Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype

By | November 28, 2008

There is a lot of hype surrounding Personalized URLs these days, but what’s the reality behind the hype? Do these applications deliver on the promise? “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” the fourth in Heidi Tolliver-Nigro’s Marketer’s Primer Series, addresses this question.

Personalized URL applications have a wide variety of uses, including sales prospecting, customer surveying, event registrations, information dissemination, and obtaining customer and user feedback. But while these applications have generated a lot of success, they have generated a lot of disappointment, too—primarily because of a lack of realistic expectations.

This reports provides a no-nonsense look at the role of personalized URLs and 1:1 printing in increasing the effectiveness of companies’ marketing programs. It looks at key application categories, “best in class” case studies, lessons learned over time, and best practices for optimizing their use.

The report’s author argues that one of the reasons that many personalized URL applications have struggled is that personalized URLs (including PURLs, RURLs, and other -URLs) need to be seen as merely a vehicle for response. These campaigns must adhere to the best practices for all 1:1 (personalized) printing campaigns rather than relying on the personalized URL, itself, as the primary motivator of response.

The report includes analysis of nearly a decade of personalized URL case studies from around the industry, with a list of best practices drawn from common denominators among the most successful programs.  Notable were the use of multiple media to reinforce the message and the utilization of additional elements, such as over-sized postcards or lumpy mail, to drive response—even more than we tend to see in non-personalized URL 1:1 (personalization) programs.

For more information on this and the other Marketer’s Primer Series Reports, visit the Digital Printing Reports website. Other reports in the series include “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” “1:1 (Personalized Printing): Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing Models.”

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11 thoughts on “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype

  1. Michael Josefowicz

    Your point about Purls not being the motivation for action, just a part of the process is well taken.

    The way I look at is that the Purl is an easy way for the customer to start a conversation. The value comes from continuing the conversation. I think many printers look at the Purl as the end of the process, instead of the beginning of the process.

    Once understanding that a PURL is the beginning, that means the marketer has to plan for steps 2,3,4,5 to continue the conversation and thus build a relationship, that could turn into a long term customer. Given the cost of customer of customer acquisition and retention, it only is reasonable to get a fix on long term customer value, instead of the quick hit.

  2. April Biddle

    I agree 110%. I’ve seen cases where clients planned for doubling response rates simply by adding the PURL.

    Adding this additional response channel is certainly going to help – but having the right list, combined with the right messaging and a valuable offer, still remains critical.

  3. Bob Raus


    You are spot-on here. Every good retailer knows that the goal is to get the customer to come into your store repeatedly; more often is better. This is classic branding and behavior modification marketing techniques to generate repeat business. PURLs can be a good way to get the conversation started – and as periodic touch-points. Like any lasting conversation (these days), an effective marketing strategy must leverage several media and techniques to maximize customer intimacy, repeat business and long-term impact.

    Much like a printing device (digital printer , CTP device, etc.) is a peripherals to the computer, printed materials are a component of marketing campaigns, products (manuals) and a larger “mission” to communicate value, benefits and features. PURLs provide a nice bridge between the web and print, much like telephone numbers provide a bridge to customer service. The key is to provide periodic reminders (advertising) and access points to communicate with your company where your target audience needs them (mail, phone, web, mobile, etc.). Print is a vital component of this communications infrastructure and PURLs help enhance that value proposition.

    I see QR codes as the next major link.

  4. Eliot Harper

    A successful direct marketing campaign isn’t about PURLs.

    It starts with the direct mail piece (or e-mail) featuring the PURL. If you have a weak campaign creative, a poor offer, a bad call-to-action, the wrong audience, the wrong timing, or a combination of any of these factors, it’s ultimately going to determine who responds to the campaign. It doesn’t matter that you’ve slapped a PURL on a postcard/letter/e-mail and built a fancy-looking personalized microsite.

    Here’s a classic example. I recently completed a personalized URL campaign for a client. The web campaign looked great and was perfectly executed (if I do say so myself). It incorporated personalized Flash, a Google Maps API mash-up showing driving directions to the event, trigger-based personalized SMS and more–but the response was rather disappointing. Why? Quite simply, the mail piece (the element that “the customer took care of”) didn’t cut-through. The call-to-action just wasn’t compelling enough to get recipients to visit the PURL in the first place.

