Direct mail, although pretty much considered the most effective form of direct marketing, is still plagued by the age-old question of proving attribution. In other words, people want to know how they can verify that the mail piece did, indeed, work. And this has become an even more common question in today’s digital marketing world, where almost everything is trackable.

Yes, there have been personalized URLs (PURLs), landing pages, QR codes, coupon codes, and the like for years. However,there are problems with these things, namely the fact that the user has to do something he or she doesn’t naturally do, such as type in some strange URL landing page, enter some codes when he calls, or go to a specific website. These are barriers and diminish participation.

The good news is that attribution can now be easily proven on direct mail. We have all heard rumblings of this, but let’s take a look at exactly what this means for mailers and the industry.

First of all, attribution is defined as, “to regard as resulting from a specified cause; consider as caused by something indicated.” From that point on, we need to ask ourselves what we are measuring. Are we looking for some kind of conversion? A signup? A purchase? In other words, what is the goal of the piece of mail?

From there, we need a way to match the receiver of the mail piece to that measurable goal. This is where the difficulty comes in. In the past, we didn’t know if the person ever got the mail in the first place; however, this has been solved with today’s mail tracking. Most providers can (or should) provide this information to their print clients, at the very least.

Then comes the more difficult task of getting the information of who specifically converted. Again, conversion could take several forms, such as someone coming into a store, filling out a form, or specifically buying something. Then (as if that weren’t enough), you throw time into the mix. It could be days, weeks, or even months from the time the mail went out until that conversion occurred. This really throws a monkey wrench into the attribution tracking. Depending on the conversion being measured, you may need to actually get data back from the client or advertiser weeks or even months after the mailing to prove this conversion. Just trying asking your print clients some 90 days later if they want to share their customer sales list and history with you. Good luck!

This right here is the main reason true attribution is not commonplace or widely used, regardless of the ability to actually do it. Many mailers simply view it as too protracted or too invasive. Luckily, some marketing technology vendors have simplified this process for the printer and the client.

This is done through a more passive conversion tracking, which is a more simplified conversion for easier and quicker measurement, such as a provable website visit or a simple form that was filled out. That engagement can be easily tracked back to the mailing list and provided in almost real time.

The client then takes the last steps to a final conversion more suited to their specific industry or business model (such as driving a sale or purchase). These passive engagements usually take place within hours or maybe days of the mail arrival, which makes them pretty good leads since they took some action from the mail piece.

There are technology providers who can provide this attribution piece for the direct mail industry. Just as attribution in the digital world is now commonplace, so will be the case for attribution of direct mail in the near future.

Brad Kugler is CEO, DirectMail2.0.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.