We’ve seen the future of direct mail, and it’s awesome

Direct mail from five years ago is drastically different than direct mail today.

Thu Jan 08 10:09:21 EST 2015
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If I had a crystal ball and could look into both the past and future of direct mail, I can guarantee I’d see two completely different scenes. Direct mail from five years ago is drastically different than direct mail today.

Just ask print guru Jim Hamilton, a 27-year graphic arts industry veteran. As a group director at InfoTrends, Hamilton oversees production consulting services, including digital printing, wide format, packaging & labels, production workflow and variable data tools, document outsourcing, market research, and forecasting for product and market analysis reports.

In a recent conversation, Hamilton shared his thoughts on the direct mail industry – both where it is today and where he thinks it’s headed.

What’s the hottest thing happening in direct mail right now?

According to Hamilton, marketing automation is the hottest trend right now. Giving people what they want when they want it is crucial in the grand scheme of the marketing mix.

Perhaps most importantly, you have to be able to do this across multiple channels. You want to connect with your consumers online, with social media for example, but you also need mobile and email marketing.

With tools like quick response (QR), augmented reality (AR), near field communication and personalized URLs (PURLs), marketers can use print pieces to engage with consumers online. PURLs also help in the automation process. Campaigns can be set up to trigger emails to customers based on activity and inactivity, and connect with social media networks to reach consumers. At the same time, PURLs track the campaign numbers, which you can use to help figure out your marketing return on investment.

How can you be personal—without being creepy?

Digital printing has changed the landscape of what’s possible with direct mail. With variable imaging and messaging, marketers can create more relevant communications. But how do you avoid coming off as creepy?

First and foremost, Hamilton recommends leveraging more than just a person’s name. There are so many elements that you can consider when making collateral more relevant to the recipient. He suggests diving into specific locations, even a specific neighborhood, or looking at buying patterns and playing off what interests your recipients.

Hamilton suggests not saying, “We saw you bought product X; here are products Y & Z that complement your recent purchase nicely.” Instead, get creative and use what you know about them. If they’ve been purchasing the same can of tomatoes on a consistent basis, why not send them a recipe featuring their preferred brand and offer up a coupon?

When it comes to the creepiness factor, Hamilton made an excellent point that the Internet has greatly impacted what will creep consumers out. Think about it – today you can go to virtually any site and ads will pop up in the sidebar that advertise the exact product you just Googled. That’s normal, not creepy.

Digital printing has also made it possible to print variable messaging on outer envelopes that can capture a recipient’s attention and drive them to find out what’s inside. Pitney Bowes client, Wilen Direct, did just that with Pitney Bowes Print+ Messenger™ Color Inkjet System, and their customers are reaping the benefits. You can read their success story here.

Where is the industry going?

Perhaps my favorite part of our conversation was hearing what Hamilton had to say about the future.

We currently hear a lot about digital inkjet Web technologies and how they’re impacting the digital sphere of printing, from highly variable books where literally every single page is unique, to variable couponing paired with variable perforation.

The next step, according to Hamilton, is towards cut-sheet inkjet solutions. The option of printing on separate sheets can help boost productivity rates, plus it’s cost-effective for direct mailers that don’t quite have the volume to consider digital inkjet Web solutions.

The Future is Exciting

Anyone who’s been in the direct mail industry for the last five to 10 years understands how quickly the digitization of the world is affecting the print component of direct marketing. The future will be no different.

Whether you’re looking for interaction, or simply want to get more creative with variability at larger volumes, the future may just be what you’re waiting for.

Learn how Pitney Bowes can help you create successful direct mail campaigns in 2015 with our Direct Mail Solutions.