The Dawn of Digital Détente?


“It doesn’t really matter if you’re the chief marketing officer of a national retailer or the owner of a pizza shop in a college town—you’re a marketer who is making decisions about how to reach customers and drive traffic to your business. And every marketer should be taking a fresh look at mail.”

The name of the man who delivered that remark Wednesday at the national Postal Customer Council (PCC) conference in Salt Lake City won’t surprise you. It was none other than Postmaster General Pat Donahoe (above), the Don Draper of the United States Postal Service, whose job it is to question the sanity of anyone who questions the continuing value of direct mail campaigns. But Donahoe’s remark brought back to mind a conversation I had just the other day with a Silicon Valley veteran who let on to me that the seeders of the marketing clouds, the progenitors of programmatic buying, the machine-learned masters of data analytics had themselves discovered a new marketing tool. Yes, direct mail, among other quaint offline methods.

David Rodnitzky, the CEO and founder of digital agency 3Q, which counts GoPro, Square, and Warby Parker among its clients, was telling me that the most important part of his job was to always be imagining what the marketing world would be doing 18 months in the future. Commenting that, with the speed of change these days that was like Galileo imagining the Hubble telescope, I challenged him to reveal one of his current prognostications. “You’re going to see more integration of offline and online methods, and the trend is going to be led by the companies in Silicon Valley,” Rodnitzky said.

Of course. It makes sense. The woman with straight hair dreams of cascading curls. The rich kid dreams of becoming a proletarian poet. It’s only natural that the inventors of digital cookies would be smitten with a real working kitchen. “You are going to see more digital companies integrating their own marketing efforts with TV and direct mail,” Rodnitzky says. “They’ve realized that it remains an essential way to reach customers.”

As Congress returns to work this week and dithers over whether a legislative life raft is in the cards this year for a foundering Postal Service, the stalwart Donahoe goes about his business. And lately that business is about making digital integration easy for car dealers and credit card peddlers, as well as for cloud creators.

“The Postal Service is doing everything that it can to create a more technology-centric delivery platform. We know that’s a key to your growth and the growth of the industry,” Donahoe told the PCC crowd, which was peppered with bulk mailers. “We’re geo-fencing every address in America. This creates a digital signature for every delivery location. We’re also giving our letter carriers robust mobile devices.”

The PMG preached that the Postal Service has become beholden to four ideas:

  • Leveraging data to make mail more personally relevant
  • Using technology to increase conversions via mail
  • Expanding the functionality of mail by enabling interactivity with mobile devices
  • Becoming more creative with possibilities for direct mail

Is there a digital détente in the works? Are the poles of digital and analog gravitating magnetically toward the middle? Here’s an idea for you, Pat. Like Nixon venturing to Moscow to meet Brezhnev, why not pay a diplomatic visit to the Valley? Sit down and sip vodka (or craft Tequila or whatever) with Larry Ellison and Jeff Bezos and bring down the Iron Curtain between online and offline. It won’t win you a Nobel Peace Prize, to be sure, but you need something to do while Congress continues to let your fate flutter in the wind.

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