How mail has become a physical and digital experience


Thu Apr 29 11:04:00 EDT 2021

I’ve been struggling with how the word “mail” is defined, given how much the medium is changing. The standard definition is, “Letters and packages conveyed by the postal system.” Hmmm. That’s not particularly helpful because it’s defining the communication itself by how it is transported. With my curiosity piqued, I looked up the definition for the word “letter,” which is defined as, “A written, typed or printed communication sent in an envelope by mail.”

What neither definition does is convey that this “communication delivered in an envelope” can be powered by digital technology, can be experiential, and can be smarter and more effective. This week’s Mail Works article is going to push at the boundaries of traditional mail execution as a demonstration of new digital value of mail.

As digital capabilities have expanded, so has the digitization of all types of mail. Below is a quick review of some tools for the modern marketer to expand their effective use of mail.

Ad Retargeting with Direct Mail. Ad retargeting campaigns remind your website visitors of your products and services after they leave your website without buying. After visiting specific pages, retargeting allows you to reach them again and show your visitors relevant visual or text ads when they visit your or other websites. With cookies going away, a similar tactic that is less utilized but high potential is IP retargeting utilizing direct mail. A data-driven marketer can match a singular web visitor to a home address and send a personalized postcard in 24-48 hours, (Karpenko, August 2019)[1]. Not only does this bridge the digital and offline worlds, it also allows you to deliver a unique value proposition to an engaged prospect while they are in a key stage of their buyer’s journey. A recent study found that 65% of surveyed saw an increase in site visits when utilizing marketing mail as a retargeting channel, and 47% saw an increase in overall conversions, (Karpenko, November 2019)[2].

Digital to Direct Mail to Drive Shopping Cart Conversion. The average documented online shopping cart abandonment rate is about 70%. Through monitoring online shopper behavior, brands can also retarget their shoppers using direct mail to complete the cart conversion.

Augmented Reality Turns Mail Into An Experience. As augmented reality (AR) moves out of an app and into an app-less experience, the technology provides marketers even more opportunity to drive highly engaging physical mail experiences with clutter breaking creative that provide a lasting impact for your messaging, (Hennen, McSweeney, Affatato, Epstein, Hanson, January 2019)[1]. This “new dimension to commerce” is an interactive experience that overlays digital elements on a mailer’s physical surface, bringing further context, movement, and connection to the piece. This is achieved by placing a visual prompt in the mailer that can be activated through a consumer’s smartphone, camera, or tablet. AR helped Palm Beach Surf Camp bring the waves to those from afar. The mail piece featured an image as the AR trigger and instructions to download the app. When positioned over the trigger, the mobile device activated the AR experience.

Quick Response (QR) Codes. The popularity of QR codes, due to the increase in smartphone penetration and access to high-speed mobile internet, as well as safety precautions in restaurants, has increased. More and more, QR codes are used in product packaging, are on the walls of buildings, in restaurants in place of menus, and in direct mail. You can find various types of QR Codes almost everywhere.

Innovative uses of QR codes in direct mail are highly effective in driving online engagement. One example is a piggy bank cutout to permanently live in consumers' homes. When scanned, it links to an app where saving money became a game rather than a chore — one that helps parents teach kids the value of saving by making it a fun daily activity. QR Codes can also drive to social media where the new “buy” function can convert a “follower” into a customer while also meeting social media savvy prospects on the platform they are already on.

Near Field Communication. Did you know you can microchip your mail? Using a technology called Near Field Communication (NFC), you can connect your prospect with your brand online, seamlessly. Smart phones use NFC today for other everyday tasks like making mobile payments. Marketers can embed microchips into direct mail pieces to bring their brands to life with just a tap or wave of their smart phone. Advertising a concert? Give your prospect a taste of the talent. With one wave over the mail piece they are brought to a webpage with the artist’s downloadable music.

Intelligent Mail Barcodes. The perception of some marketers may be that tracking and garnering analytics from mail pieces can be a challenge. The Intelligent Mail barcode is a 65-bar Postal Service™ barcode used to sort and track letters and flats. It allows mailers to use a single barcode to participate in multiple Postal Service programs simultaneously, expands mailers’ ability to track individual mail pieces, and provides greater mail stream visibility. The Intelligent Mail barcode can be applied on Priority Mail® pieces, First-Class Mail® pieces, Standard Mail® pieces, Periodicals, letters and flats, and Bound Printed Matter flats.

Variable Data Printing. Variable Data Printing (VDP) is a method of printing that uses software to change the output of a digital printing press to personalize each printed piece with unique information from a spreadsheet or database. It is most often used for addressing but is now frequently used to personalize graphics, text, or the entire marketing message so it's more relevant to the individual receiving it. 75% of consumers like it when brands personalize messaging and offers. (Aberdeen Group) and 86% of consumers say personalized marketing leads to a buying decision. (Infosys).

Sandpaper and Fur. The United States Postal Service has highlighted new and creative options to make mail engaging in a program called, “Irresistible Mail.” They highlight many digital technologies but also physical innovations to improve their campaign’s ROI. Sticky gloss, sandpaper, and fur can surprise the mail recipient and make them curious about what just passed though their hands. Adding texture to a mail piece increased sales by 150% for one telecom company.* Brands can even use thermal ink that reveals an access code with the heat of a thumbprint -- a high technology moment that makes the reader feel like he or she unlocked special access. Advances in ink, embossing, varnishes and coatings can turn paper into a multi-sense experience. Additionally, unique folds and 3-D experiences literally push paper into a new dimension creating an interactive and memorable piece.


Postal Discounts. The USPS has created incentives to encourage marketers, printers, and mailers to utilize new technology and print techniques that enhance the traditional benefits of a physical mail piece. The promotions vary by month but marketers can gain up to 2% postage discount during the time of promotion. Examples of the next upcoming months’ promotions include enhancing the value of First-Class Mail® bills and statements by incorporating color messaging and using new mobile barcode formats including the use of Payment QRs.

The USPS promotions website has full details for the 2021 calendar year, an opportunity that is worthwhile to investigate as you look to add mail into your marketing mix.

Marketers who incorporate these new technologies have the potential to create mail pieces that are well beyond the traditional expectation of a mail experience, break through digital and physical message clutter, and improved the channel’s return on investment.


[1] Karpenko, C. (2019, August) USPS: How Digital Integration Helps Direct Mail Deliver ANA.

[2] Karpenko, C. (2019, November) USPS: The Future of Retargeted Marketing Is Direct Mail. ANA.

[1] Hennen M., McSweeney D., Affatato J., Epstein J., Hanson L., (2019, January) It’s Not Either/Or: How to Utilize Both Print and Digital. ANA.