads can do for you and your direct mail efforts, get in touch with us today.