It’s Not Magic: Why It Pays to Demystify Direct Mail Technological Capabilities

Understanding direct mail technology can help you improve your operational efficiency.

Thu Jun 04 14:35:00 EDT 2015

In my consultant/creative services director role, I’ve observed that service bureau owners, managers and salespeople spend lots of time explaining how new direct mail technologies work – but rarely much time on the “why,” by which I mean the many benefits they bring.  So I frequently end up translating the advantages and opportunities offered by these new technologies but, honestly, those of you selling the services have a lot to gain by doing this yourselves. So I thought it might be helpful to identify, from my perspective, the key benefits of some of the most compelling new technologies now available.

Who Needs to Know What?

Let’s start by acknowledging that there are as many as five parties in the direct mail marketing, creative, and production ecosystem, all of whom can benefit from understanding the opportunities for better-quality direct mail creative, as well as postage savings on the production side. These are:

  • Developers of technologies and capabilities (like Pitney Bowes).
  • Resellers of technologies, who translate features into benefits (service bureaus such as list and data processors, printers, and lettershops that offer the technology).
  • Creative teams (the copywriter and designer teams who may be in-house, inside an agency, or freelance).
  • Production teams (if the marketing company is sizable, there is often a team tasked with overseeing production, but in smaller organizations this role may take the form of direct communication between the service bureau, creative team and marketing executives).
  • Marketers (executives, product managers, or marketing managers who stand to benefit from both better quality creative and postage savings).

Anyone with experience in direct mail knows there are three factors that weigh on the success (and profit) of a direct mail package. For generations, we’ve crowned those three as the list, offer, and creative. From my point of view, there ought to be two more on that list as well, both of which heavily impact the bottom line: print technology and postage savings.

Why They Should Care about New Technology

Even the most targeted list of people will buy more if sent a great offer, one that features persuasive copy and clarity of design. When your direct mail doesn’t take advantage of eye-catching production opportunities or you spend too much on postage for it, you are losing money.

So here’s what we marketing folks and creative people what to know:

  • Can you print snazzy outer envelopes? Based on my experience, colorful and attention-grabbing outer envelopes almost always perform best. New technologies make these much more affordable than they used to be – so please take the opportunity to give me ideas of what you can do to punch up the envelope.
  • What do variable-data printing jobs turn out looking like? We want to use photos and content that is relevant enough to grab a prospect’s attention, so we love it when service bureaus show us how it’s done. For instance, provide samples showing us how marketers use data on, say, previous purchases, by prominently displaying a photo of a related product on the letter, catalog or other printed piece. Or perhaps one that uses photos based on ethnicity or that integrates a person’s name in the image they are seeing. Sharing ideas helps you build value and loyalty from a marketing and creative team.
  • Are there ways to simplify data hygiene? Show output reports to the marketing team and explain what they mean. When appropriate, suggest how to tweak parameters to either tighten (or loosen) criteria to mail less (or more). Also show us how we can test those segments.
  • Are there advantages to using a service bureau for small mailings? If a prospective client wonders about the cost of inserting just a few hundred pieces of mail, explain how automation can offer a significant reduction in postage costs. A common misperception is that it’s less costly to hand-insert small mailings of a few dozen or hundred pieces – but that means foregoing postage savings. Plus, humans make mistakes more often than equipment.
  • Are there things you can do better than the USPS? For instance, presorting. Sometimes it needs to be explained to marketing and creative staff that the USPS is more focused on delivering mail than sorting it. Presorting mail to ZIP code level before it gets to the USPS saves cash. Also, marketers and creative staff often don’t know that some presort resources will update addresses during a last pass, after the piece is addressed and the components are sealed inside. These are ways to save both delivery time and postage.
  • What aesthetic compromises are worth considering? As a creative director, I confess that I deplore Intelligent Mail barcodes (IMb) on outer envelopes because they are so ugly – but when I see the tremendous discounts the USPS offers mailers who use IMb technology, I’m persuaded to overlook the ugly factor. Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to A/B split-test direct mail with ugly IMb codes versus the more attractive presentation of a neatly personalized name and address, but I suspect the tests would fail to find a statistically confident difference.
  • Why should I mingle with other marketers? Commingling saves money, which reduces pressure on the creative to generate a high response – but it can make some marketers nervous. Reassure me that you’ll send the mail to a reputable commingling facility that can handle all shapes, sizes, and colors. Remind me how much time this step can save too, by explaining that even though commingling the mail may take a couple of days, that time will be made up by how quickly it gets delivered afterward. Typically it ends up arriving sooner.

As technology continues to play an ever more important role in the production and postage savings of direct mail, take advantage of it as an opportunity to have productive discussions with all the players in the direct mail creative and production ecosystem. And be prepared to be surprised with how easy it is to generate higher response and save money. just because of all the possibilities you have demystified!

Learn more about how you can take advantage of color in your mailings with the Print+ Messenger™ Color Inkjet System. Interested in saving on your mailings before they go to the USPS? Learn more about Pitney Bowes Presort Services.