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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We can bring direct mail to life! augmented reality has massive potential to bring real-time value to a standard direct mail piece such as a postcard. You can scan an image on the card and link that to a video, 3D graphics or whatever your imagination can dream up. The best part is that the linked material is interchangeable—you can constantly change what is seen when the piece is scanned so it remains relevant and interesting for much longer than standard pieces. There are many large companies doing AR now very well. Many of the campaigns, such as this AR by Marxent Labs and this Arctic Home campaign by the WWF and Coca-Cola, are on YouTube. Check them out. Imagine what you can do!
- Near field communication (NFC) chips will drive customer engagement as well. You can transfer information to their phones just by being close to them. Imagine what you can provide to prospects and customers automatically. Cell phones in the very near future will be taking over for personal PC's. Reaching people on their phones will be essential for marketers.
- With direct mail driving the initial engagement, the recipient will have the ability to seamlessly link to all marketing channels. This will continue to allow marketers ease of coordination and increased ability to accurately track ROI. The physical link with the digital world will drive the future of marketing.
The versatility of direct mail over the years, combined with modern technology, proves that it will remain a relevant marketing channel well into the future. While based on printed sheets of paper, direct mail marketing is combining technology to bring about the future integration of offline and online marketing.
The future direct mail pieces will inspire action with more than printed words. The limits of that inspiration are fueled solely by the imagination. If you can think it, the future can create it! There are exciting times ahead for direct mail, I for one am looking forward to all the possibilities.
A blog about Direct Mail Marketing, tips, tricks and what not to do.Summer Gould is President of Eye/Comm Inc. Summer has spent her 27 year career helping clients achieve better marketing results. She has served as a panel speaker for the Association of Marketing Service Providers conferences. She is active in several industry organizations and she is a board member for Printing Industries Association San Diego, as well as a board member for Mailing Systems Management Association of San Diego. You can find her at Eye/Comm Inc’s website: eyecomm.org, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @sumgould.