Straight Talk: Direct Mail's Not-Too-Distant Future
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Inside Direct Mail, I asked industry experts to shed some light on the trends of today that will have the most impact on direct mail in the next 20 years and beyond.
"The shift of purchasing onto the Internet. On one hand, it will produce added direct mail volume as Web sites continue to discover that it's a great tool to increase repeat visits from existing customers. And postal mailers will also continue to find more ways to use Web-acquired postal addresses profitably, leading to more mailable names. But at the same time, this Internet shift will put pressure on our acquisition mail responsiveness. So over the next decade, our expertise will need to slowly shift towards the Web. ... Will the Web replace mail? Absolutely not. But it will continue to slowly eat away at our effectiveness over time, forcing us to continue to be more efficient and see the world in broader terms."
Bill Baird, founder and principle of Baird Direct Marketing
"The glut of competing look-alike products means copy will have to be much sharper and fresher to break through the clutter,
engage the consumer and generate an order."
Robert Bly, B-to-B copywriter and marketing consultant
"Advancements in technology will continue to affect all aspects of direct marketing and direct mailthe media mix, print production, database utilization and segmentation, creative execution, even fulfillment possibilities and turnaround times. And with the 'baby boomer bulge' moving through the consumer life cycle, tomorrow's 60-year-old or 70-year-old customers will be significantly different from yesterday's or today's. For starters, they will have traveled more, consumed more, most likely [be] college educated, and [have] read about, rather than experienced, the Great Depression."
Pat Friesen, direct response creative strategist, copywriter and president of Pat Friesen & Co.
"Human nature will be exactly the same as it was when the reply form was invented in 1916. But technology will keep on advancing. The planet will be wired. The primary function of mail will be to deliver the products purchased using the Internet. The inevitable advent of privacy [concerns] will bring an end to the use of mailing lists for prospecting. And list exchanges will be limited to names that have opted in for being on an exchange list. The emerging challenge will be using the Internet to find new donors and customers."
Jerry Huntsinger, senior creative consultant at Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co.
"One factor, among many, that will affect direct mail in the next 20 years is what will happen with e-mail. Will there be a tougher 'barrier-to-entry,' which would filter out the bad e-mail and make the good e-mail stand out more? If e-mail, as a medium, starts to create the kind of critical mass audience that direct mail has through solo solicitations, it will have tremendous impact. E-mail has to get better. It's beyond just clutter. There's no penalty for an irrelevant message in e-mail [marketing]. In direct mail, your penalty for an irrelevant message is a loss of money. You don't have that penalty in
e-mail. In e-mail you could market without conscience. If e-mail becomes more of a marketing channel with a conscience, then it's going to compete differently and either have a positive or negative effect on direct mail."
Brian Kurtz, executive vice president at Boardroom
"The increased use of data analytics has revealed sub-markets, forcing us to create alternative offers. This fragmentation will drive the emergence of 'target marketing,' versioning and the promises of the past 30 years. Integration of Web, e-mail and physical address [mail] will allow delivery of multiversioned offers at mass-market advertising costs. Consumers will scan offers of interest and will not even see unwanted messages."
John Miglautsch, author and database marketing expert