Retooling mail optimization: how real-time actions put direct mail back into fashion

Retooling mail optimization: how real-time actions put direct mail back into fashion


Before the evolution of digital, direct marketers relied on physical mail as a rewarding channel to drive customer actions, one that they continue to spend $45 billion on each year in the US.

But marketers have made more room for digital as postage rates have increased, the cost of printing has continued to rise and marketing automation has made real-time one-to-one marketing a reality.

Marketers have an increasing number of ways to serve their message to consumers. And they now have the tools to know how many people sit for the whole marketing breakfast. Yet they still don’t know who wants their eggs over easy and who opts for oatmeal.

What they need to do now is find out what appeals to each person, anticipate what they need and personalize the offering without being obvious about it. The concept and desire have been there — intent data and marketing automation will make it a reality.

Pixels meet postcards

It’s important to understand the gap between digital and direct mail — how do they differ, and how are they alike? First, digital has the intent data and the capability to increase relevance and immediacy.

Digital can also be optimized moment-to-moment based on response rates, reaction to creative and external or environmental factors like weather or news.

Conversely, direct mail is physical, tangible and present in the home of consumers. It’s a better brand impression because you can hold it, save it and refer back to it. It also happens to be seen by people other than the intended recipient, which is rare for digital media.

Now, what if you could cherry-pick the benefits from both and create a new marketing channel that takes digital’s real-time and intent-driven data and applies it to the power and effectiveness of physical mail? Would this medium benefit marketers who are competing for consumer attention in the highly saturated e-commerce and retail market?

Recapture previous “lost” customers

The biggest struggle for marketers is cart abandonment. The shopper logs in and adds a pair of shoes to their cart but doesn’t hit the “buy” button because the price seems high, an email causes a distraction, or the kids start arguing. At this stage, most brands lose the potential sale and have to figure out a way to entice the shopper to come back to complete their purchase.

This spurs marketers to put digital media into action, bombarding those cart abandoners with retargeted efforts made cheap and relentless. Over half of marketers now spend 10 to 50 percent of their budget on remarketing.

To aid retargeting efforts, marketers need a better way to reach these consumers who have left their site, and direct mail offers a new promise. By applying digital data to direct mail, they can programmatically determine which segment to target with which creative and test offers ranging from free shipping to percent discounts to see which follow-up message drives the most return visits and conversions.

Digital media is a high-volume — and highly cluttered — environment. With the emergence of ad blocking and the ongoing impact of people who unsubscribe from emails, consumers are now given the option to remove themselves from a brand’s digital marketing efforts — meaning no more unwanted ads as these consumers traverse social sites, news pages and other content they enjoy.

In the same way that advertisers can use site-browsing behavior to purchase online ads, brands are discovering that real-time, targeted response data can be applied to printed mail.

From the duration of page views and offer redemption to social media engagement or clicks on mobile ads, media buyers are applying newfound inputs to drive better website traffic and increase sales, using the mailbox as a supporting character.

Real-time + direct mail = results

It’s time for marketers to take a newer approach that combines the efficiency of real-time data with the effectiveness of direct mail. Think about it: what if you could transform real-time online activity into a piece of highly relevant direct mail that targets a known visitor to your site and mail it out later that day? That would combine the best of digital data with the effectiveness of direct mail.

Consumers already respond to mail or save it for future use. A recent study by the Canada Post indicates that more than 35 percent of consumers keep catalogs and coupons for over a month. As marketers see the need to vary their media mix, the intersection of digital data and direct mail needs modernization.

There has never been a better time to reinvent the medium, and the technology is now there to do it. By applying programmatic concepts to the direct mail business, mail now becomes a viable real-time medium.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from

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