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Personalized URL Hype vs Reality

A few years ago Personalized URLs (PURLs) burst upon the direct marketing scene. Excited by the possibility of lifting direct mail response rates, many direct marketers bought complex, expensive PURL software. Expectations were that consumers would respond in droves because mailings included URLs with their names in them.

There is some validity to the concept, as:

john.adams.boingnet.com

is much easier to respond to than

boingnet.com/index.php/offers/purl-marketing.html

While some direct mailers implemented the strategy successfully, many didn’t see the promised dramatic transformation in response rates. They wrote off their hefty investments, and moved on, somewhat disillusioned by the experience. Personalized URLs became seen as a somewhat expensive “nice to have” by many direct mail experts. Separating the Personalized URL hype vs reality became a challenge for the direct mail world.

Personalized URL Hype Cycle – Following A Common Pattern

The use of PURLs in direct marketing has gone through a period of hype and subsequent maturity that is similar to many other new technologies. Analyst firm Gartner has developed a useful framework called the “Gartner Hype Cycle” to understand how the early buzz of new technologies translates into different phases of adoption. The Personalized URL hype vs reality debate is well defined by it:

Personalized URL Hype vs Reality - GHC

Gartner’s Technology Hype Cycle

The Gartner framework creates an easy way to view the adoption of Personalized URLs in direct marketing:

  • The Peak of Inflated Expectations: 2006-2010 – First Generation PURL Software purchased
  • Trough of Disillusionment: 2010-2014 – PURL usage dropped due to hype around response rates
  • Slope of Enlightenment: 2014-Present – Next generation PURL platforms solving real problems

Campaign Response Rate – The Wrong Metric

Why were early adopters of PURLs frustrated by their experiences? In addition to expensive and clunky software, marketers were sold on the wrong metric. The act of printing a Personalized URL on a piece of direct mail didn’t dramatically transform response rates.

In fact, compared to other marketing channels, direct mail doesn’t have a response rate problem!  PURL software was sold to solve a problem that didn’t exist.

Personalized URL Hype vs Reality - direct doesn't have a response rate problem

The Reality – Adoption Is Driven By Major Tech Changes

More recently, marketers are giving Personalized URL software another look, but for different reasons. Rather than trying to dramatically lift direct mail response rates, marketers are now using PURLs as a strategic link between direct mail campaigns and digital marketing infrastructure. It’s a technology that fits the bill perfectly, and adoption is growing rapidly. There are 2 key reasons why:

  • 2nd generation Personalized URL software has improved dramatically
  • Businesses have adopted CRM and Marketing Automation en masse

The landscape has shifted. While response rates are still important, direct marketing teams are looking for more. Integrated, multi-channel campaigns now use direct mail to deliver reach and response. The easy testing, tracking and analytics of digital marketing have led to similar expectations of direct mail. Stand-alone campaigns with disconnected data and tracking don’t cut it anymore.

Today, the most critical need is to deliver seamless, personalized experiences in print and online. PURLs are being used as a bridge between channels, enabling consistent messaging, tracking and response management. Every interaction is recorded in CRM systems, and PURL response drives automated workflows in Marketing Automation systems.

PURL Marketing Software – It’s Much Better Now

Personalized URL Hype vs Reality - old phones vs new

First generation vs current technology

Remember the old bag cell phones? Compare them to your new smartphone. A similar transformation has happened with PURL software.

Older Personalized URL software worked well for some early adopters, but limitations kept it from being adopted on a large scale. These first generation systems were expensive, with long term contracts plus additional per PURL fees. The setup time was lengthy, with required and costly training. They didn’t handle mobile well, often requiring duplicate creative and implementations.

Next generation systems designed with more recent technology have several advantages:

  • Total cost has dropped sharply, with monthly and pay-as-you-go options
  • Ease of use is the design focus. Marketers with common marketing tool experience are productive without training
  • Simple integration with other modern marketing platforms via API marketplaces like Zapier
  • Turn-key campaign delivery options now exist – fast-tracking the benefits of adoption

PURLs Link CRM And Marketing Tech To Direct Marketing

Personalized URL Hype vs Reality - PURLs Fit Marketing Tech

Marketing tech & modern PURL software

CRM and Marketing Automation platforms are undergoing rapid adoption. In fact, the world-wide CRM market hit $26 Billion in 2015 (source) and Marketing Automation spending has grown from $225 million to $1.6 billion in 5 years (source).

This investment in software, automation and data has changed expectations regarding the way marketing campaigns work. In the old days, different marketing & sales efforts lived in “silos”, with their own budgets, systems and databases. Now all channels are fully integrated into CRM and Marketing Automation, so that every lead interaction is captured, measured and remembered.

The fact of the matter is that the marketing tech stack of CRM and Marketing Automation really needs to be linked to direct mail campaigns. Without a bridge, there’s no visibility into what is happening in direct marketing, and the risk of disjointed consumer experience is too high.

Direct mail and the marketing tech stack need a link. Personalized URLs are the best, easiest and most affordable way to build that link.

Personalized URL Hype vs RealityPersonalized URL Hype vs Reality - Reality Check Ahead

While there may be some lift in the response rates of direct mail campaigns when PURLs are included, the response rate is really just one component of the value of the technology. The reality is that each year, a higher percentage of direct mail audiences want to respond online. By driving the online response to a place that can be measured and easily integrated into the CRM and automation systems that will follow up, there’s far more value being delivered than the appearance of a name in a URL.

Focusing on providing value beyond response rate lift, marketers have filtered through the Personalized URL hype vs reality. By acting as the link between direct mail and the marketing tech stack, Personalized URL software helps deliver the combined best attributes of direct and digital marketing:

  • The targeting, reach and conversion rates of direct
  • The visibility and automated campaigns of digital
  • The one to one tracking and personalization of PURLs

Learn More. Download A Whitepaper

Boingnet helps direct marketers think through the right strategies to integrate with digital infrastructure like CRM and Marketing Automation. If you’d like to learn more on how to separate the Personalized URL hype vs reality:

Get Your PURL Bridge To Digital Whitepaper

Photo credit: w a n t o i i via Foter.com / CC BY

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One Response to “Personalized URL Hype vs Reality”

By David Rosendahl - 9 December 2016

Dennis, well done. I more-or-less agree with your point-of-view, and you have a very interesting take on the landscape as a whole.

Most likely, my company (MindFire) is to “blame” for the focus on increased response rates (which, to be fair, is often the case) — but as you accurately stated, direct mail performs very well on its own. The reasons we focused our messaging on this one point are many and as in the case in most entrepreneurial ventures, not necessarily the result of strategic intention: in our case, we got lucky and the msg hook seemed to stick 🙂

I recently wrote about what you touched on wrt to direct mail and its response vis-a-vis digital channels (and I think we referenced some of the same DMA data): http://www.mindfirestudio.com/blog/not-so-fast-print-aint-dead-yet-aka-direct-mail-outperforms-digital-channels-by-600/

Would very much appreciate your thoughtful insights — and let’s stay in touch.

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