Is direct-mail marketing dead?
Not yet. However, if we don’t take advantage of the data and digital marketing technologies that have been developed over the last two decades, it could become an afterthought — with a budget to match.
Direct-mail marketing is more than catalogs, postcards and mass mailings. The reality is so much different today. Data-driven approaches have transformed direct-mail marketing and given it many of the opportunities that have powered digital marketing.
But as the marketing director of a company that offers direct-mail marketing services, I believe the problem is us. Too many direct-mail marketers aren’t using the strategies and tools available to us to build our company value, enter new markets and give customers a well-rounded experience.
How Marketers Can Change
Direct-mail marketers are innovators in customer contact and market-building.
Many of the methods and models that helped postal marketers build direct pipelines to customers formed the business model for email marketing. For example, direct-mail marketers have developed sophisticated models to help them mitigate per-message costs. Emails marketers have similarly substituted mass mailings for precision targeting.
Now we face the same challenges as our email cousins. In my experience, careless use of the channel has made consumers far less tolerant of irrelevant communications. If we improve how we use direct mail, we can make the channel more valuable.
We need to use direct marketing strategically, consider the interests of both our customers and our companies, and rely on technology to create the best mailbox experience.
Here’s what we as direct-mail marketers need to do to keep direct mail lucrative and successful:
1. Focus On Strategy Over Tactics
This is one of the most important marketing lessons you can learn, but it’s one that’s easy to overlook.
Strategy is your marketing program’s “why.” It’s your plan for how direct mail will help you achieve your business marketing objectives.
Tactics are easy. “Let’s send a postcard!” is a tactic — not a strategy. What part of your strategy will that card carry out?
2. Bring Marketing Back Into Direct-Mail Marketing
That’s the advice marketing expert Kath Pay gives email senders who are trying to get their email programs on track in the Everlytic Bytes episode “Tips & Tricks on How to Bring Marketing Back to Email Marketing.” It applies equally well to direct-mail marketing.
This means we should use what we know about good marketing to guide our decisions in how we use direct mail to communicate with customers, build our brands and break into new markets.
Here’s one example: Propensity models can help you target customers who buy or browse using your e-commerce operation but are potential customers for brick-and-mortar locations.
Channel propensity is another area to explore. A customer who no longer responds in one channel, like email, might prefer a strategically designed postal mailing. Or you can use one channel to send a message and reinforce it in another.
3. Embrace Data To Drive Decisions
Data comes in all forms — the first-party data your company collects on your customers, data shared with other companies and third-party data you acquire from reputable outside sources. All of it can help you identify, target and message more effectively.
I mentioned earlier that channel propensity can help you focus your direct-mail campaigns by considering the channels your customers are most likely to convert or respond to. You can cross-check email and postal data to approach customers who have gone dark on your email messages and try to re-establish contact with direct mail.
Data can also help you send more relevant messages, especially first-party data that incorporates demographic, geographical and personally identifiable information you have available, like purchases, to identify audiences and drive content decisions.
I see this in my own mailbox. I recently browsed customized lawn care and fertilizer products on a landscaping company’s website and entered my email address and lawn details. About a week later, I received a personalized mailer that followed up on my browse session with an incentive and promotion code to bring me back to the site and get me to sign up for the service.
Combining data, digital strategies and direct-mail marketing can enrich your campaigns, making them more relevant, useful to your customers and profitable for you.
4. Create Relevant, Meaningful And Attention-Getting Messages
My postcard example illustrates a basic use of data to create personalized offers that stand out in a customer’s mailbox and resonate with your audience. But you can open up a world of possibilities when you combine old-school (print) with new-school, cutting-edge data strategies.
You can turn each message of a mass-market campaign into a personal letter that goes far beyond mail-merging the recipient’s name and address into the message body. For example, the lawn-care company sent another mailing that referred to my location, reviewed my unique lawn attributes and recommended products. That’s what takes a postcard campaign from good to great.
This isn’t appropriate for every campaign, of course. But when a message calls for deep personalization, the engagement these efforts bring can be worth it.
Consider incorporating personalization based on name, location and other factors for super-specific targeting. Interchangeable and personalized images like the one in my mailer shown above, or product assortments customized for people in different regions, are just a start.
The brands leading this new foray into hyper-personalization are perhaps not the ones you think. At my company, we’ve noticed that non-profit agencies and startups are leading the way in using this kind of personalization. Surprisingly, few enterprise-level companies and small- to medium-sized businesses we’ve spoken to are changing the way they go to market and leveraging these opportunities.
It takes patience, persistence and support internally and externally. You’ll need to aggregate, clean and structure your data. But I believe this is the future of marketing and the future of direct mail. And it’s here today.
My list of suggestions might be a tall order for marketers who still think of direct mail as the last link in the communications chain. But it’s work we should do. If we don’t, direct-mail marketing may become an afterthought in the marketing budget, and we could make it irrelevant.