Tech Line

Bringing Direct Mail into the Digital Age

Direct mail has been an effective tool for marketers across industries since the dawn of, well, mail. In fact, research shows that more than half of consumers want direct mail from brands that interest them. What’s more, 70 percent of them say these physical engagements are more personal than online interactions. Now it’s time for direct mail to realize its full potential in the digital age.

Historically, direct mail was expensive, poorly targeted, and time-consuming. And since direct mail has traditionally been siloed from the broader digital marketing efforts of an organization, marketers have lacked the ability to quantify the value that it can deliver for their business.

These shortfalls led many marketers to instead opt for digital advertising, promotions, and communications that could be easily mapped back to leads and revenue. Yet these newer methods often don’t create traction among prospects who are bombarded by emails, texts, ads, and notifications—to the point of digital fatigue. In fact, a recent report found that more than half of enterprise employees are experiencing digital fatigue due to the volume of digital promotions they receive at work. Thankfully, modern approaches to direct mail can be a powerful tactic to engage fatigued audiences and drive them to take action.

The evolution of direct mail

Marketers have been using direct mail to generate revenue since the late 1800s, and while it hasn’t been thought of as cutting-edge for a while, it has actually become more meaningful to consumers as we get buried in digital communications. Consumers are five to nine times more likely to respond to direct mail than any other marketing channel.

Early on, letters and postcards sent out to households or businesses en masse using a “spray-and-pray” approach inadvertently turned direct mail into “junk mail.” Junk mail—irrelevant direct mail from marketers—has been frowned upon for decades. The Saturday Evening Post published an article about advertising lists and stated, “No form of advertising makes more people madder than direct mail.” That article was published in 1944, yet marketers are still blindly sending pieces of direct mail.

Direct mail has evolved to include everything from personalized gifts to sophisticated brochures and other promotional materials—all of which can be tailored for the individual receiving it by tapping into digital insights to make direct mail more personalized. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the manual, time-consuming process of creating, sending, and tracking these direct mail pieces has been holding marketing teams back. Until now.

Tech-enablement brings direct mail into the 21st century

New automation and AI technologies are increasingly unifying the process of executing direct mail tactics and making them more efficient. The new tech-enabled wave of direct mail is not only more personalized, but also provides marketers with verifiable metrics to demonstrate success at a granular level as well as a birds-eye view.

  • Automation holds the key to overcoming many of the manual and time-consuming challenges of direct mail. After behavioral user data is evaluated, it can be used to determine digital intent signals and automatically send the most appropriate item or communication to an individual.

Automation can also be used when consumers are in the most critical moments of a brand-engagement lifecycle. A great example is automatically identifying and sending gifts to clients for yearly anniversaries of their partnership or if they’ve completed a training certification.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) hold the potential to radically optimize the direct mail experience. ML can be used to target direct mail campaigns to relevant audiences, resulting in higher ROI and less waste of money, time, and resources. AI can be used to gather the right set of data points across the entire customer journey to inform marketing decisions and deliver the right asset to the customer at the right time.

Analyzing intent signals to develop targeted mailing lists through AI and spending more money on thoughtful, personalized gifts can help to make direct mail pieces more relevant to the recipient. This approach is more likely to be effective, and a brand is more likely to secure a one-time purchase or build brand affinity.

Bringing modern direct mail to life

We are already seeing digital efforts topping out—a study to see how often emails translate into sales equated the effectiveness of email marketing to one-in-12 million. If companies solely rely on email automation to target their external audiences, they will continue to squeeze only a fraction of a percentage increase in response rates and earning attention will only become increasingly difficult.

It’s time to realign marketing efforts to meet the needs of the modern buyer through physical touchpoints such as direct mail. Businesses risk being ignored and left behind by buyers if they do not lean into technology to modernize their marketing strategies with touchpoints that provide a tangible alternative to today’s digital deluge.