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How to Boost Your Business With Direct Mail Automation and Retargeting — a Detailed Beginner's Guide What is direct mail automation, and how can it benefit your business? Here's an in-depth guide.

By Joy Gendusa

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Automation has made many aspects of our lives easier, both professionally and personally. If you've ever used dictation to send a text or have separate "home" and "away" settings on your smart doorbell, you've likely benefited from automation.

When most people think of automation, they think digital. But automation has evolved to help us in the offline world, where its effects can be felt all the more keenly.

Case in point: Research shows that direct mail messaging has a deeper, more significant impact on our emotions than digital alone, resulting in stronger recall a full week later. Participants in the same study also demonstrated more neurological activity when interacting with direct mail versus online-based ads.

Translation? Humans are hard-wired to respond to tangible — as opposed to digital — stimulation. Leveraging it at key points in your marketing and sales funnel could be the key to unlocking untapped revenue.

Not only do I use direct mail automation in my own business, but I've also mailed 23.2 million automated mail pieces on behalf of clients nationwide, so I know what it takes to create and run a successful campaign. Here are some basics to get you started on the right foot ...

Related: How to Enhance Business Automation and Unlock New Levels of Operational Efficiency

What is direct mail automation, and what can I do with it?

Direct mail automation is a technology that automatically prints and mails postcards, letters or other offline material based on a pre-programmed trigger. It also goes by the names "triggered mail" or "programmatic direct mail."

Triggers can be programmed from your website, CRM (customer relationship management system), or a third-party source like Zapier, and these triggers can be based on behavior, data or timing — or any combination thereof. Contact details aren't even required in some cases; the automation handles that for you while protecting everyone's privacy.

Some examples of direct mail automation:

Ecommerce retailers can target browsers that abandon their shopping carts. The next day, those shoppers receive a postcard from you with a 15% off promotion to nudge them back online to finish their purchase. You can also target all website visitors regardless of whether your website has a shopping cart or not, though I suggest targeting people who spend at least 30 seconds on your site. This is usually called "direct mail retargeting" and works just like digital retargeting, but offline.

A moving and storage company could target homeowners whose homes were just placed under contract. Even inaction could trigger a mailer. Let's say that as soon as a customer hits the 3-month mark of inactivity, they get a postcard in the mail to remind them to give you a call or make a purchase.

There are so many ways you can take advantage of this technology to bring in more leads and keep your current customers engaged. I recommend you analyze your customer base and existing funnel and ask yourself a few things. Are there any noticeable commonalities among my customers that I can take advantage of? Is there any point in my funnel where a large number of people drop out? These places are likely prime opportunities to add direct mail automation.

Related: 3 Ways Technology Helps You Make Money With Direct Mail Marketing

How does direct mail automation work?

I don't want to get too technical because, if you ask me, it isn't how direct mail automation works that's important — it's more about what it can do for your business.

That said, most people still want to get a little peek under the hood to see how the magic happens.

Automated direct mail is possible thanks to something called an API, which stands for Application Programming Interface. In plain English, an API is basically how one software program talks to another software program, a bit like a translator.

With direct mail automation, you're telling a software program what to do. For example: When someone spends more than 30 seconds on my website, send this postcard. If someone calls me once and we don't speak again for a week, send this other postcard.

From there, the software connected to your website (if you want to target visitors) or your CRM (if you want to target one-time callers) needs to be able to speak directly to the software that will trigger your mailing. This is where the API comes in — it makes it possible for your website to tell a printing press what to mail and who to mail it to. It's just following your directions!

Automation allows you to do the work of setting up the marketing one time, and then you can let it run on auto for as long as you like.

If only 20 people visit your website a month, then you only have to pay for 20 postcards. If you're concerned about sending out too many cards a month and overextending your budget, you can also set up limits. So, if you can only afford to mail 500 cards a month, then once the system registers you've hit your 500th card, it will stop mailing.

Probably the most important benefit of triggered mail is that every mailer is hyper-targeted to the prospect you want to convert. In many cases, the recipients are warm leads who have already shown some kind of interest in your products or services — now you can strike while the iron is hot without lifting a finger.

Related: The Big Risks You Need to Avoid When Using Marketing Automation

How do I choose an automated mail provider?

Not all mail automation providers are the same, so you need to do your research and ask a lot of questions before handing over your credit card.

The first thing to look for is print quality. Some direct mail automation providers only specialize in the software/API, meaning they don't actually print anything. Instead, they farm out printing and mailing to a network of providers (often prioritizing lower costs over quality). This can result in a lack of quality control.

Ideally, you'd want to work with an automation provider that doesn't outsource the real work to third parties, because if something goes wrong, you'll need direct support to handle the issue.

Another thing to be wary of is cost, of course. Some direct mail automation providers will charge "tech fees" on top of the usual costs associated with printing and mailing — this is where they have a chance to generate their own profits, rather than just skimming a little off the top of every mailer. If you're working directly with a print and mail house, you'll likely find zero tech fees.

You also want to consider your options for the design of your mailer. Every direct mail automation provider will allow you to upload your own design, but there are benefits to using a template instead, especially if it's professionally designed and results-based.

At my business, PostcardMania, we've delivered more than 250,000 direct mail campaigns and mailed more than 2 billion postcards over 25 years in business. That experience has allowed us to fine-tune a design formula that prioritizes real returns. The result is a gallery of industry-specific templates based on designs that have been road-tested to generate calls, clicks and revenue — like this real estate investor who made $70,000 after mailing a little more than 100 automated postcards over the course of a year. Often, a proven design translates to a greater likelihood of bringing in more revenue.

I've often witnessed small business owners throw their money away on low-quality mailers that didn't live up to their expectations. So, if you invest a little more in an experienced mail provider that is an expert in automation, you're much more likely to see results.

What are the steps to start my first direct mail automation campaign?

Once you've shopped around and found the direct mail automation provider you want to work with, you'll want to set up an account and get started by connecting your account to your website or CRM. Each platform has its own steps and processes you'll need to complete to make this happen, so I won't be able to walk you through it step-by-step from here. Hopefully, you've chosen a provider that makes it easy to set up your first order and can provide support if needed.

I suggest testing your connections in a controlled environment all the way through to mailer delivery before turning them loose on your live website or CRM. That way, you'll be able to test the automation for design, messaging, timing, print quality and more by just paying per mailer. The more mail your automation triggers per week or month, the more your price per piece should go down.

Once you're happy with your automation, set a weekly budget and check back often to track the incoming results.

It shouldn't be a headache. With this technology in place, you'll impress customers, get ahead of your competition and foster a growing and thriving business that is attentive to every customer's needs.

Joy Gendusa

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder/CEO of PostcardMania

Joy Gendusa founded PostcardMania in 1998 with just a phone & a computer (no funding or investments), and today we generate over $100 million annually with 365 staff. I'm passionate about helping small businesses succeed at marketing and grow — because when small business does well, we all win.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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