Adam T. Sutton

Census’ Direct Mail Tactics

March 12th, 2010

Going through my mail a few days ago, I came across a letter from the U.S. Census Bureau. I read it and was baffled to find it alerting me to the census forms’ arrival next week.

“What a stupid letter,” I thought. “I’ll see the forms when they come.”

However, an editorial in my local paper the next day made me think twice.

In “Surprisingly Sensible,” the Spartanburg Herald-News’ editors report that while this letter cost about $50 million to send, it’s part of an alert and follow-up strategy. For the 2000 census, the strategy lifted the number of returned census forms 6 percentage points to 67%. How’s that for a response rate?

The letters arrived one week before the census forms. Ten days after the forms, a post card was sent reminding recipients to fill out the forms and return them, according the editorial.

The 6% lift reduced the number of houses the census workers had to visit, which translated into huge cost savings. So the $50 million may prove to be a sound investment.

The editorial goes into further detail on how much money the strategy could save. The important point for marketers is that even when a strategy does not make sense on its face — it still might lift performance.

Adam T. Sutton

About Adam T. Sutton

Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter, MarketingSherpa
Adam generates content for MarketingSherpa's Email and Inbound Marketing newsletters. His years of experience in interviewing marketers and conveying their insights has spanned topics such as search marketing, social media marketing, ecommerce, email and more. Adam previously powered the content behind MarketingSherpa's Search and Consumer-marketing newsletters and carries that experience into his new role. Today, in addition to writing articles, he contributes content to the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa blogs, as well as MECLABS webinars, workshops and summits.

Prior to joining MarketingSherpa, Adam was the Managing Editor at the Mequoda group. There he created content and promotions for the company's daily email newsletter and managed its schedule.

Categories: Consumer Marketing Tags: ,

  1. March 15th, 2010 at 10:31 | #1

    Thanks for the interesting statistic. I too had the same thought when my letter arrived. I was even more cynical thinking this was a deal worked out with the USPS to help with their budget crisis. But as the last census was 10 years ago, perhaps I should be less cynical and realize that the Census Bureau are experts when it comes to data collection.In these tight budget times they are going to be smart about marketing dollars or they will end up in front of a Congressional panel. The letter was also written to reach the masses where as marketers our promotions are targeted to specific audiences. It’s challenging to have to cast a wide net. A 6% lift is a lot. Please let us know if you have can track down any follow-up data on this latest campaign.

  2. Denise Tarbox
    March 15th, 2010 at 10:37 | #2

    Personally, I think the U.S. Census Bureau could boost response rates by simply paying for return postage. When I think about the cost of follow-on mailings and a potential census visit, I am astounded by the lack of attention to very basis direct mail tactic.

  3. March 16th, 2010 at 10:56 | #3

    I completely agree with Denise.How many people are going to want to waste a stamp sending this thing back?

  4. March 24th, 2010 at 07:41 | #4

    My bad. I just got my census forms and they do have return postage.However I don’t have time to wade throught the questions

We no longer accept comments on the MarketingSherpa blog, but we'd love to hear what you've learned about customer-first marketing. Send us a Letter to the Editor to share your story.