If there’s one thing Jim Heintz and Mark Ingram have learned in their combined 45 years in direct marketing, it’s that consumer data can be a messy business. The degree to which it can be cleaned up largely determines the success—or failure—of marketing efforts.
Both men built their careers within Charlotte-based United Mailing Service, representing the company’s leadership for more than 20 years. In 2011, the pair took over as owners and rebranded the company as UMS, showing a renewed determination to stay abreast of continuing developments in marketing technology and a commitment to continually exceed industry standards and bring new product and services to their clients.
As UMS celebrates 30 years serving the Charlotte community, Heintz and Ingram take pride in the proprietary processes they have developed, including cleansing data for use in direct marketing to improve industry-acceptable levels.
Targeting Appropriate Data
UMS is a full-service marketing communications company that focuses on data refinement and processing, direct marketing and printing. Its mission is to provide a full range of data resources, marketing analytics and technology to help customers accurately and powerfully target the best-qualified buyers and increase their sales and profit margins.
“Direct marketing is an ever-changing target,” acknowledges Heintz, chief executive officer for the company. “We use a number of services and approaches including print, analytic tools, direct mail and email.”
The partners describe the company as data-driven. “We’re focused on data and what it tells us is the best approach for the client,” says Ingram, who functions as chief marketing officer. “A lot of companies try to force a square peg into a round hole. We let the data help us understand the needs of a client from the facts, their history and goals. We then look at their marketing budget to devise a custom solution.”
Ingram explains that clients’ customer profiles are developed from data, which includes customer lead lists, detailed demographics and transactional reports of purchases. “These items are the holy grail of their business every day—and ours.”
Purchasing information and lists from data suppliers does not guarantee that a client’s message will reach its desired audience. Three to 10 percent of new purchased data will be unusable according to Ingram. “This is the acceptable level in the industry. Most customers live with that percentage of bad data, but we don’t,” he explains.
“We’ve created a process that reduces the bad data to one percent or less on purchased or customer data,” touts Heintz. “Plus, we no longer have to buy data with the typical level of bad product, as we now have our vendors using our process to get the data to one percent before we purchase it.”
“Our data cleansing process is critical for us and for clients with large databases,” says Ingram. “Instead of spending money on print, mail and postage on 100,000 pieces, we segment the list to the 90,000 that we know will actually get delivered.”
According to the partners, this is made possible through strategic partnerships with experts in related fields. “We’ve combined our knowledge to come up with new services and products that address client’s needs,” says Heintz. “We also get inspiration from our clients who come to us with challenges targeting very specific vertical markets.”
“UMS offers access to the most complete set of business and consumer data in the industry, along with an unmatched commitment to service and the success of our clients,” says Ingram.
After each marketing program is executed and delivered, follow-up services include providing results to clients in the form of response analysis, leads, sales and return on investment.
“The process to refine targeted customer lists and profiles is continuous,” says Ingram. “For certain vertical markets, no one else is using the data the way we are.”
Advancing with Technology
Both Heintz and Ingram had already been in their respective leadership roles prior to buying United Mailing Service from its founders. Each of them came up through the ranks learning the business firsthand.
Heintz started working at UMS as a shipping clerk in 1991, one day after arriving in Charlotte from his native Buffalo, N.Y. “One of the previous owners was from Rochester, so there was a connection,” says Heintz. “Plus, I was eager to start working.”
“I came right out of high school; just a young teenager wanting to get out. I’ve lived here longer than I lived in Buffalo now, so I’m a real Southerner. I eat my grits and my greens,” he says with a smile. “I love Charlotte. It’s a great city.”
Heintz worked his way up to machine operator, production manager, plant manager, vice president of operations, to president in 2008, and finally co-owner in 2011. “Being co-owner is definitely my most challenging role to date and I take a lot of pride in the 23 employees who decide to work here.”
Ingram started out in advertising after graduating from N.C. State University with a degree in business management and marketing. In 1993, he began work as a sales representative for United Mailing Service and was named executive vice president in 2007, before joining Heintz as co-owner in 2011.
Ingram has been instrumental in UMS’s growth from a conventional direct mail company to a complete turnkey marketing operation. They have accomplished this by using direct marketing techniques that include: data append, database mining and profiling for specialized list purchases, email marketing, digital and offset printing, QR codes, Purls (personalized URLs), as well as more recent advances in developing custom marketing portals.
“Originally, United Mailing Service focused on printing and direct mail,” says Ingram. “We wanted to push other technologies forward. We felt that the company had grown a bit stale and that there was more we could be doing to help our clients.” That was the impetus to the partners’ rebranding of the company—changing its name, logo and colors to indicate the new direction.
