PURL Adoption Funnel

My thoughts on PURLs have changed drastically in the last month.

I used to be of the mindset that PURLs were appropriate for a majority of direct mail and email campaigns.  After all, it makes sense to use a Personalized URL instead of a Generic URL.  It has the potential to increase the response/conversion rates, and allows you to track who’s visiting. Seems like a no-brainer… right!?

However, I’m now of the mindset that PURLs are appropriate for a minority of campaigns.  With this realization, I had to face the “brutal facts” that the potential market size for Purlem has decreased drastically.

PURL Adoption FunnelI know… this is not good news for Purlem. You may be surprised that I’m even brining this up.  I should be pushing the technology no matter what.  After all, PURLs are what puts the bread on my family’s table at the end of the day!  But I think it’s more important to share with you the reality, rather than pitch to you a bunch of BS on why PURLs should be used in every campaign.

The PURL Adoption Funnel is a visualization of the PURL usage to date (as I see it).  It started with the “The PURL Fad” where everybody and their mother wanted to use PURLs.  Then to the the “Realization” phase where we were all forced to look to the actual results of our PURL marketing efforts.  And finally to the “Strategic Users” phase – which is where we stand today.

Before diving into each of the phases, and where I see the market going in the future, I want to give a brief background of how I came to this conclusion…  At the beginning of this year, I set out to “scale” Purlem.  Up until this year, Purlem has been an army of one (me). My goal was to see if Purlem could scale up to a level that could support a team.  I knew I had a good thing going.  Purlem has doubled in size for the last 6 years of business.  I had a passionate user base, but also a problem with churn (the percent of users that cancel each month).

Bacon CampaignTo effectively scale, I first needed to educate prospects on the benefits of PURLs.  After some failed (and desperate – the bacon campaign didn’t turn out to well) attempts to educating people on PURLs, I realized that the technology was simply to niche –  I would need to expand Purlem’s offerings beyond PURLs, to attract a larger audience.  So we decided to take a step back and first approach those that have used PURLs in the past (successfully or unsuccessfully), to figure out how to better position Purlem to scale. For the last month I have been talking people from many different industries and positions that have used PURLs.  This is when I came to the brutal realization that PURLs are only appropriate for a minority of campaigns.  Thus, the PURL Adoption Funnel was born.

The PURL Fad

The PURL Fad started about 10 years ago.  We’ve all seen the case studies about the outstanding 40% response rate using PURLs. The technology was being touted by industry proponents as the biggest thing since the sliced bread.  It would be the savior to print providers everywhere looking to introduce marketing services.  Dollar signs flashed in our eyes.  We thought about the yachts we would purchase from placing a PURL on our postcard.  Business executives gave orders to “Place PURLs on every campaign – no matter what” (This is no joke).


Some things are too good to be true.  As results from the first few PURL campaigns came back, we were disappointed that we didn’t get that 40% response rate.  We may have squeaked out a few extra percentage points, but nothing to write home about. The dollar signs began to fade from our eyes as we realized that we didn’t have a silver bullet that would solve all of our marketing problems. Some of us decided to write off PURLs forever as being only a “gimmick.” The executives that required that all campaigns have a PURL, quickly retreated.

Another interesting thing happened in this phase.  Some decided that they didn’t want to have their marketing pieces tracked at all!  They would rather be blissfully ignorant to the actual response rate of their campaign.   If you think about it, many are given orders to simply “get the campaign sent out by X date.” The are judged by the creative of the marketing piece, and that it is delivered on time.  They point to their Google Analytics, look at an uptick in traffic, and say, “look – this must be because of that postcard we sent out last month.” Everybody is blissfully happy.  But now, using a PURL gives direct and immediate feedback on the effectiveness of an individual marketing piece. Now, those responsible for creative and sending out the campaign on time, were also being judged by the PURL response rate.  They would rather just remove that factor all together and go back to blissful ignorance.  I’m not saying this is a good thing. Simply a reality for this phase of the PURL adoption funnel.

Strategic Users

Today, those that continue to successfully use PURLs have a strategic vision behind their use.  PURLs are no longer thrown on every campaign haphazardly.  Strategic users start with the campaign.  They first perfect the list, creative and offer.  Then, this is key – they plan several follow up campaigns based on response.  Then, and only then, do they ask if a PURL is appropriate for the campaign.  Does the campaign have the right audience, the right creative, and the right offer for a PURL? Will responses from the PURL enhance future campaigns? 

Strategic users are the passionate Purlem users I mentioned above.  These users are the ones that consistently send out successful PURL campaigns because they have a strategy behind them.  I also mentioned above the Purlem has had a issue with churn (the percent of users that cancel each month).  Typically, those that cancel have no long-term strategy behind their PURL campaign. Many still have the dollar signs in their eyes hoping for the silver bullet. I see it happen over and over again.

Future PURL Adoption FunnelThe Future of PURLs

So where are PURLs heading?  We’ll… I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. I’d like to think that we are all learning how to appropriately use PURLs.  We went through the phase of trying simply to plop a PURL (ha – “Plop-A-PURL” – I should use that more often), on every marketing piece.  We realized that wasn’t the best approach.  We also realized that the 40% response rate is not a realistic goal to have.  And that winning campaigns have a long-term strategy incorporating many different touches, based on past responses.  With this new knowledge, hopefully, some of those that have given up on PURLs in the past, will come back around with a strategic vision. These are the “Future Strategic Users” that will help increase the adoption of the technology.

In a way, it reminds me of the Dot-com bubble.  Nobody really knew how to make money from the internet, but everybody wanted a piece. This resulted in an artificially inflated market that eventually crashed, leaving behind only the best to survive (egh hmm.. Amazon).  This is where the PURL market is today.  Only the best are using PURLs.  Eventually, the stock market recovered, armed with a new found knowledge of how to make the internet work for them.  This is where we are with PURLs today – at the bottom, but poised with a new found knowledge.

The truth is that PURLs work when applied strategically.  For every person out there that say PURLs are a “gimmick” and should rot away in technology hell, there is a person that swears by PURLs as integral part of their overall campaign strategy. If some people are able to make them work so well, we would be ignorant to write off the technology forever.

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