Expert Q&A

Growing up as the son of two direct marketers, you might think a young Keith Huntoon would be inclined to follow in his parents' footsteps. That couldn't have been further from the truth for Keith, whose technology prowess and entrepreneurial spirit led him to Singapore and Thailand where he helped launch a tech startup early in his career. Upon returning to New York, Keith worked at two other tech startups focused on data. It was during this time that he became fascinated by the underutilized power of data in marketing and conceived the idea of LiftEngine with his business partner, Scott Markowitz. Before he knew it, Keith was pursuing the family business—but with a new media twist.

What is LiftEngine exactly and what unique value does it offer to marketers?

At its core, LiftEngine is an audience development company. Even though the marketing landscape has evolved dramatically since we founded LiftEngine in 2005, we still offer the same basic value to clients. We help them understand and connect with the most responsive prospects and customers, and accurately measure the impact of these efforts based on revenue.

Back in 2005, that involved supporting a lot of direct mail, email and call-center campaigns. Today, the mix still includes direct mail and email, but our digital and social media capabilities are baked in. It still always comes back to identifying that perfect audience and enabling clients to interact with them wherever and whenever is most opportune—online and offline.

What kinds of solutions does LiftEngine deliver to help clients achieve profitable, quantifiable results?

We provide a variety of services related to name and address data. The foundation of our business lies in data hygiene and consolidation. Most clients have data in various different systems. So in order to give them the most bang for their marketing buck, gathering and normalizing data is absolutely essential to the success of any campaign. Once that foundation is laid, we provide mail file hygiene, merge-purge, customer modeling, response analytics, and social acquisition services. Where we really shine is providing clients with actionable results post-campaign.

The key is making sure that promotion and response data is tied back to exact individuals, by name and mailing address. This way we can provide accurate response and return on advertising spend (ROAS) analysis, thus better forecasting future campaign success.

We like to think about it this way: You can have the best marketing strategy and campaign creative, but if you cannot accurately measure a campaign's impact on sales you are truly missing the most important part of the story.

How does the combination of direct mail and social media fit into your business model?

Many companies pursue the ease and perceived efficiency of an "all-digital" marketing strategy. Our feeling is that unless a brand offers an extraordinarily unique product or high margins on the first sale, "online only" is often the quickest way to become a commodity or get lost in the sea of competitors vying for consumer attention. Clicks may be cheap, but high lifetime customers are expensive!

Direct mail ultimately ties back to name and address, which means we can target audiences and run response analyses— regardless of channel—with a high degree of precision. By deploying a social touch to the same recipients of a DM piece, we reinforce the effectiveness of a campaign's message over time in a brand-safe environment. The coordination of DM and social, which we've coined as "Sync&Send," has proven to significantly lift response rates and ROAS for most of our clients.

We manage expectations up front and push the concept of—in baseball terms, hitting "singles and doubles" through thorough testing and analysis. If a client wants a "five-run home run" right off the bat, we're not the right fit. By constantly optimizing and improving results, we have a loyal stable of clients that consistently see response lifts of 20%-plus when deploying Sync&Send campaigns over DM alone.

Are enough marketers taking advantage of integrating social media and direct mail strategies right now?

The answer is no, but let me clarify: Many clients are willing to "test" the integration of social with DM, but only those that are willing to invest over the long-term truly achieve the combination's optimal potential. Some clients want to run a single, $5K campaign and get a win before allocating more budget to future campaigns. We understand budgets are tight for all marketers, but it's not realistic to run a single campaign in any channel and expect immediate success.

Over 200 million Americans spend an average of 40 minutes a day on Facebook. In our mind, the question isn't "can Facebook work for us? " Rather, it should be "how do we make Facebook perform for us? "

What are your thoughts on the proliferation of all the different social platforms in recent years?

I'm not convinced different audiences are shifting their social habits to new platforms in any deeply meaningful way, at least as it pertains to marketers. There will always be an "it" platform for teens, but how many of these have been able to morph into viable marketing platforms? Once advertising is rolled out, usage tends to stagnate as the platform loses its "coolness."

We're constantly looking at new platforms for clients. The biggest challenge we've had is identifying one that delivers audience onboarding at the scale available with Facebook. I'm not a shill for Facebook and frankly I worry about the duopoly that owns online advertising, but there is no getting around Facebook's reach and ease of use. It is an extremely viable marketing medium for just about any brand.

How do you feel about the future of social media and direct mail integration?

While DM and DM practitioners have been under fire for years, we're very confident that the future couldn't be brighter. With onboarding now widely available, social media marketing can and should be considered "digital direct marketing." When we apply the same time-tested DM practices to social, powerful results follow.

To learn more about LiftEngine and see how it helps brands connect with their perfect audience, visit

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