I am a lifelong Indiana Hoosiers basketball fan. Much to my dismay, the Hoosiers are in a rebuilding process and did not make this year’s tournament, which allowed me to do the unthinkable: I picked Purdue to win it all in my bracket for the Ridenour Cup (the IWCO Direct sales team’s March Madness trophy). If you have followed my annual March Madness blog, you will remember I finished dead last in 2016 and second to last in 2017. My expectations for this year are manageable: just do better than last year. (Though as I write this, I am sitting in second-to-last place in the office pool.)
While I may not be the best at guessing the outcome of college basketball tournaments, March Madness can provide a good framework for describing the effectiveness of direct mail in a multichannel campaign. This year, I’d like to focus on Trae Young of the Oklahoma Sooners. To quote Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports, “The dude is a stud.” Anytime you can be compared to Steph Curry, you’re doing pretty well.
Direct Mail Performs While Making the Team Better
I am sure Trae will be an amazing addition to any team next year in the NBA (though not so helpful, it turns out, to the Oklahoma Sooners), and he’s got a lot of strengths as a team player and as a standout athlete—kind of like how direct mail’s effectiveness bolsters every part of a multichannel marketing mix. Take for example, these three aspects of Trae Young’s performance and their direct marketing corollaries:
1. They Both Have Outstanding Offensive Capability: Basketball is a statistic-focused sport, much like the way we track and measure direct mail’s effectiveness. Trae Young is one of the most effective scorers in the country, averaging 27.4 points per game. As they say in the sports world, “ball don’t lie”—meaning the performance of a player like Trae speaks for itself. Direct mail is the same way—its performance in customer acquisition is without peer. Even without attribution, those who know the numbers know that “mail don’t lie.” Watch what your peers are doing—they’re relying on mail as their primary driver for lead acquisition. If you aren’t, they would appreciate if it stayed that way.
2. They Both Achieve a High Assist Rate: As impressive as Trae’s scoring is, he also led the nation in assists per game. Mail is an upper-funnel tactic, meaning it lifts response for all other channels—a real team player. Trae’s points and assists per game are impressive, and when you put them together and see his total offensive impact, it’s staggering. All marketing channels work together, much like a team. I can assure you that if it were Trae Young against five other players, his numbers would struggle a bit. All of his teammates make an impact in his scoring, just like all marketing channels impact each other’s measured response.
3. They’re Both Hard Workers: Trae Young’s game is great, but it will have to evolve to compete at the next level. For example, Hasheem Thabeet and Johnny Flynn were drafted ahead of Steph Curry in the 2009 NBA draft. Do you recognize those names? Me neither. Trae’s skill and work ethic should lead to a promising career if he can stay dedicated to self-improvement.
You have to evolve your direct mail tactics, as well. A well-organized annual testing plan should lead to new controls, and a new control should be a platform for designing a whole new test plan. Consumer preferences in the mail channel evolve monthly, so you must evolve with it or you too could end up in the Japanese B league with Hasheem.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the “Shiny New Thing”—in Basketball or in Marketing
But there’s one key difference between Trae Young (and any crazy-talented freshman in college basketball) and direct mail: longevity. Each year there is a freshman or two that steals the spotlight, and Trae happens to be it this year. While he could be headed for long-term greatness (as we all hope he is), his sheen could lose its luster before long. Quick—can you tell me the top three or even the top two picks from last year? Probably not. We forget even the brightest stars once their newness dims a bit.
Nowhere is the shiny new object coveted more than in the marketing profession. But direct mail isn’t a flash in the pan—it has earned Hall of Fame status with its proven longevity. We often talk about “shiny new objects” in direct marketing—sparkly new ways to drive response and reach customers using something nobody’s ever seen before. Lottery draft picks are certainly the shiny objects in the sports world. But while mail might not be new or particularly shiny, it is the primary customer acquisition tactic for many vertical markets.
What people like about Trae is more than his highlight reel—it’s his overall approach to the game. He works hard, shares the ball, and leads his team in ways that aren’t measured on a scoreboard. Organized and disciplined test plans will go a long way to taking your program (or your basketball career) to the next level. There is a right and wrong way to do direct mail—get in touch with us to stop guessing and start winning.
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