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Weaving Direct Mail Into Omnichannel Strategy

Date: June, 2014 --

By now data-driven marketers have largely bought into the “multi-channel” approach; i.e. they recognize that utilizing a combination of on and offline mediums within a unified campaign will have a dramatically positive impact on response metrics. Springing forth from this foundation, many a forward-minded organization have looked ahead and come to the natural conclusion that if two are better than one, then three must be better than two, four must be better than three and so forth. Brands undertaking efforts to have a seat in every ad medium vertical face new challenges in tackling what is primed to be the next buzz phrase: Omnichannel Marketing.


But it’s not just the brands that are searching the horizon for the next big thing, as an institution none other than the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the USPS is taking a proactive approach to ensure direct mail has a meaningful and effective place within any Omnichannel strategy, as evidenced in a January 2014 forum held in Washington, DC. o:p>

The forum reached three important conclusions. First, as we mentioned and what is of no surprise to any direct marketer, campaigns using multiple channels are the most successful. Connecting channels in a personalized way raises brand awareness and captures attention.  Naturally, the more modalities that are integrated, such as mail, QR codes, AR (Augmented Reality), the more impact there is. One speaker from the market research arm of Quad/Graphics indicated that using a number of media in a campaign could raise response by 45%. 

In fact, the market research firm InfoTrends has shown that print (e.g., direct mail) with a landing page OR a corresponding email can raise response by 27% over a letter alone. Print and a landing page AND the email can raise response by 37%. Given all that white space to be covered, writing copy becomes an even larger and more critical job as messages and tone have to be consistent across all these content vehicles. 

Let us recall that direct mail has nearly always been “multi-channel” by asking the customer to respond by taking an action. In the early days of direct mail the action would have been to return a card or to write a letter for more information. The last big “technological” selling step we deployed before the digital world developed was to convince the reader to make a phone call. 

Today there are many other impressive tools available for the marketer to deploy which, in fact, are more “relationship building” than “closing”. Remember that for the consumer, the invitation to make a phone call can be somewhat nerve-raking, since he/she knows there will be a salesperson on the other end. To the contrary, an invitation to visit a webpage to learn something of value is less threatening. In fact, it’s downright inviting, because we know we won’t have an insistent person on the phone who won’t take “No.” 

Personalization Works but…

The second conclusion is that personalization is a powerful factor in success. Tasteful use of the individual’s name, or reference to their town or profession help build trust. The printing industry has helped out here with variable data printing tools which enable marketers to personalize every letter, buck slip, coupon, and catalogue. Research has shown that personalization can triple the regular direct mail response rate of 2%.

But personalization can backfire. For example, Target found that sending coupons related to a life change, such as having a baby, caused customers discomfort. This suggested to people that the store knew a bit too much about them for their comfort. 

Recent OIG studies found that throughout the country people of all ages are proving to be concerned about where marketers get information about them. Younger people are proving more concerned than older generations about the personalization of offers and selling copy.  This same group is also disturbed when it receives personalized letters with offers that are irrelevant. This suggests their data is being trafficked around, which they do not like. 

One thing the new generation shares with the older is that a well-targeted communication with an offer of a product that is relevant elicits a positive response. In this case the customers almost expect the company to have access to their name, address and perhaps even credit card details!  

Oh, Boy! Fabulous New Tools to Master

The third conclusion was that the new technologies play several roles in the marketing process.  First, they enable more personalization and an enhanced and sophisticated multi-channel experience.  In short, they provide a catalogue of potential ways to interact with the customer and ways to link the various elements of the campaign. 

The primary methods so far being introduced into the digital marketing toolbox are augmented reality, NFC, and electronics in print. 

These are way beyond QR codes and imbedding links in email messages because they can lead to more complex and data-rich experiences. They are not without their difficulties and complications, however.  For example, augmented reality currently lacks agreed standards, so a consumer may have to download an application, probably to a mobile phone, in order to access your ad. Once there, however, the experience can be extremely compelling. Nevertheless, getting a critical mass of potential customers to download the app will be an obstacle; that is, until one app comes along to displace all the others! 

But it can be done. The cosmetics firm Maybelline has used augmented reality to sell nail polish! In response to an ad in a letter or magazine, the consumer downloads an app which provides the interface tool to enable access to the online advertising content. In Maybelline’s case, the consumer uses their mobile phone to take a picture of their finger nails and then, through the linked-to website, try on different colors of nail polish!

The USPS itself has used augmented reality as a customer aid. It created an app which worked with the consumer’s webcam picture of the package she wished to ship. The Postal Service could then recommend the right size box to use.

Near Field Communication (NFC) chips are now often included in new mobile phones.  These chips communicate with other nearby NFC chips. (And by “nearby”, we mean only an inch or two.) Once a connection is accepted, the sending chip transmits new pages to the mobile phone, enabling the communication of more information about a product or offer. While less likely to be used in print communication, the chips enable deeper communication with the consumer who is, for example, actually in a store in close proximity to the product in question. One can imagine NFC being used in grocery stores alongside check-out lines where captive customers could be presented all manner of promotions and information. In other parts of the store, NFC could be used to provide information discretely and tastefully about personal care products, for example. One could also imagine NFC chips inserted in magazines to transmit directly to the reader’s mobile, which would be especially effective in environments lacking WiFi access. 

The last new technology of interest is printed electronics. This means literally printing circuits on paper, such as on letters. These circuits can be used to light up advertisements or even generate sound and deliver a message through a printed circuit and speaker. We’ve even seen a printed “flashlight” on a small card.  It was perfectly adequate to light up a menu in a dark restaurant. Several companies have experimented with magazine advertising with printed circuits with remarkable success. 

The use of printed circuits in direct mail could well be next. Imagine opening an envelope addressed to you which seems “just a little thicker than normal”.  You unfold the letter which is accurately addressed to you and it begins to recite, aloud, a tasteful advertisement for a cruise to a romantic island, complete with the sound of waves and a setting sun dissolving its way into the sea as the stars come out over the horizon. At the bottom of the page the copy next to a QR code and an NFC chip each begs you to take your mobile to use one of them to go to the website of the cruise company for “more information”. There the Augmented Reality function is downloaded to you. It permits you to picture yourself at ease in a variety of different staterooms, where your name is embroidered into the towels. 

With these new innovative ways of getting your targeted message across, direct mail is poised to take a larger role in its ability to leverage Big Data in order to enhance what is already arguably the most effective medium to engage and acquire new and repeat customers.

All this means the time to ensure you have an effective data management strategy is right now! Get in touch the experts at Data Services, Inc. for a complimentary evaluation of any of your organization’s domestic or international data-driven initiatives today to ensure you’re fully capable of leveraging current and future opportunities to their fullest extent!