Tech Line

In the Crowded Attention Economy, Direct Mail Still Stands Out

One of the common traps marketing leaders fall into is expecting lightning-quick results. If a program or initiative doesn’t deliver immediate, decisive wins, it’s tempting to double down or, more often than not, move onto the “Next Great Thing.” Quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive digital messaging feeds this tornado.  

However, as the attention economy heats up and the battle for clicks, ratings, and dollars accelerates, continuing to pursue a flawed formula won’t produce a better outcome.

Yes, it can be wise to fail fast, learn, and move forward; but it’s also good to be creative and take smart risks. Standing out in today’s crowded marketplace involves more than merely carpet-bombing customers with inexpensive and often unwanted digital messaging and moving on to the next version of the same thing when it doesn’t work.  

Instead, it’s critical to put the right message in the right form in front of customers at the right time. Direct mail plays a key role in this equation. It can grab attention and make products, services, and intentions more tangible for customers. Ultimately, CMOs that focus on customer engagement through an elevated hybrid marketing experience are poised for far greater success.  

Engagement is All About Quality

The history of marketing is littered with missed opportunities and ambitious marketing plans gone wrong. The rush to digitization—partly spawned by the pandemic—has further complicated things. In today’s attention economy, digital burnout is a real and growing problem, according to an April 2022 report from Forrester Research, Hybrid Experiences Bring Direct Mail Into The Digital Age.  

While today’s digital solutions—including analytics, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT)—offer a powerful framework that should be included in the arsenal of any marketing leader, there’s also a common trap that CMOs can fall into: chasing shiny objects and relying too heavily on digital tools and touchpoints. As a result, they build a digital strategy at the exclusion of a total strategy that includes both physical and digital components.

The result? “Emails that get ignored, phone calls that lie forever at the bottom of a voicemail inbox, and banner ads that fail to register an eye flicker,” Forrester points out. In the attention economy that’s not good enough. All of this, Forrester adds, has “trained…buyers to duck and cover when marketers reach out, rather than lean in and engage.”

Treating customer attention as if it’s a cheap and expendable commodity is not a strategy for long-term results. Doubling down or becoming more provocative most likely won’t help either.

It’s an approach destined to underperform—and even fail. Treating customer attention as if it’s a cheap and expendable commodity is not a strategy for long-term results. Doubling down or becoming more provocative most likely won’t help either. While an occasional digital campaign might hit the mark and deliver the desired results, striking out much of the time simply translates into lost dollars and missed opportunities.

Changing the Touchpoints to Get Noticed

That’s where a hybrid marketing approach enters the picture—and helps a brand stand out. Yes, it’s possible to deliver personalized and contextually relevant messaging digitally—and that’s certainly part of any successful marketing strategy.  

However, what’s often overlooked as marketing leaders adopt a laser-like focus on digital touchpoints and the metrics that surround them is that physical touchpoints matter too. Finding the right blend of these two worlds—creating a rich hybrid experience—is what leads to higher levels of engagement and ultimately a total experience (TX) that feeds bottom-line results.

Consider: Forrester found that 81 percent of B2B marketers are likely to open a direct mail package, and 78 percent of marketing organizations using analog touchpoints, including direct mail, report that they have observed improved performance. When direct mail is effectively combined with digital messaging, the two are used synergistically, making it possible to stand out.

As Forrester puts it: “[Direct mail] works best when applied as one part of an organizations’ overall marketing strategy, complementing and amplifying other digital and human touchpoints in the buyer journey.” This means using it at the right moments in the customer lifecycle and identifying the points at which it improves engagement and leads customers down the path to a sale.

In fact, 72 percent of the marketing leaders surveyed by Forrester said that analog marketing is an effective tool for early product or service discovery, 63 percent said it plays a key role at the point of conversion, and 54 percent noted that direct marketing helps foster deeper brand relationships and encourage customer advocacy.  As a result, Forrester reported, these companies are steadily increasing their investments in direct mail.

Know Thy Customer

If there’s a clear takeaway from this research, it’s that the fusion of direct mail and physical assets into a hybrid marketing framework pays big dividends for most brands. It’s the most effective way of getting noticed in the attention economy. Post cards, brochures, samples, and other promotional items—while perhaps a bit more costly than digital methods—deliver value. They’re tangible and real.

Of course, there’s no point in sending a glossy travel brochure to someone who doesn’t travel or an expensive cosmetic sample to a person who would never use it. But what’s often overlooked is that this is no different from sending unwanted emails. Instead, CMOs and other marketing leaders must adopt a more sophisticated approach based on real-time and predictive analytics. It’s critical to understand exactly where someone is in the buying cycle, as well as that person’s preferences.

With this data on hand, it’s possible to nail down personas more accurately. Marketing leaders can identify ways to grab customer attention early in the marketing funnel or nudge someone toward a purchase if he or she is at a critical inflection point and receptive to the message. No less important: it’s possible to know when to be quiet. Just because they bought something last week doesn’t mean they’re eager to buy more this week.  

Strategic and Sustainable Approach

When someone receives the right message at the right time—direct mail or digital—the odds for success rise exponentially. And even if they don’t buy at the moment, they’re likely to keep the product or service in mind for the future. When marketing leaders embrace this hybrid approach and use analytics to understand customers in broader and deeper ways, short-term and scattershot thinking tends to evaporate—and a more strategic and sustainable approach takes shape. These brands stand out in the attention economy.

In the end, this hybrid approach boosts customer satisfaction levels and contributes to coveted TX that’s part of a best practice marketing framework. Putting the methodology to work effectively, it’s finally possible to adopt a longer-term and more holistic view of marketing. The most successful CMOs understand that a winning strategy is all about delivering what truly matters to an individual—not the brand. These marketing leaders are then able to transform the attention economy into a competitive advantage.