Personalized URLs – The Future of Direct Mail?

Great ROIs or empty hype?

Thanks to variable data direct mail printing, marketing tools like postcards and door hangers now include offers and keywords tailored directly to recipients. I got a particularly choice example of this in the mail the other day, in which a psychic who works for Publisher's Clearing House had a vision that I, Anne Stewart, would win the grand prize and retire to a yacht.

I appreciate your faith in me, Publisher's Clearing House psychic.

Unfortunately, the problem with variable data direct marketing, vs. say, targeted mailing list management, is that few recipients actually fail to realize that they're being pandered to. Worse, an improperly designed piece can seem A) Intrusive, and B) like you know my name, but you don't really care who I am, do you?

That being said, variable data direct mail printing is evolving every day, and one of the newest tentacles on this particular monster is the tentacle of the Personalized URL.

Simply put, PURLs are included in each piece of direct mail in a campaign. They direct the recipient to a landing page designed specifically for them, so that if you weren't creeped out enough by a piece of mail that read like a note from a friend, there's now a webpage out there that will do the same thing. It might even have an audio function that chimes “Hello Anne!” when you arrive.

Of course, marketers of this concept and product pitch it as a can't-fail technique. Who wouldn't want the friendly, personalized experience of going to a webpage designed just for them?

The reality, however, seems to be that consumers don't always love the idea quite as much as they're supposed to. PURLs are a great way to track the ROI on your direct mail printing, but that ROI can be extremely finicky, and far from the guaranteed home run marketers promise.

I'm not sure that all the extra effort is worth it, particularly vs. direct mail printing that simply contains a URL. It's kind of like walking into a store to browse, and being immediately approached by an attentive salesperson, vs. being allowed to poke around in peace. The former technique is appreciated mostly by the extremely elderly, who still remember the days when you handed your shopping list to the grocer and chatted while he filled the order.

But don't let me tell you what to think. What's your experience with PURLs? As a business, or even as a recipient? Success or meh? Appealing, or kind of creepy? Does this new marketing technique have real potential, or is it just another product backed by unrealistic hype?

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