Can You Trust Response Rate Data?

By | July 24, 2012

Sometime back, I wrote a post entitled “Direct Mail: Still Among the Best Media to Drive Response” based on comparisons made by the Direct Marketing Association in its 2012 “Response Rate Report.”

I often post links to Digital Nirvana posts in my LinkedIn groups to see what the larger community of print and marketing professionals thinks about certain topics. I get a lot of great additional insight that way.

In this case, there have been a lot of great comments. Here’s how I synthesized them.

I’m sure many of these points will be familiar since I’ve written about them many times on Digital Nirvana before.  They keep coming up and being reinforced by others in the industry, and through other forums, because they really are foundational principles to evaluating any type of research. Even if you already know them, we all need reminders now and again:

  • Be careful with observational research like the DMA’s Response Rate Report because it’s not always comparing apples to apples. There are other variables that can be influencing the results. In this case, the DMA is comparing current data to that which was collected 10 years ago. The economy has changed a lot since then, so that could be influencing the results as much as the media types.
  • Today’s results are increasingly impacted by multiple channels. Multi-channel campaigns will typically have higher response rates than single-channel campaigns. So if any reported data mixes single- and multi-channel campaigns while reporting only data from a single channel, it will be misleading.
  • Lumping all campaigns together, even if they are all the same channel, can be misleading for another reason, too, because we don’t know what type of list was used or how good the creative, messaging, incentive, and other marketing components were. In the DMA’s case, it separated out in-house lists and prospect lists, which helps tremendously. But if the data doesn’t even do that, watch out!
  • The USPS’s Every Door Direct Mail campaign may be influencing the direct mail numbers right now. It’s a great, inexpensive program that allows marketers to target locally. That level of targeting, in itself, can boost response rates when used properly.
  • Don’t get swept away by “response rate” numbers. An equally important metric is conversion rate. You can have high open rates, but if the offer is terrible, you won’t sell anything. Conversely, if you have a highly targeted offer, you might have a low response rate, but of those who do respond, their interest level might be extremely high and you will sell a ton. When evaluating the success of a campaign, conversion rate matters . . . a lot!

Do you have any to add?

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2 thoughts on “Can You Trust Response Rate Data?

  1. Joe Manos

    Heidi – great post and all great data points for all to consider.

    For most marketers in today’s world…their marketing investment is designed to drive new sales in the door from existing customers or prospects. Their number one focus is how many “qualified sales opportunities” did we create from each channel and how many actually resulted in new revenue for our company.

    As you pointed out, response rates are a wonderful tool for evaluating the impact of your marketing spend but the revenue generated by the marketing investment (ROMI) is the most critical metric for today’s marketer.

  2. Allen Lea

    Excellent considerations, Heidi.
    Things are rarely as simple as they may first appear.

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