Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Print Industry Analyst

Personalized Direct Mail Post CardI have been covering personalized (1:1) printing for more than 20 years. I wonder, have we finally moved past the double-digit response rate obsession?

When I first started writing about 1:1 printing, PSPs were promoting response rates up to 30%. It seemed that if a 1:1 printing campaign didn’t get at least 12-13% response rate, it wasn’t worth talking about. At the time, 1:1 was so expensive and the culture shock associated with data-driven personalization so intense that it took “in your face” response rates to get marketers to jump on board.

We’ve now been deploying full-color personalization for decades. Not everyone has moved this way, of course, but it’s mainstream. Do we still need double-digit response rates to sell campaigns?

Slowly, I’m seeing that obsession wane. I see more emphasis on conversion rates. More emphasis on relationship building, customer loyalty, and personalized print as part of an expected part of the larger integrated marketing strategy.

I also see more campaigns touting response rates in the single digits. There is a growing understanding that “success” is in the bigger picture results, not a myopic view of the numbers. These are great campaigns worth talking about.

But that’s a relatively new phenomenon. I remember a campaign a few years back in which an association was promoting a 2.4% increase in membership resulting from a 1:1 campaign. It was an eyebrow raiser. At the time, nobody was talking about response rates that low. But in a market in which associations were averaging a -2% annual membership loss this was a home run. We’re seeing that more and more these days.

In PODi’s 2013 case studies, for example, there is one from Arkansas Legal Technologies that resulted in 4.1% of people responding to the campaign and visiting their personalized URL and filling out the survey form. The marketer sells high-value IT and business consulting services, so more important than the 4.1% response rate was the fact that, on a 1,700-piece mailing, the company got 93 “high value” leads. With a single conversion likely more than covering the cost of the mailing, you know they knocked the ROI out of the park on that one.

We’ve moved past the eye glitter into a more mature understanding of the value of personalized printing. It’s only taken 20 years, but it’s a transition I’m glad to see.

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