Most people tend to think of direct mail as a traditional, maybe even old-fashioned medium. Letters and catalogs sent via USPS, with an order form or phone call as the means of responding to a product or service offer. The reality is that direct mail has become increasingly reliant on technology over the years. While direct mail has traditionally been viewed as an effective way to support or increase digital marketing efforts, direct mail circulation today is just as technology-reliant as inbound marketing, email marketing or any other form of modern-day marketing. Some may even argue that the “print-to-digital” paradigm is about to be flipped. Information marketers gather online from intent data and other browsing behaviors will be used to increase direct mail circulation efforts; it will be a “digital-to-print” marketing world.
As technology evolves, direct mail will continue to change, incorporating new advances to help marketers improve their ability to reach the right customers. Here are three ways online technology has and continues to reshape direct mail circulation strategy today.
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The Customer’s Path to Purchase
Today’s consumer is bombarded with ads like never before. The average person is exposed to more than 5,000 brand messages each day. These messages often come in the form of conventional advertisements, but marketing messages have also taken on different forms. Social media, YouTube videos and creative hash tagging are just a few methods of communication that didn’t exist a decade ago but hold tremendous power over the modern marketplace.
All of this is to say that the linear path to purchase doesn’t really exist anymore. Yes, you can send out direct mail and get your desired response via the call to action you described in your direct mail piece. But that doesn’t mean your mailer was the only factor in facilitating that response. The truth is that the number of people who consider only the direct mail piece they received when deciding whether or not to respond to a direct mail offer is virtually zero.
That’s not so much an indicator of direct mail’s inadequacy as it is a reflection of the wealth of research options available to every customer. According to a PwC study, 88 percent of consumers — seven out of every eight — research products online before making a purchase. Today’s customers can go online and access unbiased reviews from people who have purchased from your company in the past. They can post on social media and gauge the responses of their friends and family. They can look at videos that show exactly how your products work and look.
All of these factors weigh heavily in the decision-making process of anyone who considers a direct mail offer. And in the end, that’s a good thing. Knowledge is power. It creates a more educated consumer who knows exactly what they want; meaning a satisfied customer will understand the true value of their purchase and become an even bigger advocate of your company. This knowledge base can also help you craft the best direct mail pieces possible, and it can help you to deliver those messages to the ideal mix of customers and prospects.
How Marketers Build Direct Mail Lists
Technology doesn’t just help customers learn about your products or services before the sale and what happens after the sale. It also helps companies market more efficiently. Direct mail circulation is one area that significantly benefits from advances in technology.
Modern marketing is more sophisticated than ever before. Analytical tools give you the ability to track virtually anything that relates to a given customer. Certain marketing disciplines, such as inbound marketing, are largely based around this tracking technology. But the power of modern technology is even greater when it comes to direct mail.
In the case of inbound marketing, the entire model is built around an email list. If the customer signs up for the list, inbound marketing can do amazing things to appeal to that customer. However, if they pass on the company’s call to action, that company is left without the ability to track that individual. Direct mail isn’t subject to this one essential action that can make or break your campaign. In fact, it’s not hard at all to fill your mailing list with interested prospects.
Technology fills the ultimate gap that exists in direct mail — specifically, that segment of potentially interested prospects who aren’t in your house file. With breakthroughs in data analytics, direct marketers can study the traffic of their website to see how consumers are interacting with the company and what buyers are truly interested in. For example, you might go out of your way to market to someone who has visited your site multiple times in a short period of time or someone who has spent considerable time on your product or Contact Us pages. It’s a great way to identify those people who have raised their hands to indicate that they’re ready to enter a relationship with your brand. This intent data is revolutionizing the direct mail industry, and it lets you know where your browsers and their interests are right now. You don’t have to rely on transactional data to predict current consumer behavior, nor do you have to merely hope for a favorable response rate.
Today, it’s easier than ever to craft the perfect direct mail circulation list, and it wouldn’t be possible without major strides in content management systems, integration software and many other areas of web software and technology.
How Marketers Distribute Direct Mail
Your new-found ability to track individual consumers has repercussions well beyond targeting the right customers and prospects. You’ll also be able to provide a much more individualized, customer-focused approach that not only greets the recipient by name, but that also tells them exactly how your product can resolve their specific pain points or meet their desires at this very moment.
Data gives you a multi-pronged attack. Not only does it tell you who to market to and what to show them; it also tells you when to market to those individuals. For example, suppose a browser to your site spends a lot of time looking at many types of women’s dress shoes. She clicks on many individual product pages and even moves a few to her wish list or places a pair in her cart, but she doesn’t check out to finish the purchase. With programmatic direct mail, you can print off personalized postcards with an image of the pair of shoes waiting in her cart, an address to a local store if she wants to purchase in-store rather than online and a discount she can use in-store or online. And you can send this to her within days of when she went online to find a pair of shoes because she’s interested now.
And for catalog circulation where you’re mailing large batches rather than individual mail pieces, intent data gives you’re the ability to better gauge the frequency of your mailings. You’ll know if you should send your catalogs to a specific consumer only once during your mailing season or if they would be receptive to multiple mailings.
Modern[a1] technology can take this approach for bulk mailings one step further. By utilizing QR codes, landing pages and promo codes, it’s easier than ever to track the effectiveness of your direct mail approach. If a given customer doesn’t utilize those tracking-based means of responding to your offer, you can follow up with a more personalized mailer directed specifically to that individual.
But there’s more to the collection of data than simply verifying that someone visited your website and might be interested in learning more. There’s an additional piece — understanding why this consumer sought your company out and identifying the problem you can solve for that individual. Using intent data is what can really put your direct mail program into the next stratosphere. Once you know who someone is, what their desire or need is and how your company can fill that need, the hard work is done.
The Future of Direct Mail Is in Technology
Buyer intent is the true crux of the technological revolution. Not only can it help your next direct mail campaign, but it can help you understand your customers better as a whole. This will help your business in many ways. Every segment of your company, from direct mail distribution to customer service to your other forms of advertising, stands to benefit from an enhanced understanding of your audience and some concrete examples of how you’ve helped those customers.
It’s common for the detractors of direct mail to refer to it as an old, out of touch, costly method of advertising. This could not be further from the truth. Technology is a valuable asset for planning direct mail circulation, understanding buyer intent and timed distribution. The information age has given new life to direct mail, and as the world around us changes, so too will the role of direct mail.