DirectMail.com : The Masters of DataJune 2011 By Julie Greenbaum
Many printers would agree that embracing new technology beyond print is no longer an option, but a necessity. For Prince Frederick, MD-based DirectMail.com, combining ink-on-paper and technology is something the company has done quite well since it opened for business 41 years ago. In the past 10 years, its principals have fine-tuned their direct marketing approach by combining data and print with new digital technologies.
Upon taking over the helm from their fathers and previous owners, Joseph Salta and John Swain, Bob Salta and Kirk Swain began transforming the company from a fundraising agency to a complete direct marketing solutions firm.
"If it fits in your mailbox or inbox, we can produce and deliver it," jokes Salta. "All of our products are tailored for specific clients and their response needs, and we now have the capability to produce any type of direct mail package."
Today, the company serves both large-enterprise and small-business clients primarily in the education, non-profit, association, and franchise and retail segments. Combined marketing and print production solutions range from web and sheetfed offset printing to digital printing (including personalization); data analytics, mailing lists, response management and full mail shop services; and multi-channel marketing capabilities such as personalized URLs (PURLs), landing page design and customized Web-to-print portals.
The use of its patented GeoSelector technology, a real-time data analytics system with numerous marketing applications, has allowed the company to leverage data in a way it had never done before. The technology combines mapping functionality with a high-end, geo-coding program that is linked to more than 200 million consumer records.
"Users can draw on a map and extract the underlying data to analyze diverse market areas—irrespective of any geographic boundaries or ZIP codes, states or cities," notes Price Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing. "This technology also allows us to produce detailed demographic reports and analysis on-the-fly. It helps our clients mail more effectively, develop more relationships and acquire new clients through data visualization."
Mining the Mother Lode
Salta recalls a time when the only data available was purchasing- or donation-history information. "As more relevant data became available, we learned that a 'one size fits all' approach was not going to work for every client. As a result, we teach our customers that they have to dig deeper and combine transactional information with behavioral or attitudinal data," he explains.
Through the use of the GeoSelector tool, the company can not only identify a client's key customers or prospects, but the actual types of messages and offers most likely to generate a response. Increasingly, that requires DirectMail.com to produce personalized, targeted messages using digital printing and laser imprinting equipment.
As such, DirectMail.com has made several investments throughout its operation in the past two years. The company has added a six-color, HP Indigo 5500 press with UV coater; a Konica Minolta bizhub PRO C6500; and an Océ VarioPrint 5160 printer.
"Our digital output capabilities give us the ability to create more personalized and relevant direct marketing campaigns," Anderson explains. "Just last year, we hit our six billion mark in direct marketing pieces mailed."
The acquisition of marketing solutions provider Eagle Direct last year also increased the firm's capacity to produce more than four million pieces of mail per week. Other recent investments include a major upgrade to a new data center to support its server and network capacities; new Palamides banders on three MBO folders; additional Roll Systems unwind and rewinders on laser printing and document processing equipment; and multiple FlowMaster smart inserters.
Its web and sheetfed offset printing capabilities include an eight-color Sanden Varicom-1200 and six-color Didde DGS 860 web presses; six- and four-color, 40˝ Heidelberg Speedmasters; a two-color, Heidelberg SORDZ; two-color, 20˝ Ryobi 512; and a pair of two-color, Halm SuperJet envelope presses. Bindery gear consists of four MBO folders, two Lawson cutters and a Heidelberg Polar cutter.
In 2006, having witnessed tremendous growth from its DirectMail.com Website (exceeding 110,000 visitors a month), Salta and Swain decided to officially change their company's name from DM Group to DirectMail.com.
"Our goal back then was to continue to build on our brand, and use the power of the Internet to increase both our online e-commerce and off-line business opportunities—from national to worldwide," recalls Salta. "Concomitant efforts to advance data personalization strategies and the acquisition of digital printers made the Website a viable approach to implement our three-year plan and service both large and small clients."
As a result, the company was able to stave off the full impact of the recession. "During this time, our core focus was to increase the number of clients who utilize more of our services and have less reliance on commodity-based pricing," explains Salta. "By delivering successful strategies and seeing improved results, our customers increased their marketing budgets and continued to mail. In many cases, we saw their mail volumes actually increase."
No Family Feuds Here
Another key to the company's success has been the ability of the two managing families to coexist well. "It is really great being able to work with my father (Bob), as well as the Swains," explains Shawn Salta, vice president. "It has truly been a partnership of both of our families that has enabled this organization to continue to grow."
Last year, DirectMail.com posted close to $30 million in sales, and today it serves clients in the United States, Europe, China and Russia. The company currently employs 250 employees across its three-building campus (which totals 105,000 square feet).
Throughout its history, DirectMail.com has been repeatedly recognized for its leadership role in employing individuals with disabilities. The Direct Marketing Association of Washington also named the company its 2010 Vendor of the Year. Since 1986, DirectMail.com has worked with the association's Educational Foundation through its Swain Scholarship program.
According to Swain, one of the biggest challenges facing the direct marketing industry today is the uncertainly of the U.S. Postal Service, including the possible discontinuation of Saturday delivery and more complex domestic mail. With measures already set in place, the company hopes to make this process less harrowing. "We maintain a great relationship with the USPS, and have a detached mail unit clerk onsite. We also have a postal facility in our mail shop," Swain adds.
Moving forward, DirectMail.com will continue to focus on the current vertical markets it serves, and it is exploring the healthcare and insurance segments. The company will also continue to monitor, adjust and validate its segmentation models, as well as its strategies to improve customers' ROI.
Both Salta and Swain do not see direct mail disappearing any time soon. In fact, they plan to sit down with as many prospects as possible to explain the importance of leveraging marketing intelligence.
"Meeting the challenge of placing the right offer (or message) in front of the right client or donor will be an even more important requirement in the future as our industry evolves," concludes Swain. "But, direct mail will continue to be a viable marketing channel, and many opportunities in the future will depend on finding the right approach to leveraging data, print and digital technologies." PI