Other milestones along the way have included the move from a 13,000-square-foot facility to its current 50,000-square-foot facility. Of course, there always is continuous upgrading of machinery and restructuring staff to have key employees in the right positions.
“We’re growing and growing very fast; faster than any of our direct competitors,” claims Ingram. “We are on track to achieve 50 percent growth this year over last—a large increase over the moderate growth we saw after our first two years as owners.
“Some of that growth can be attributed to a second company that we started in December of 2011, SENIOROI, LLC, focusing only on marketing for retirement communities. In three years we have secured a national client base because of products and services that were designed specifically for the industry.
Multi-channel Marketing Strategically
UMS clients are spread across numerous industries including, travel, automotive, health care, and retirement solutions. Fifty percent of the company’s clients are located regionally, with others scattered around the country. “Most of our clients have been with us a long time and trust us,” says Heintz.
Both partners readily admit direct mail works, but not for everyone. UMS’s inclusion of email and social media marketing has added a new dimension to traditional direct mail which brought in new clients whose operations are more tech-savvy. At the same time, it has given the company a fresh opportunity to approach older customers with new services.
“A lot of our customers don’t yet recognize who we’ve become, or the refinements and specialization we’ve brought to the marketing process,” says Heintz. “But they trust us with their most important asset—their customers—and they know we value those relationships.
“One of our biggest challenges is to communicate to them who we are now and all the new things we can do.
“For example, with some customers, we can switch services from direct mail to email marketing which can free up substantial savings in print and postage to spend on other marketing services more wisely. In addition to marketing, they can also switch their billing process from paper to email.”
As marketing programs are refined, it becomes clear how much direct mail versus email or social media can generate for a given client, say the partners. The goal is to know who is more receptive to print; who prefers email or social media.
Direct mail contracts feed the printing contracts at UMS. For this reason, Heintz points out, “Printing companies—even if they are calling themselves marketing professionals—won’t attempt to switch clients to email as it represents a loss of business for them. Most printers and mailers are not open to offering this solution because they don’t understand how to make it a profit on the other side. With us it’s about what is best for our clients.”
But UMS is a full-service, multi-channel marketing company, and Ingram says that approach works best for most clients. “For some, we prospect with email, and then send direct mail to a smaller group after analyzing the results. It really depends on what approach will provide the highest return on investment for our clients.”
“UMS has just scratched the surface on social media,” Ingram continues. “Everybody is trying to figure out how to monetize social media; we are learning how to best use it.”
Recently, the director of Southeast sales for Twitter came to speak with the Charlotte Direct Marketing Association; Ingram sits on this board. “Getting this type of information is vital for our business. Right now, only the biggest brands in the country are using Twitter and other social media platforms to generate sales but that will increase—it will eventually trickle down.”
Print, Data, Direct
Sending out massive quantities of mail doesn’t happen without some daily challenges. For UMS, many of them center on working with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). “It’s just about keeping up,” says Ingram. “Mailing rates are constantly changing. We have to upload new software between dates to enact immediate changes without any downtime.”
Regulations allowing for discounts also change frequently. “We pride ourselves in knowing the regulations and securing every discount,” assures Heintz. “The U.S. Postal Service has a lot of not-so-obvious rules; our years of knowledge about these rules are invaluable to our clients. We are the longest tenured direct marketing company in Charlotte.”
Email comes with its own set of regulations, set forth mostly by the different Internet service providers. These, too, change frequently as does the technology that delivers them.
Scheduling can also be tight at times, particularly with inevitable last minute changes to the design and production schedule. “Sometimes we’re waiting days for a client to complete their layout, photography. But we’re still held to the original mail schedule,” says Ingram. “We always do our best to accommodate our customers.”
UMS enjoys unusually high staff retention in the industry and the partners attribute this to fair treatment and extra perks and benefits.
“We truly appreciate our staff. They really stood behind us when we took over. They could see growth, consistent business, dedicated owners and increased job security,” says Heintz. “We ask a lot of them but we provide for them.”
UMS works with many non-profit companies and helps support them with sponsorships. “We try to give back,” notes Ingram.
The “Print, Data, Direct” mantra will continue for UMS, with an emphasis on providing the cleanest data possible. “We don’t see other companies developing their own processes. Some in the retirement industry have tried to copy ours but haven’t succeeded. It took us a lot of years to develop, but it sets us apart,” says Ingram.
“We’re in a great position for growth,” says Heintz. “We have room to grow in our facility. We’re getting ready to install additional equipment to further upgrade our services. Over the next year we plan to add five to 10 new employees to our staff.”
“I am very happy with our business at this point. I rose from shipping clerk to owner, but it’s not over yet,” says Heintz. Ingram contributes, “And we think the best is yet to come—for us and for our customers!”