Using Direct Mail to Win at Engagement Marketing

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Customized gaming ticket produced by Heeter.
Customized gaming ticket produced by Heeter.

Direct mail is not standing idly by as digital technology makes its mark in the modern marketing environment. Despite a rep as a marketing tool that is dead in the water, direct mail, too, is data-driven, and is now more targeted, more personalized, more relevant, and more efficient.

At least it can be.

Data-driven analytics allows direct mail marketers to customize each piece, with individual's names and addresses, as well as personalized images, using the same data pool that marketers use for email and social media marketing. Additional technology lets direct mail marketers measure efficacy, while driving down costs due to postal discounts.

Direct mail also taps into what McCann CEO Harris Diamond affectionately calls “The Mail Moment;” that little flutter in your stomach you get while opening mail, perhaps tapping into lingering childhood memories of opening up birthday cards sent by grandma. “It's an important moment in people's lives and one that presents great marketing opportunities,” Diamond said at a National Postal Forum event earlier this year.

One issue that keeps cropping up within the direct mail environment is how little marketers understand about the channel's – and make no mistake it is as much a channel as social media and email – capabilities. Used to full effect, direct mail integrates well with email, mobile, and social media marketing as part of an omnichannel campaign.

But how to get the word out to marketers? That was the question of the day at Ricoh's Engagement Marketing Executive Symposium, a three-day event held in Boulder in early November that brought together brand marketers, direct mail providers, and industry consultants. Ricoh manufactures color inkjet presses with variable-data capability, used to produce customized direct mail pieces.

In his opening presentation, Jeff Hayes, managing director of InfoTrends consultancy, shared data gathered in a recent survey on consumers' use of direct mail.

The study offered proof positive of millennials' crush on direct mail. Consumers were asked if they were more likely to read an email with a sales or promotional offer, vs. looking at a direct mail piece; 23% of total respondents preferred email, while 33% answered direct mail. Here's where it gets interesting: broken down by age group, 26% of those in the 18-24 year group preferred email, while 38% preferred direct mail.

Millennials interest in direct mail was also evident in a follow-up question: “Which is more effective at getting you to take action?” Looking at total respondents, 28% said direct mail, 20% said email. Turning just to millennials, 30% said direct mail, 24% said email.

“I think there is a misconception among many marketers that to reach and connect with millennials requires a digital/social-only program,” noted Hayes. “Our research indicates that millennials react more favorably to relevant and creative direct mail pieces than boomers or Gen Xers, particularly when it is part of a multi-channel campaign.”

 At the symposium, Tri-Win Direct and Heeter, as well as Ricoh, made their case touting direct mail's role in the omnichannel marketing mix and how it can contribute to a campaign's ROI.

Heeter, located in Canonsburg, PA, creates actionable and relevant customized direct mail pieces produced on its Ricoh color inkjet press, and used in combination with Imperium, its proprietary personalization and data collection dashboard. Imperium gives Heeter's customers instant access 24/7 to information on their direct mail program's reach, reported Tom Boyle, VP sales and marketing. Customers are able to track their direct mail piece's arrival through MailPRO, allowing the sales team to time their outbound calls to the mail's arrival.

Scott Fish, president of Tri-Win Direct, a direct mail provider based in Dallas, has also used targeted direct mail programs to great effect.  For a quick service restaurant customer, Tri-Win was able to drive revenues up $3,000-$5,000 per store, using full-color, targeted direct mail. And, by taking advantage of postal discounts, it was also less expensive than a traditional direct mail program.

“I knew what our client's goals were, and showed them how to do it better. Our responsibility is to help our customers get the best response possible,” said Fish.

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