WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
The Wisdom of PURLs
BY MIKE NORBUT
An interesting promotion recently caught
my eye. The brochure from a suburban
Chicago university invited me to visit a Web
site with “MNorbut” in the URL.
Intrigued, I visited this site, where I
found a page that again offered me a personal greeting. Amazed, I dutifully
answered the school’s request for my e-mail address and other contact information, and another entry into the university’s
“Prime Target” database was born.
What the university used to distinguish
its piece from other clutter was a personalized URL, or PURL. It’s a 1-to-1 marketing strategy that connects a traditional
marketing source, such as direct mail or e-mail, with the Internet to create a collection of personal messages for each
individual recipient. A PURL offers:
• Obtain immediate feedback from recipients, both in real time as the PURLs are
accessed and in summary after the campaign is completed.
• Attract younger prospects by answering
their demand to respond to offers online.
• Gather new information to further build
your database, such as e-mail addresses,
special interests and other data.
FINDING THE PROSPECT
Prospects can be an elusive group. You
can blanket them with collateral, only to
receive no response. Marketing experts
say a direct mail campaign generally has a
success rate of about 1 percent.
With a well-constructed PURL campaign, however, it’s realistic to expect a
response rate increase of at least 25 percent and as high as 300 percent over a
traditional direct mail strategy, says Mark
Sterne, president of Express Printing &
Promotions, Inc. More importantly, PURL
strategies tend to have a higher conversion rate per response, since the message is more relevant and personalized.
Another significant advantage to PURLs
is the data they produce. While e-mails or
direct mail pieces lack a true tracking
device, PURLs lead customers to a Web site
that allows you to view the responses. That
makes it much easier to not only calculate
your ROI for the campaign, but also to
gauge your return on marketing objectives.
HOW PURLS WORK
Thanks to modern technology, PURLs are
fairly cost effective. Using variable data
printing technology, direct mail pieces are
automatically created with an individual
URL aimed at one specific recipient (for
The direct mail piece invites the recipient
to visit his or her personal Web site,
which again offers a greeting that coincides with the direct mail piece.
The landing page then can ask the target to supply whatever personal information you seek — contact information,
demographic data, etc. — as part of a
questionnaire, survey or some other
response form. The information collected
allows you to send another personalized
follow-up message, usually through e-mail, to drive home your promotion.
THE ACERS EXAMPLE
So what happens when you don’t want to
keep sending materials to the same list? A
PURL strategy will help you build a new one,
as the American Ceramic Society (ACerS)
hopes to find with its current campaign.
In the last 20 years, the field of ceramics
has changed from a distinct engineering
discipline to a sub-discipline of material
science. That change has had a profound
impact on ACerS, as the society’s traditional members — including engineers,
scientists, researchers, manufacturers, and
others — can now find value in broader
organizations that don’t specialize in
However, there are emerging opportunities in other sectors. These changes, and
other market pressures, made it increasingly important for ACerS to implement a
recruitment plan that would reach a
broader audience and communicate the
unique value of joining the organization.
The challenge was identifying out of
this larger pool those individuals with a
high likelihood of joining the organization
or with an interest in membership. To
meet this challenge, ACerS worked with
McKinley Marketing to develop a marketing strategy that employed PURLs.
First, ACerS purchased some direct mail
lists consisting of general scientific community professionals. Then, a postcard
was developed with a PURL and personalized message inviting prospects to answer
a few questions about their interest in
ceramics. Those who participated were
entered into a drawing to win a $500
American Express gift card.
The idea was not only to collect names
and contact information of respondents
but also to narrow the demographic data of
professionals most interested in ceramics,
which would help the association identify
future lists for member recruitment.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
The campaign was still under way at press
time, so find out the results at The FORUM
Effect blog, www.theforumeffect.org. But
one lesson already is clear: Thanks to one
PURL campaign, ACerS will have a new list
of membership targets and complete information at its disposal, enhancing its growth
prospects and its long-term viability.
Mike Norbut is a consultant with McKinley
Marketing, Inc. He may be reached at
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