5 considerations for personalization and mail

Data is key.  It wins the reader’s attention and loyalty

If digital advertising is Goliath, mail is the proverbial David, considered outdated, slow, and expensive compared to its digital counterparts. But there is a huge benefit to integrating variable-data-printed mail into an omnichannel marketing strategy. Think about it: mail reaches every Canadian; everyone at least glances at thteir mail versus the thousands of emails that lie unopened in inboxes. Mail drives a personalized, memorable interaction that leads to action. Moreover, industrially, equipment and software are on the cusp of producing high-quality, high-speed printing, which is ideal for personalization and mail.

I spoke with John Leonard, vice president of sales and marketing, at Cover-All, to gain his insights into variable data and trends in mail. Nonetheless, this article also explores what variable data printing can mean to printers and marketers who wish to incorporate and sell mail (and print) as part of their services.

Personalization – talk to me about me

The biggest challenge marketers face is that they are dealing with an audience that is adept at ignoring advertising. In a world of hyperconnectivity, consumers are bombarded with messages across multiple digital and physical mediums or devices. This makes the consumer’s attention the scarcest but also the most valuable resource. Bottomline, variable data printing drives personalization, which is key to breaking through the advertising clutter. In a 2017 study by Evergage,  marketers who used personalization programs reported the following results:

  • 88% realized a measurable lift in business results, with 53% reporting a lift greater than 10%, and 10% reporting a lift greater than 30%
  • 63% increased conversion rates 
  • 61% improved overall customer experience 
  • 57% increased visitor engagement 

Personalization drives connectivity. According to CompuMail 2017, adding a person’s name and full colour in direct mail can increase response by 135%, while adding a person’s name, full colour, and more sophisticated database information can increase the response rate by up to 500% versus not doing any of these things. Leonard points to the Air Miles or Optimum Points programs – when consumers receive offers, the promotions are tailored to their habits and as a result, are valuable to them. Recipients should feel like they are not being advertised to but instead offered a product or service they covet.

The case for mail – it’s physical

Unlike electronic media, mail is visceral. It’s one of the best ways to get a message literally into the hands of your audience. Its biggest opportunity lies in the fact that it’s printed, meaning it does not require an opt-in. Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), has curtailed the ability of companies to send unsolicited electronic messages related to commercial activity by penalizing offenders with fines.

As a result, generating new leads can be tricky and expensive if you don’t rent an email list from a reputable source and use it appropriately. Offline products, like mail, are not affected by CASL and are a lucrative tool to reach new markets, generate leads, and collect data that could work in conjunction with digital campaigns.

Although Jeffery Lant states it takes at least seven touchpoints across various channels to reach a prospect before he becomes a lead, new research suggests that it may actually take 18 to 20 touchpoints. Therefore, Leonard sees variable data mail thriving as a component of the digital mix. Because it takes multiple touchpoints to nurture a lead, the ability to touch, see, and interact with mail can drive connectivity to social media engagement. Furthermore, research points to a boost you get when you combine multimedia together. Research by Canada Post and the USPS have found all generations pay attention to mail. 

Risk versus reward

Twenty years ago, mail was the attractive option as it was cheap and easy; now online media and digital advertising are cheaper and faster than mail. However, Leonard is quick to point out that people unconsciously accept mail as trustworthy while consciously linking digital marketing with spamming and scamming. Not only do people notice when they receive a personalized piece of mail, but it conveys the associated idea that more money and time was invested to deliver that message compared to its digital counterparts.

The case for variable data printing and mail should focus on its long-term gains. Digital is small investment, low risk, minimal pay-off. Mail is a calculated risk. In the Data and Marketing Association’s 2017 direct mail statistics, it states that the direct mail household response rate is 5.1% (compared to 0.6% email, 0.6% paid search, 0.2% online display, 0.4% social media). This is the highest response rate the DMA has ever reported since coming out with the Response Rate Report in 2003. Mail’s opportunity lies in going beyond: scrutinizing the data, looking at the marketing strategy and objectives, and identifying the opportunities where those two intersect so that data can drive personalization. 

Execution and ramping up

Many printers do simple personalization. Leonard says that “successful direct marketing is about eliciting some sort of response or reaction.” This means creating a compelling call to action in a piece that “goes beyond simply personalizing with the name but instead creating an environment where they don’t know the piece is personalized. This is not about moving somebody, but giving somebody something that’s very relevant to them and, therefore, valuable.” The uses of photos, text, styles, appearance, colour, and QR codes or PURLS personalized to an individual based on her specific data adds more value for the recipient and can translate into future returns.

Also remember that when designing mail, choose a clear and direct call to action that will elicit a response. That action should feed the next interaction to take place through personalized media. Mail could be the start of the campaign or the end depending on what action you wish the audience to take. A postcard could use a QR code or pURL to drive traffic to a website where users complete a form and opt in to future communication. A piece of mail could be sent when a customer abandons an online shopping cart to remind them of their incomplete purchase. 

Data is at the heart of all personalization. Leonard emphasizes that one of the biggest obstacles to effective variable data printing is the data itself. Not having enough or having incorrect data can be detrimental when creating targeted personalized pieces.

But as important is knowing how to use data in clever and unique ways. Leonard advises the possibilities are, “only limited by the data, the amount of time, the amount effort, and the amount of money you want to put in to create a highly personalized package.” While a printer may not design a product, they can provide insights into how to make it efficiently and suggest options for variable data printing and data uses based on their capabilities and services, thereby positioning themselves as knowledge experts. 

Equipment: innovations and abilities

Printers are under constant pressure for expediency and cost effectiveness. Leonard suggests you’re looking for the answer to three questions: “How do we do something fast? How do we do something that’s personalized? How do we do something that catches people’s attention?” Objectively, equipment and software play a huge role in the success of this process. 

Variable data printing happens through inline or offline finishing equipment or on digital presses. According to Tim Wakefield, president of Insource Corporation, the biggest changes occurring from a production standpoint are the improvements in technology. Across the industry, we’ve seen the growth of digital presses – inkjet and toner machines are now capable of high-quality image production. Though Wakefield warns that, for quality-conscious individuals, inkjet is not yet on par with conventional printing and that porous substrates are the preferred medium.

However, inkjet does benefit from being more economical as its price per page is lower for colour but just as effective, and the technology is more energy efficient. Add in equipment that mechanically performs inline functions like cutting, slitting, addressing and you start to see the efficiencies mount.

In today’s marketplace, personalized mail is not out to defeat digital media. It complements it.  Online advertising may fit in your pocket, but it’s ignored. Mail can lead the actions of recipients as a part of omnichannel campaigns. Print has a lasting impact across society and generations and that’s the characteristic that establishes lucrative business opportunities. 

Mail is a proven way to reach an audience. Crafting a campaign with variable data printing wins over the reader’s attention and loyalty. Leonard’s parting words on mail are “If you don’t get the concept right, if you don’t get the data right, everything else is going to be ineffective. Because when customers succeed with a mail program they’re going to come back and do more mail. When they succeed then we succeed as well.”