Innovation in Direct Mail Campaigns

By Lori Andresen |TargetMarketing

With all the attention on the debt crisis it’s easy to overlook how fascinating direct mail has become in our multichannel age. Many brands continue to use mail in their media mix—and why not? With Americans inundated by branded and non-branded commercial messages across all channels at a rate of thousands daily, the few precious pieces in the mailbox each day represent a highly engaging, tactile moment of interaction.
This past summer, marketers integrated a number of innovative direct mail techniques and technologies to make their campaigns stand out in consumers’ mailboxes.  Four specific trends seen were:

  • The addition of smartphone-enabled QR Codes to direct mail pieces to qualify for a 3 percent discount during the USPS’ “Summer Sale.” 
  • The use of variable data printing (VDP) to increase volume share.
  • Experimentation with the “magalog”—a combination magazine- catalog—in both letter and flat-sized formats to drive leads and traffic.
  • Several brands tested new textured finishes and coatings in their direct mail creative packages.


QR Codes and the USPS Summer Sale

While USPS management will have to examine the impact of the Summer Sale on mail volume suffice it to say, many mailers scrambled to apply a QR Code to mailings to earn the 3 percent discount—sometimes applying the code to an already-planned mailing. However, the spirit of the sale seemed to be to show how mobile and direct mail can integrate to support both channels.

Unfortunately, some marketers jumped right in for the upfront savings alone. We saw numerous examples where QR Codes were applied without forethought—often with landing pages that were not optimized for mobile viewing. In some cases, the QR landing page messaging was not well integrated or coordinated with the primary purpose and messaging of the mail piece. Without a well-developed and integrated strategy, mail recipients were often left confused and frustrated.
Nevertheless, some consumer marketers were ready to roll, offering mobile-optimized entertainment content (people love games on their smartphones) and/or mobile-optimized sites which complemented the branding, the call to action and desire for heightened consumer engagement.

In some cases, PQRs (personalized QR Codes) are being used, which use VDP to enable QR Codes to be printed and utilized much like a PURL for call to action and response. Yes, this lifted response where consumers clicked on them. PURL Sample: MyNCDMevents.com/Stuart.Diamond

Variable Data Printing Matures
Marketers have been listening to vendor and agency pitches on the value of variable data printing for many years. Those messages now are resonating. Most of the strategic-level clients Harte-Hanks worked with in 2011 incorporated some VDP within campaign print execution. For example, one European luxury automotive brand service reminder program went from no VDP to 100 percent VDP over the last two years.

Clearly, the databases are being leveraged to provide pertinent, relevant content based on consumer preferences. Most often, the variable content is images—photos, logos and other imagery that coincide with individual consumers’ expressed or observed interests and lifestyles. This creates an immediate recognition and connection between the recipient and the mail piece. Variable text is served in a similarly targeted manner when low volumes can’t support traditional printing set-up fees.

The lift in response can often cover the investment costs of setting up a VDP asset library and process that can be shared across multiple platforms and printing methods—and the use of VDP by a growing number of clients on an ongoing basis is bearing this out. Retailers, automotive marketers, healthcare and insurers, real estate marketers—all are using VDP with significant success.

The Return of the ‘Magalog’
Magalogs are combination magazine-catalogs that have multiple purposes depending on the client. What has brought magalogs back into play this summer is the replacement of wafer seals with fugitive glues that meet USPS automation requirements both for slim-jim letters and non-letter flats.

While wafer seals can tear a catalog and render it less useful, these low-tack glues can be applied during inline production—optimizing production efficiency—to keep a mail piece from flapping open during postal handling and automation, and decrease the chance of damaging the article upon opening.

The magalog format itself showcases pictures and photos; communicates product benefits, specifications and pricing; tells stories that show branded products in action; drives store, dealer and Web traffic; and solicits direct orders, in some cases. While the USPS has announced new proposals for qualifying slim-jims as letter-size mail, which may have an impact on production techniques, we expect the magalog format to grow more popular—primarily now that these fugitive adhesives have proven successful as an alternative to the wafer seal.

Textured Finishes Raise Goosebumps
Several types of UV finishes have emerged that enable marketers to apply texture to a direct mail package or component of it. For example, a brochure for a car might include a photo of a leather interior that actually feels like leather.
It was once the concern of art directors to have a photograph of high-enough quality to convey the colors and images of a product precisely. Now, marketers have the ability to add touch itself, not in the sense of adding the actual fabric or leather swatches to a mail package, but by recreating that look and feel through these new finishes. They can be applied to in-store/dealer collateral, also, to enhance the in-person purchase experience. In today’s multichannel marketing environment, this is a compelling consumer- engagement technique.