Practical Ecommerce

Ecommerce Know-How: Developing a Postcard Campaign

A postcard marketing campaign can be inexpensive, and it could increase your store’s sales next month.

Almost every weekday at about 2 p.m., I trot out to my mailbox, wave at the retired Marine smoking cigarettes on his porch across the street, and collect my U.S. mail. I sort out the Netflix mailer, which the kids are always eager for, assemble the bills and important letters, and peruse circulars and direct mail advertising as I make my way back to my home office. Collecting and sorting my mail is an event and a nice break in my daily routine.

I’m not alone. Many people treat gathering their physical mail with a certain amount of ceremony. Pavel, my mechanical-engineer friend who lives nearby, gets home at around 5:15 p.m. every workday. At 5:16, seemingly, he is sorting his mail. And Dick, my next-door neighbor, likes to take it right out of the postman’s hands.

But almost no one feels the same way about his or her email.

Now please don’t read too much into that last statement. I do believe that email marketing is very effective. Email marketing offers a very low cost of customer acquisition—perhaps the lowest. But USPS mail is a very effective way to boost sales at your ecommerce business. And I believe that customers can be far more receptive to a postcard or direct mail.

Postcard Mailing By Request

In March 2009, I wrote about direct mail in the PeC Traffic Report: The Direct Mail Solution. While the article didn’t generate any comments, a friend did mention it to me off line. “You should walk through creating a direct marketing campaign step by step,” he said.

So in this eCommerce Know-How,” I’m going to do just that. I will discuss campaign strategy briefly. Then I’ll move on to postcard design, printing, and list acquisition. Finally, I’ll talk about mailing options.

Video: Creating A Postcard Campaign

Campaign Strategy

The purpose of this hypothetical postcard campaign is to increase sales in an ecommerce store. To do that, we need to give potential customers a reason to visit our online store and make a purchase. Ultimately, what sort of offer works best in your industry and with your audience will be a matter of discovery, but for our purposes, I am going to recommend that we provide a discount offer. Let’s say 30 percent off of your regular prices—assuming that you have enough margin to still make a profit at reduced prices.

For our campaign to be a success, we’ll also need to understand who our best customers are. Review your store’s sales. Are there certain categories of customers that tend to make more purchases? For example, in one of my stores, grandmothers are my top customers. In your store, it could be that teens are the high-value customers. Regardless, we’ll need to know who to target.

Postcard Design

When it comes to designing the postcard and developing the marketing message, you have a few options: (a) You can design the postcard yourself; (b) You can hire a designer; or (c) You can try to use a postcard template like the ones offered by many online printing companies.

I recommend option (a) or (b). As a rule, a postcard template (like a website template) will oftentimes not produce optimal results.

  • The card’s design should reflect your website design so that there is a one-to-one relationship between the postcard coupon and the site it points your potential customer to.
  • There should be a clear call to action. In our case, something like “Save 30 percent on all…”
  • There must be a clear means of contact. “Visit www.someURL.com to save now.”
    For our example, I am going to design the postcard myself using Adobe Illustrator. If you do decide to hire a designer, you’ll add about $200 to $300 to the campaign’s total cost.

Printing Your Postcard

You’ll certainly have many printing options. And when you can, selecting a local printer should save you a lot on shipping and even some time. Unfortunately, not every locale has a good printing service that can easily print postcards. I asked around for recommendations, but did not find a printer in my area that could or would beat the prices I found online. So for my most recent postcard campaign, I used MyPostCardPrinting.com, a postcard specialist based in Los Angeles, Calif.

The company offers very fast service, has a reputation for providing good quality product, and (here was the important one) was less expensive than any of the local printers I checked with even when I considered the price of UPS 2nd Day Air shipping service. When you select your printer be sure that you get a proof of the finished card. You want to know exactly how the card will look before you invest.

Getting Your List is About Knowing Your Best Customer

Now it’s time to get a mailing list. There are dozens of options for finding and selecting the proper mailing list for your campaign. One of the very best places to start is with industry related magazines. For example, if you sell baseball bats to little leaguers, look for publications that focus on kid’s baseball programs or kids in general. If you sell fly fishing equipment, try renting a list from Fly Fisherman magazine or American Angler. You get the idea.

One more point about magazine lists, you may be able to get them for free. Many (if not all) print magazines will provide their advertising customers with a free mailing list as a service. You can invest in a print ad and get the mailing labels free. You can also find general list aggregators. For our example, I went to infoUSA.com, and got a very reasonably priced list.

Postage Expenses

If you’re new to direct mail, you’ll likely pay 27 cents per postcard for your first few mailings. This is the standard price that anyone mailing a post card will pay. Sorry, there’s no volume discount for, say, sending 2,000. But there are several less expensive ways to send your postcard.

  • Presorted postcards will save you almost three cents per card. But you need to use USPS trays, and understand how to sort and organize your cards. See the post office’s Placement and Content of Mail Markings for all of the painful details.
  • Automated presort is another option. You’ll pay an annual bulk shipping fee of $180, but if you sort down to 5 digits and make your mailer machine readable, you could pay as little as 19.9 cents per postcard. See the post office’s QSG 230d Commercial Letters and Cards guidelines to get very specific.

Summing Up

If we send our postcard coupon campaign to 2,000 potential customers, we would have invested a total of $962.55.

  • Design: $0 if I do it myself
  • Printing: $97.55 including shipping to my zip code
  • List rental: $325.00 approximately including shipping labels
  • Postage: $540.00 for 2,000 first-class postcard stamps

A normal response rate for a direct mail campaign is 2.6 percent. If that rate held true for us, we’d get 52 sales (customers).

Resources

  • United States Postal Service’s Placement and Content of Mail Markings
  • United States Postal Service’s QSG 230d Commercial Letters and Cards guidelines
Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Armando Roggio April 15, 2009 Reply

    After Kerry, our publisher, reviewed this article, he called me and made a very good point about postage—namely that many printers can also mail your postcards for you at the lower automated/pre-sorted rate, which can save you a significant amount of money on larger mailings. (Running a magazine for a few years will give you this sort of insight).

    We discussed it a bit and decided not to add it to the article, but I wanted to mention it in a comment, so that you could explore the option if and when you decided to try a postcard campaign.

    Bottom line, you may want to consider having your printer do your mailing if that printer is capable of presorting and saving you money on postage.

  2. Sean Collins April 16, 2009 Reply

    I agree with just about everything you said. Great article.

    Being a designer of direct mail pieces (and other stuff) I just want to add one thing about the design of the piece. I would only design it to look similar to the website if you are targeting existing customers. They’ll instantly recognize the design and be interested to read your latest offer.

    However, potential customers might not know you and therefore you may need a design that is a little more eye-catching, unless you’re objective is just to expand your brand awareness.

    The challenge with direct mail is grabbing the person’s attention before they throw it away. So you should consider your audience and your marketing goal before considering your design.

  3. dustin November 10, 2014 Reply

    Has anyone every tried this on existing customer base? What was your success rate? We are a company that sells high end appliances that last for 15 years on average with a average sale price of $300 per customer. The product lasts so long we get very little repeat business. The only time we see a spike in that is before Christmas when our customers buy for family & friends.

    We have over 60,000 customers in our data base. I wonder if this would be a good option to pursue. Thank you for posting this, Great Article :)