Direct mail: an avenue to acquisition and engagement in a digital world

Direct mail: an avenue to acquisition and engagement in a digital world

Direct mail: an avenue to acquisition and engagement in a digital worldThey say you have one opportunity to make a good first impression. At one point, marketers believed digital advertising could solve all their problems. However, with ad blockers, privacy laws and dwindling attention spans, customers have learned to easily ignore much of today’s advertising. “But the nice thing about a postcard in your mailbox is you get a 100% open rate,” said Steve Falk, President of Prime Data, a company based in Aurora, Ontario that specializes in creating, building and sustaining deeper and more rewarding relationships through variable, data-driven printing and mail. This quote illustrates that mail still has a prevalent place in marketing as an effective tactic to grow and engage an audience.

Where mail excels is in its memorability, timeliness and support for digital marketing. For any form of advertising to be successful, you need the right audience receiving the right message at the right time. If marketers want to take advantage of an opportunity, they need to respond quickly. And while “snail mail” may be perceived as slow, most campaigns are planned well in advance allowing for timely delivery of memorable content. According to the Data & Marketing Association, 42.2% of direct-mail recipients either read or scan the mail they get. When a customer skims the contents of his or her mailbox, you’re guaranteed that a person reads it. Perhaps they didn’t read all the details, but they took a lot in and they remembered it. More importantly, the tangibility of mail means it’s kept around – discount coupons on the fridge, a magazine on the coffee table, even a take-out menu in a drawer. In addition, Canada Post found that:

  • 95% of Canadians open their mail the day it arrives.
  • 68% of Canadians open their mail immediately.
  • 70% of Canadians are likely to respond to flyers.
  • Direct mail outperforms email response rates by 30 times.
  • Canadians consider direct mail three times more trustworthy than social media.

Acquisition and engagement

Mail, in most cases, falls into two categories: acquisition and engagement. Marketers strive to achieve both – acquire new customers and engage with their existing ones to drive more sales. Therefore, printers should position themselves as knowledgeable mail ‘partners’ so they can suggest the right mail product to fit a customer’s marketing strategy, while also adhering to Canada Post guidelines and their own production capabilities. Canada Post’s three core direct-mail products are neighbourhood mail, personalized mail, and postal code targeting. Each achieves a different objective, and understanding when to use each one is essential to an effective marketing strategy.

Acquisition mail fills the pipeline with customers, especially new ones. Flyers, discount coupons and postcards are products that excel at this. “For example, Boston Pizza doesn’t need to know who’s receiving their coupons. If you’re in their area, they’re going to blanket it with mail because everybody is a potential pizza eater.” Falk advises all printers to start providing neighbourhood mail as a logical upsell to complement their current sales and marketing efforts.

Neighborhood, or non-personalized, mail has seen a little uptick recently in part due to discounts Canada Post is passing on to to end-users. Canada Post sees the value in providing some promotional prices and volume pricing in order to make it easier for new mail providers to attract customers. Neighbourhood mail is ideal for acquisition because it’s cheap and mass-produced. Printers can upsell mail to clients so they can distribute printed materials on their clients’ behalf via Canada Post. To begin using mail, a printer becomes a Smartmail Partner and can use Electronic Shipping Tools (EST 2.0) and Precision Targeter to plan neighbourhood mailings that utilize basic demographic features of the routes to better target a more specific audience and prepare mailings. Printers and customers alike can take advantage of volume-based discounts and special promotional prices from Canada Post to leverage neighbourhood mail to reach a wider swath of customers quickly.

Engagement mail, on the other hand, exists at the other end of the spectrum. Where acquisition mail may be considered “junk mail” by some, engagement mail is always welcomed. Falk elaborates that engagement is “anything that improves the lifetime value of a customer or a donor, improves the relationship they have with you and your organization, and makes them feel great about it. So, it’s personalized, and it understands the needs of that person.” This is a relationship nurtured over time. Once you’ve collected meaningful data on that individual, you can then use it for targeted, tailored communications to suit that specific customer. Sending the same mail piece repeatedly is an example of poor engagement, where you’ve done nothing to demonstrate that you better understand or appreciate your customers.

Because Canada Post has reduced the minimum volume to a hundred pieces for personalized mail, printers and businesses can take advantage of short print runs for hyper-personalized mailings. For companies that work with programmatic printing, hyper-personalization is possible based on real-time analytic data where you respond to the actions of a customer – such as an abandoned shopping cart. Falk has noticed that “digital marketers are realizing that they get some of the biggest, most beneficial relationships built around small print batches. They usually find this by doing something like handwriting notes. The ideal online customer buys something regularly, and the company tries emails and programmatic stuff, and it doesn’t move the person because they just think it’s a computer and a program.” Switching to sending a letter where customers feel appreciated by the company makes people happy because physical mail is so different from programmatic emails. With digital printing this is something many small printers can easily do.

Postal Code Targeting (PCT) is the median between neighbourhood and personalized mail. It’s a great acquisition option with some creative choices made for specific demographic and psychographic audience interests. PCT allows customers to send a mailing that targets specific postal codes and audiences while suppressing existing customers in that area. This allows for the delivery of a generic printed piece to untouched audience members with specific demographic features.

Print supports digital marketing strategies

A printed piece is a tangible complement to any online campaign, creating a memorable product to echo a digital counterpart. It’s only logical for printers to choose digital printing options that allow them to print full-colour, high quality, variable data pieces quickly at an affordable rate. A huge part of marketing is seizing the “now” – which is critical to getting much better responses. For Falk, “you want to be able to produce personalized colour communications (and fast). That’s what digital marketing is good at. But now, print can play that game too and boost digital results immensely.”

However, Falk cautions that customers need to have a digital footprint to be successful. Printers need to be able to offer ‘sage advice’ to customers. If the customer isn’t yet online, then doing a mail campaign will be rendered moot. The first thing most customers do when they want to find out about a company is “Google” it. If your clients have no consistency across their channels, including an online presence (i.e. a user-friendly website and are active on social media), then a direct mail campaign could be ineffective and most likely a waste of money.

Mail definitely matters

It’s easy to see why direct mail matters. For marketers, it offers an avenue to engage with their audience and stand out in an oversaturated advertising landscape. For printers, they can position themselves as knowledge leaders offering a variety of mail solutions and expertise. As mail becomes more personalized and programmatic, the focus will shift to engagement because persuasive copy, paired with engaging visuals and bolstered by personalization, makes mail adept at standing out. Furthermore, as Canada Post works to allay consumers’ concerns and rebuild trust in the wake of their strike last fall, there have been shifts in their product offerings, with ongoing product adjustments, discounts, and volume pricing that indicates that they’re adapting to current markets.

Although mail volumes may decrease, the value of the interaction will be stronger and more powerful, especially when echoed with a digital counterpart. Falk offers this anecdote: “With mail now, there’s less of it in my mailbox, so it’s more meaningful. Even my daughter, when she got her letter from the president of her university with her acceptance information, she was sure the president had written to her – despite the fact that it was likely created by software.”

These little interactions make direct mail more timely and more memorable, surpassing anything on a computer screen.