  5. Luis Paez

    With every technology, it is just a tool. PURLs, Variable data, special print effects (paper, coatings, size) are all the means to an end. Similar to the online realm, where RSS was the cool technology for a time, but it took some time for people to imagine the most natural ways to integrate the tech into their current marketing.

  6. Michael Josefowicz

    I’m with you on the QR codes. . There are lots of examples of how it works in Japan and some in Europe, but I haven’t found any in the States. If anyone knows, it would be great to share. Also your analogy to the 800 numbers is spot on. The core of disruptive innovation is in the links between physical space and information space.

    In explaining why the campaign was disappointing You say “Why? Quite simply, the mail piece (the element that “the customer took care of”) didn’t cut-through. The call-to-action just wasn’t compelling enough to get recipients to visit the PURL in the first place.”

    I think it might be “a lipstick on a pig” problem. If the product isn’t good enough, no amount of advertising or marketing is going to make it better.I know that’s hard to say to the client who is footing the bill, but there it is.

    One way to look at the results might be for someone to say “What’s wrong with this product for this audience?” instead of “blaming the customer, the designer, the printer, the marketer…and whoever else is handy. Another way to leverage the investment might to look very carefully at the people who did respond. They might yield just the clues needed to see who wants to buy this offering.

    My take is that Obama campaign showed that it’s not about convincing people to do X. It’s about finding the people who want to do X. Less investment on the 95% who don’t want it. Alot more investment on the 5% who do.

  7. Rod Key

    A personalized URL is a tactic of a campaign and should not be the bases for a campaign.

    A solid marketing strategy is the foundation for a successful marketing campaign. Let the strategy dictate the tactics.

    There’s no better feeling than an off the chart response rate on a purl campaign and there’s no worse feeling than a horrible response rate, the difference is strategy…marketing is not a commodity.

  8. Thad Kubis

    When we support our clients with PURL’s we do not add the purl just for the sake of it. We integrate the Purl process into the plans and goals of the program. For that effort we have had programs double and triple in response rate.
    As Rod Key says, this tool is a tactic and not be the base for a campaign.
    Marketing strategy determines the tools we use and the expected results.

    Thad Kubis

  9. Michael Josefowicz

    Hi Rod and Thad,

    I wonder if you have anything you can share on how you might use Purl’s to start conversations and what have been the follow ups that seem to work? My question is a little different from the messaging and strategy of the marketing campaign. There’s no doubt that is a necessary component of success.

    Just wondering from the strictly logistic point of view if there is anything you can bring to the table.


  10. Rick Littrell


    We like to use purls to find out what is the customer/prospect’s “pain point” that they are looking to get help with. Once they self quality, then the automated email response can include how the sender (individual/company that is promoting their services or products) can help the receiver (the individual/campany that responded on the purl) with specific recommendations that are driven by their response. Reasonably easy to do with a fixed list of pain points. Also, introduce the rep that will be following up with them personally. You should always try to integrate the person’s touch. People like doing business with people/companies they know and trust.

    Additionally, the customer/prospect self qualifies during the process so the sales person that is going to follow up will know where to start the conversation, thus reducing the sales cycle.

  11. Michael Josefowicz

    Thanks for the info.

    What you say seems to support the idea that one secret sauce of the PURL is what you’ve described as :”self-qualifying.” Given the time and expense that it usually takes ot qualify a lead, doing that with a technology, instead of salesperson’s time make so much sense.

    It also suggest that ROI, when taken as a conversion rate, isn’t the best metric. If a marketer has a cost for a qualified lead, that might turn out to make the case in a much more effective way. If in addition, you are getting a picture of the right “pain point” so that you have a way to craft the right message to the right person at the right time, then the Purl can be seen as intelligence gathering, instead of trying to sell X.

    I saw this over at WTT in a story about transpromo that supports the same point.
    I think the following could be read as “self-qualifying” of a new customer community.

    “One finding that was quite important,” adds Lee Gallagher, Manager, Direct Marketing Solutions, for InfoPrint Solutions, “was the identification of a brand-new target segment for Best Western. The folks that signed up, stayed, had a good credit rating and spent more money is a new segment that Best Western would have had difficulty identifying in the past. This could be a significant target next time around. They are reading and responding, and represent a high-potential subset of the entire base.”

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