Direct Meets Digital: From Evolution to Revolution


Prompt Direct Inc.

Quite often, I’m asked the question, “What’s changed in the direct mail industry over the last 20 years?”

My answer: “Nearly everything!”

We’re enjoying remarkable advancements in direct marketing thanks to technology — among them new ways to gather and leverage data, advanced printing technologies and personalization techniques, social media and the exponential growth of mobile, to name just a few.

Audience behaviors have changed as well. In today’s consumer-centric world, expectations for a targeted, relevant and personalized buying experience are remarkably high. Recipients (especially millennials) are quick to dismiss generic “one size fits all” messaging, clunky campaigns that aren’t seamlessly mobile-friendly, and the interruptive techniques that for years served as the foundation for most brands’ marketing efforts.

Today, the ability to fuse offline and online strategies has given marketers more tools than ever before to create campaigns that leverage the unique strengths and capabilities of each channel. The result is a synergistic approach that can far exceed the sum of its parts in meeting high audience expectations and achieving marketers’ campaign goals.

Agents of change

Technology has changed the heart of the direct mail process, and created completely new avenues for crafting personalized, laser-targeted offers. For example, consider advances like these:

Data analytics — Sophisticated profiling and modeling techniques give marketers insights into their current audience, identifying key variables and uncovering valuable new prospects that are statistically more likely than average to respond to their offers.

Demographic and psychographic data — House files can now be appended, massaged and enhanced in nearly limitless ways, giving marketers a 360° view of their customers’ preferences, tastes and anticipated purchasing behaviors.

Mail tracking — Outbound mail can be tracked on its journey through the postal system, triggering a timed email communication and providing recipients with multiple response mechanisms depending on their preferences (see above).

IP address matching — By pairing postal addresses with IP addresses, marketers can target postal mail recipients with related web display ads as part of their integrated campaigns. Landing pages with unique URLs allow for tracking and analysis of the effectiveness of ad creative and placement. Campaign results can be viewed in a single convenient dashboard, simplifying the ability to gauge ROI.

Technology leaps like these allow marketers to tailor traditional marketing tools to fit today’s inbound marketing strategies, making a tactic like direct mail even more effective than ever.

Research confirms the effectiveness of a multi-channel approach. In a recent USPS study, over 60% of direct mail recipients were influenced to visit the website being promoted in the mailer they received. What’s more, the direct mail recipients purchased 28% more items and spent 28% more money than non-recipients. The study also noted a revenue lift of 163% for websites supported by direct mail compared to those that were not.

For full-service marketing service providers like Prompt Direct, technology advances have made things a lot more interesting, to say the least. In the past, our role was often limited to purely tactical execution — print, mail and hope for a strong response.

Today, mailers look to us for more strategic expertise. We’re being engaged by clients much earlier in the planning and creative process for guidance on best practices for optimizing response while controlling costs.

As a result, our range of expertise has broadened considerably. We need to be highly knowledgeable on everything from the latest analytics tools and tactics to changing USPS requirements for achieving postage economies.

For example, one of New York City’s largest newspaper publishers came to Prompt when its current prospect universe began to exhibit response fatigue. We approached it from a data analytics angle, creating a profile and prospect model based on its current audience data that identified key variables affecting response rates. The result was a universe of new prospects that were three times more likely than average to respond to the offers.

Another long-time client, a professional association in the financial industry, sought to increase membership in one of its specialized value-added groups. The association’s marketing manager agreed that a cross-channel approach could significantly improve response rates while also gaining a faster return on investment.

By pairing an effective combination of direct mail with tracking, timed emails and pURLs (personalized URLs), the six-week campaign showed a 260% ROI.

Sound Strategy

Despite these and many other digital technology advances, many old-school direct marketing rules are still 100% applicable.

The bells and whistles at our disposal are only as good as the strategy that drives their use. To achieve success, marketers still need to build trust, to take the time to fully understand the behavior and objectives of their ideal audience, and to craft offers that demonstrate they’re 100% ready to meet those objectives.

The pairing of direct and digital has allowed marketers to focus less on mass appeal and more on finding — and reaching — specific high- value segments in real time and in the right context. From digital printing technology to databases, mobile to social, the integration of offline and online tools and strategies means that all marketing is now truly direct marketing.

(Staten Island, NY-based Prompt Direct Inc. is a full-service direct marketing service provider specializing in integrated marketing, data processing, personalization and fulfillment services.)

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