Permission to know me: the personalization of direct mail

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In the vast expanse of today's media-accelerated world, the battle marketers are facing to effectively reach consumers through a myriad of media granules is a fierce one.

Individuals increasingly expect to consume media when and where they want, on any platform or device, and in any context. Moreover, the proliferating trend of consumer-generated media, as seen through YouTube, MySpace and the like, has caused customers to become increasingly more selective over the media vehicles they not only take notice of but respond to.

For direct mail marketers in particular, this battle is waged against dominating segments of digital media platforms. Online advertisements, satellite radio, RRS feeds, newspapers, books and magazines, DVRs, text messages and blogs are all playing their parts in stealing the attention of consumers away from the tangible marketing items delivered directly to their mailboxes.

So how then do direct mail marketers select the right consumer to send the right message to at the right time? Will highly personalized direct mail pieces based on individuals' behaviors, attitudes and lifestyles effectively capture consumers' attention or scare them away with a seeming invasion of privacy? In order to connect with consumers on a personal level, we must first examine and understand the four types of consumer groups that marketers should be targeting based on attitudes, behaviors and motivations. These groups are:

Movers and Shapers: Consumers who are part of this category are often described as open-minded individuals in constant pursuit of new stimulation in life - from new clothing to fast cars to active careers. It is a high-energy group that does not like to be controlled or limited. Movers and shapers do, however, constantly seek the acceptance and companionship of others.

Daredevils are known for their competitive natures and constant need of recognition from others: Often, consumers in this group accomplish this by taking risks through unorthodox behavior. These individuals value status, which is often reflected by their physical appearance and purchase selections.

Wannabes: Consumers in this segment often aspire to be like other groups who have what they want and know how to enjoy life. These adults use their energy and activity to achieve the entertainment they seek and are often attracted to unique and different experiences. This group has a difficult time connecting with others.

Guardians: Of all groups, these consumers are least likely to accept change and often plan ahead to avoid unexpected situations. Close, personal relationships are important to this group, which values tradition and routine. They are least likely to become leaders and most likely to follow in the footsteps of others.

Between the plethora of highly fragmented media and the presence of varying consumer segments and attitudes in the marketplace, it would seem that a highly targeted direct mail marketing campaign would be the most effective approach for a company to rise above the media clutter. Consider this scenario: an outdoor gear and clothing retailer is looking to bring in new customers for its annual Memorial Day sale. Store marketers should consider targeting "Daredevils" making more than $50,000 a year who've shown interest in similar retailers, through a direct postcard mailing offering deals on high-end adventure gear used only by the best in the sport.

However, not all consumers desire personalized mail from outside entities - known or unknown - to appear directly in their mailboxes. The fears of identify theft and the eye of "Big Brother" looming down on us are often present when a mail piece speaks directly to our hobbies, income and gender. Consequently, it is important for companies to choose marketing partners that have the ability to understand the needs and wants for personalized direct mail items and that have the research and experience to support their insights.

In a 2007 Vertis Customer Focus Direct Mail study, 69 percent of "movers and shapers" and 63 percent of "wannabes" surveyed said when they express interest in a company's product, they desire follow-up direct mail to be personalized to their needs. In this same study, the 70 percent of total adults who indicated the desire to receive e-mail and direct mail advertisements that is targeted toward their individual needs were currently employed. Conversely, of the adults wishing to receive general email and direct mail communications, only 50 percent were employed.

Examining this "permission to know me" phenomenon a little bit closer, 51 percent of Hispanic e-mail ad readers surveyed indicate the desire for actual direct mail pieces personalized to their needs, while 39 percent surveyed wish only to receive generic direct mail items. Study findings also show of the total adults who expressed interest in a product from a company, 48 percent surveyed prefer follow-up communication to be in the form of personalized direct mail, as opposed to 45 percent who desire personalized e-mail, and 33 percent who desire general direct mail follow up.

Digging deeper still across various consumer segments, the 2007 Customer Focus Direct Mail research indicates that 57 percent of women ages 35-49 surveyed view direct mail tailored to their unique needs as acceptable forms of follow-up communication from a company whose product they've expressed interest in, compared to 48 percent of total adults. Additionally in the same survey, 38 percent of men in this same age group said direct mail containing generic information was an acceptable from of follow-up communication, compared with 33 percent of total adults.

Although the majority of adults may desire personalized direct mail delivered to their mailbox, marketers must still strive to understand the thoughts and feelings behind the types of direct mail that triggers consumer responses rates. The secret to an effective marketing strategy lies in finding a marketing partner that can help you understand your target audience - including their personalized communication preferences - to ensure they are being touched in the most effective manner. By getting personal with your prospects, you are more likely to establish a long-lasting relationship with your key audiences, especially in today's increasingly impersonal digital world.

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