The largest single driver of response for direct marketing communication is relevance. Relevance includes the ability to address life cycle events (births, new home, new job, marriages) and seasonal or other trigger events (purchase of a new car for instance). It also includes the ability to deliver specific information that communicates to the recipients unique needs, desires, preferences, attitudes, attributes and perceptions. Additionally, personalized copy and creative increases relevance and therefore, response.
The objective is Relevancy Marketing is to move from a no or little information to enough information to create relevant marketing communications. My contention is the goal of the initial communications is to generate the data that will eventually drive the relevancy. Only after the data has been collected should the investment be made into the high relevancy communications. I don't mean that the data has to be all collected before relevant communications can start, on the contrary, if you have only enough information to communicate relevantly with one recipient, I say do it. Obviously, this will require an on-demand distribution model for these communications. Exactly!
So, begin at one end of the spectrum: low relevancy, high volume, low value and move to the high relevancy, low volume, high value communications. At the lowest end is the non-personalized black and white postcard. This is a great tool for list cleansing, announcements, or for when an offer is strong enough and compelling enough to break-through.
This is followed by non-personalized color, personalized black and white and personalized color communication. Color is useful for communicating information that requires learning- especially quickly. For example, a "we have moved" type of communication. Color increases the speed of learning, attention span, comprehension and recall, as well as improving the possibility of being picked up by a reader. Color also persuades and motivates better than black and white.
Basic personalization, today understood as more that just the name and address, begins to create relevance. With nothing more than an address, it is possible to create interest buy using the city or metro area in copy or headlines. With a bit more sophistication, images can be changed to reflect the city of the recipient. This is nothing special, but it begins create aesthetic changes that will create interest and increase response.
Thus far, our data is simple name and address data, and we are communicating on a one to many basis. Next up in the continuum is one to few communication. Additional data is required as we move into this realm: additional geographical data, census tract data, income, home ownership, children, gender, even lifestyle data are some of the elements of this data. Obviously, we should have a plan for the data we collect. (I'll point out here that one should be careful of the big brother appeal- don't be super obvious and direct with what you know; you'll have respondents questioning your credibility and honesty right off the bat!)
Communicating one to a few is called versioning. Versioning of communication is, as the name suggests, creating different versions of the communication based on affinity groups of recipients. Perhaps, one for women and one for men or one for singles one for married people to name just two. This takes the personalization from just aesthetic relevance to now contextual relevance. More response drivers are being met, and response rates will climb. This requires a higher level of sophistication in terms of programming and more creative and copy and will therefore require a greater commitment to investment and staying the course.
The highest level of Relevancy Marketing might contain additional components: data elements that are specific to the individual and varied enough to create conceptual relevance- that is, communication that includes highly individualized information about the recipient. An example of this is the college that creates course catalogs based on information requested by the recipient. Another component that might be used to create relevance for the recipient is called trigger data. Trigger data includes birthdays, moving, anniversaries, etc. Trigger data creates timing relevancy. Timing relevance is currently the largest relevance lever for high response. This might be used to bring a couple back to your restaurant: "In honor of you anniversary, we have made a reservation for you...", or "in honor of your wife's birthday...".
With a plan, low relevancy communications can generate data to allow higher relevance, generating more data, creating even higher relevance. Read relevance here as response rate, conversion, sales, revenues and profits.
But to make it work, you have to get started: mail something, anything!