Smarter Direct Mail: Advances in Print That Can Boost ROI
There are many sources of pressure to reduce or minimize the cost of postage in hardcopy mailings with commensurate hurdles at every turn. Over the years, postage has been mitigated with workshare discounts that depend on mailing list density, file hygiene, currency of the mailing list and mailpiece shape and design. As the USPS attempts to remove unnecessary costs and employ automation to the max, mailing requirements increase—such as heavier more expensive paper, more tabs or glue, and other creative and preparation demands that can increase costs.
Another pressure is to mail only to those that return an adequate return on the cost of the mailing among existing customers, while at the same time allowing for the prospecting of potential new customers. Add to this the alternate media channels that may be employed in each campaign and the pressure on hardcopy mail increases as does the difficulty in meeting minimum requirements for postage discounts. Nevertheless, direct mail remains an important and viable part of virtually any brand's multichannel mix.
So where is the next realm of postal efficiency and savings going to come from?
There are current solutions out there that have been developed to meet precisely this challenge; commingling, co-mailing, co-palletization to name a few. All of these combine pre-existing mailpieces at some level to achieve better penetration and lower postage rates. They are useful for many marketers - but they may not be applicable for all.
Some brands recognize a more urgent need to communicate in a targeted way that drives improved results; (still) qualify for maximum postal discounts; and, importantly, increase speed to market.
For these marketers, achieving higher returns from direct mail may lay in the capabilities of the latest digital print technology. New high-speed digital color presses increase customization, maximize operating and postal savings, and automate the marketing process while allowing customers to craft personalized offers and messages quickly and easily.
I've been seeing more brands incorporating digital print - also known as print on demand - in their communication and marketing mix. Here's why:
- Increased customization with 100% variable content delivered at full press speed and quality - customers (and prospects) can receive differentiated images, text and offers based on available intelligence derived from data about those customers.
- Time and cost savings because of less waste and spoilage, and there is no needed plate changes and no preprinted stock inventory to be stored. Production processes are far more efficient, and overages are absent.
- Deeper postal discounts thanks to electronic, automated mail piece commingling that is done prior to printing.
- Decreased time to market via a complete high-speed digital production process that starts with white paper and ends with fully customized mail - in line and without job stops and starts. In some vertical markets - retail, real estate, financial services, for example - speed in communication matters, depending on the purpose of the communication. Having such speed in hardcopy communication can elevate customer engagement and response.
With this latest advancement in personalized direct mail variable data print, direct mail makes a serious impact. For example, the HP T230 Inkjet Digital Press, HP pigment and inks and HP print heads produce sharp text, images, graphics and 100 percent variable content in high-quality, four-color (CMYK) production print. (Other manufacturers have similar offerings as well.) That's not something printers could do 10 years ago.
Today's digital presses can create offers that are unique and relevant for each individual, print short runs at no extra expense, receive maximum postal discounts with up-front commingling, print personalized URLs and QR Codes for a multichannel strategy, require no plates and no film—it's all digital—and what used to take days can be done in hours. They save money by reducing on-hand inventory storage and get pieces into the mail stream faster with end-to-end processing.
With single card or simple folded self-mailers, these presses also allow multiple versions to be imaged with complete piece-to-piece personalization effectively commingling the mailing on press. This retains list density that allows for better postage discounts and drop ship entry discounts.
Nearly all brand executions with digital print interact with content management systems, where both creative assets are stored and the analytics-driven business rules and triggers that tap these assets. Such centralization and intelligence enables many benefits: corporate marketing control, the ability to leverage and time multiple contact across channels, trigger campaign capabilities, cloud-based technology for API interface with scalable assets, and individual customer/prospect mapping for location, messages, images and offers. Also, imaging digital interfaces, such as a QR Code, on a personal basis is no challenge at all.
These gains are going to have a profound effect on the future of direct mail, and they are already making a huge difference in what's in consumer mailboxes.
The bottom line is that the latest digital presses allow rapid-response, highly targeted, personalized mail campaigns without the penalty of higher postage.
Charley Howard is vice president of postal affairs for Harte-Hanks, and is editor of its Postology newsletter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.