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Does Direct Mail Have a Future?

January 6, 2014 By Summer Gould
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Is direct mail a dinosaur? Direct mail marketing has been around for a long time. Most people in the U.S. credit Montgomery Ward's invention of the mail order catalog as the start of modern direct mail marketing in 1872. Then, in 1917, the Direct Mail Advertising Association was established. It continues today as the Direct Marketing Association to support the companies utilizing direct marketing. Everything from catalogs to postcards have been used over the years with great success.

Unlike the dinosaurs, direct mail has an extraordinary ability to change with the times. The more it changes, the more it stays the same. We still send catalogs, postcards and letters today. Who we send them to, how we send them and what we incorporate in them is what drives the real change.

Over the past few years we have seen great advances in technology that are now opening doors to enhancing direct mail like never before. Let's take a look at the past, present and future of direct mail.

Past

  • Send the same piece to everyone: There was no personalization, no rotating offer, no target audience, just a vast list of people to send your message to. This was known as "spray and pray." The thought was that everyone would need your product, so let's tell them all.
  • A real change came when the post office created ZIP Codes. This allowed marketers to communicate more directly to a smaller audience. For instance, if you needed to limit mailing to a defined geographic area, you could now do so with ease.
  • Modern technology came along in the early 1980's that allowed marketers to create relational databases to more finely target individuals. (Nothing like the database files we have now, but for the time they had a great impact.) You could now increase your response by sending relevant offers to the right people.

Present

  • Today we are using direct mail with QR Codes and PURLs. Some of us are doing this correctly, using mobile landing pages with targeted and relevant information, but too often the scan of the QR code just takes you to a website. This is a challenge for all of us as marketers, because when a user has a bad experience, they are less likely to scan a code in the future.
  • The adage less is more is the key for marketers today. We have less money, send fewer pieces and are expected to get more results. In order to accomplish this, we have really been focusing on targeting lists. Making sure that the correct message gets to the correct person at the correct time. Tracking mail delivery allows us to trigger other channels to correspond with direct mail, such as email, mobile and social media. Thus allowing for more touch points and a better response.
  • Mobile marketing is growing in popularity. Marketers are currently using mobile in many different types of campaigns. Mobile can work alongside direct mail with QR Codes, augmented reality (AR), SMS and MMS. People are constantly on their phones. They like to interact that way, so when you incorporate mobile into your direct mail campaign you can increase awareness and drive response.

Future

 

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