Published Thursday, Jul 18, 2019
Every pitch, every hit in every major league baseball stadium is tracked by StatCast, a radar and camera system. Technology has changed America’s favorite pastime. It reveals underrated players, winning factors, where to optimize or trade -- enlightening the front office and exciting avid fans.
What has technology done for direct mail marketing? Before you say pulverize it, think again. The $42 billion direct mail industry1 is transforming consumer engagement – thanks to technology.
Sure, marketers attempting to swing for the fences thought they should shift dollars away from traditional print to digital advertising. However, they may have overdone it. Now, major retailers and brands, as well as ecommerce, start-ups, and FinTech companies, are investing in direct mail. They’re reconfiguring their omnichannel line-up. Why? Let’s discuss several reasons, from evolving consumer behavior to data-enhanced targeting to personalization and tracking to strong performance.
Eyes on the ball, making contact
Study after study shows the unbeatable engagement that comes from physically handling direct mail. The human experience of carrying mail into the house, sorting, and opening it makes an impression and takes more time than a digital interaction or click. Millennials, who are presumably digitally-inclined, actually spend the most time sorting mail (about 6 minutes versus the average 4 minutes) as well as opening and reading it (8 minutes versus 7 minutes), according to the USPS Customer & Market Insights for fall of 2018.2
Recent findings from Valassis Awareness-to-Activation studies shed even more light: 68% of millennials read print ads/inserts from retailers, and 64% prefer getting them through the mail.3 Among consumers familiar with the RetailMeNot Everyday™ direct mail package, 86% save print ads of interest; 50% hold onto them until they purchase; and 31% bring them to stores.4
Surprisingly, as technology revolutionizes the grocery space: 62% of ONLINE grocery shoppers look at printed circulars/ads to decide which retailer(s) to shop. That’s higher than traditional grocery shoppers as cited in the 2019 Coupon Intelligence Report.5
Indeed, direct mail is deeply engaging and sparks action. For start-ups or marketers launching a new restaurant, store, or product, the USPS report reveals 1 out of 2 consumers has tried a new product/service/establishment after receiving ad mail in the past six months.2
If you take away direct mail, like a well-known department store did, the miss is painful. Their co-president admitted that moving to a digital-first loyalty program and eliminating direct mail caused a reduction in foot traffic at all of its stores.6
Higher lift from print + digital
People are exposed to print and digital messages all day, every day. There is a real interplay between channels: 60% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase after seeing an ad in offline and online channels;7 72% of millennial parents say print ads encourage them to go online and make a purchase from that retailer.3
Valassis’ own clients find this to be true. For primarily digital clients, adding print generated 4X the sales lift. On average, their digital campaigns produced 3.1% lift compared to the digital + print campaigns 14.1% increase in sales.8
Direct mail’s technological transformation
The same machine-learning and real-time data that powers online advertising is transforming direct mail marketing engagement. Of course, that’s contingent upon your direct mail partner having a unified technology platform behind its targeting and media delivery system. The Valassis Consumer Graph™ is the prime example -- using predictive intelligence to turn intent into action. It converts billions of consumer signals (location and behavior) into meaningful engagement across online and offline channels, delivering unprecedented personalization.
In the old world of direct mail, your mind would automatically go to name and address personalization, and you’d gulp at printing and postage costs. Today, however, it’s a whole new ballgame. For example, with Valassis Dynamic Postcard (VDP), you can leverage vast consumer data, variable image printing technology, and saturation mailing. This allows you to deliver 1:1 messaging across neighborhoods, nationwide, and send current customers and new prospects different offers – all in the same mailing.
Even Influencer Marketing is emboldened by adding direct mail to digital efforts. Valassis developed a program that makes it relatively turnkey – providing the appropriate micro-influencer, content, creative execution, distribution, and performance analytics.
Have you noticed an influx of catalogs coming from retailers, such as Ikea? Retail marketers are thrilled to fully utilize sophisticated data, creating a very personalized experience with a measurable ROI.9
Resurgence of an all-star performer
Another reason that direct mail is making a major comeback is its adoption by the most unlikely of marketers: direct-to-consumer (DTC) and financial technology (FinTech) companies.
Digitally-native DTC brands like Wayfair are turning to direct mail. Successful strategies include: breaking out of inbox clutter, driving customers to their website via a discount code, tracking purchases, acquiring more data, and sharing costs by advertising in a co-operative direct mail package.10 They can attain the clean look of their social media ads, but on a bigger scale.
For FinTech, the rising response and conversion rates are irresistible. Direct mail has become the primary acquisition channel for an online lender.11 By maximizing the targeting precision, personalization, and variable printing capabilities, they’re able to send prescreen offers in the mail and drive growth.
Traditional businesses are returning to direct mail marketing. They are returning because the financial loss was almost immediate, as evident in a couple of Valassis case studies. A national drug retailer tried cutting costs by reducing frequency of their mailed store circular in two markets. The control stores with weekly circulars outperformed those without by 2.2%, so the client switched back to weekly delivery.12 For a grocery client that shifted direct mail dollars to broadcast, sales and shopper penetration declined within the first week of going dark, so they reinstated direct mail.13
Optimize this underrated player
Whatever product or service you’re pitching, take a hard look at the stats and engagement power of direct mail marketing. Technology has rejuvenated this American mainstay. It’s integral to a winning omnichannel strategy.