How Technology Can Make Mail Irresistible


By Jim Cochrane

Chief Marketing & Sales Officer and Executive Vice President

The United States Postal Service

Twenty-first century technology continues to leap from LCD screens into the physical world, including the world of print marketing. Direct mail has defended its spot in the advertising world by consistently delivering a strong ROI, and marketers are recognizing the value of finding new ways to couple social media and outdoor media, email and mail, to achieve success.

The key for any marketer is to stay flexible and understand what consumers want. Today, we’re seeing the importance placed on an interactive, omni-channel experience.

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Here are three direct mail marketing opportunities that I believe capture attention, provide information, and create this omni-channel experience, as well as the tools you can use to implement them:

1. Connect Consumers to a Digital World

Ten years ago, I would have found it hard to believe that a simple piece of paper could be used to connect consumers to an immersive digital experience. The following tools allow you to use traditional advertising tactics while giving customers the option of entering the digital space.

* Quick return (QR) code. The black and white grids have become a familiar fixture in the marketing world, but still provide value. The latest generation of Visual QR Codes complements the space around them and ensures QR codes will continue driving consumers to mobile applications, websites and other digital channels.

* Near field communication (NFC). These chips or tags communicate with mobile phones through radio waves and are actually small enough to insert into a sticker you can put on a print ad. Consumers with NFC-enabled mobile devices can automatically engage with digital features in advertising materials with just a simple tap. According to the 2013 Mobile Path-to-Purchase study from Ad and Telemetrics, 88% of smartphone users would consider using NFC to interact with a poster that was of interest to them.

* Augmented reality (AR). Did you know that reality can be transformed with only a cell phone? AR literally meshes the digital with the physical world by allowing you to superimpose an image onto a mobile device’s camera screen. After downloading an app, users can scan the advertising image and watch video, listen to music, virtually try on clothing and much more. Consumers are 135% more likely to purchase a product they viewed through AR than one they saw in a traditional advertisement, according to Hidden Creative.

2. Immerse with Electronics

Receiving a piece of print advertisement you can physically interact with demands attention and will be a standout in mailboxes.

* Video in print. Imagine watching a commercial on a mailer. Paper pockets can include a battery, shatter-resistant screen, speaker and all necessary wires to control buttons and video. Inserts that included video in print delivered a 100% brand recall rate and a 91% pass along rate, according to Starch Communications. A built-in Wi-Fi connection isn’t necessary, but allows you to track how many times the piece is activated.

* Mobile in print. Mailers can now be turned into a form of direct communication, like a phone or text messaging system. This technology brings the fun of a cell phone to your advertisement by allowing users to contact your company through either a phone call or a text message via speakers and/or keyboards on paper.

* Conductive ink. This ink carries an electronic charge and can actually be used to generate noise, light or even create a Bluetooth connection that brings up a cell phone app device. This technology is still in research and development, but has the ability to transform the world of print to something seemingly out of a sci-fi novel.

3. Stand Out with Dimensional Mail

Nontraditional ink, materials, and designs serve as an eye-catching and effective way to make traditional mail a memorable experience.

* Interesting Inks. Chemical compounds can be added to the ink to make certain colors disappear or reappear depending on temperature, moisture, or light exposure. This strategy can add a secret message, along with an element of surprise, to coupons and special offers.

* Customized MarketMail. This is also known as 3D mail or shaped mail and prompts businesses to quite literally think outside of the envelope. Lightweight and shippable designs open by folding, pulling, or popping up into a piece that stands on its own. This will allow your message to physically stand out from the competition. Direct mailers that include a pop-up feature can increase response rates up to 40% when compared to a conventional, flat mailer, according to CRMTrends.

While not all of these formats may be right for every business, they are a few examples of the latest advances in direct mail that we see many innovative businesses using to create an omni-channel approach for their customers. Technology does not have to be limited to the digital world, nor should it be. To learn more about these and other forms of irresistible mail, I invite you to visit

(Jim Cochrane writes a regular column in MAIL: The Journal of Communication Distribution. This feature first appeared in the March 2016 NPF Show Newspaper edition. As CMO and EVP, Jim Cochrane reports to the Postmaster General and is responsible for all domestic and international products marketing, development and management. He is also responsible for the Postal Service Pricing, Global Business, Sales and Stamp Services organizations. Prior to being named CMSO, Cochrane served as the chief information officer and executive vice president where he was responsible for the integration of technology and innovation in all aspects of operations. Throughout his 41-year postal career, Cochrane has served in a variety of roles including vice president, Product Information, where he and his team were responsible for innovations in technologies and tracking systems — including the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) and Intelligent Mail package barcode (IMpb).