Direct Mail Advertising: Thinking Outside the (Mail)Box

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In a world where smartphones and tablets have become mission critical devices in the daily lives of consumers, it has become more popular than ever among marketers to advertise in the digital space, be it email, web, mobile, etc.

As the media spend continues to increase in this category, money continues to be shifted away from print as advertisers declare "print is dead." While print-based mass media is most assuredly on the decline in both circulation and ad spend (think newspaper and magazines), another form of "print" continues to thrive and is even enjoying a bit of a resurgence - direct mail.

The total spend in direct mail was on the rise in 2014. Against a prediction of 1.1%, the Winterberry Group reported spending up 2.7% last year as advertisers spent more than $45 billion in the category.

Why the increase? Because direct mail remains effective and with an infusion of digital technology in recent years, is more impactful than ever.

The days of carpet bombing "junk mail" are over. Savvy marketers are now thinking outside of the typical boundaries of the mailbox. As a result, their direct mail pieces serve both as key standalone vehicles as well as prime complementers to other broadcast and digital channels.

Whether you are choosing direct mail as an advertising vehicle for the first time, or revamping an existing program, here are a few tips to take advantage of that will make your spend more efficient and your program more effective:

Complement Digital Programs

Direct mail stands alone from digital channels and reaches consumers outside of their phone/tablet/computer.

It also provides the perfect vehicle to tie the two together. It goes without saying that creative and messaging between direct mail and digital should complement one another, but by utilizing QR codes and digital activation programs, the mail piece can be made to come alive and drive the consumer to web sites, online videos, social media and other digital assets.

The End of "One Version Fits All"

The printing process itself has benefited from digital technology in recent years.

Gone are the days of printing plates and expensive version changes that come from the world of offset printing.

Digital printing, (essentially a high quality, high speed version of that color printer/copier that may already be in your office), has advanced to the point that speed and cost is rivaling the traditional offset world.

Why is this important? There are no longer costly limitations on versions, allowing the advertiser to tailor offers, graphics, etc. to the household level. It is now possible for every household in a neighborhood to receive a different offer, addressed specifically to them by name using whatever graphics or fonts a designer can dream up. The industry label for this is Variable Data Printing, and it's a lot easier and cheaper than you might think.

Explore New Materials

Plastics, magnetics, decals - all viable media for a direct mail piece.

They may be more expensive than paper, but to get your message to stand out, there is nothing better.

Plastics in particular are becoming more popular as conventional couponing can take on the look, feel and functionality of a gift or loyalty card. The shiny, glass-like finish stands out in the mailbox and gets noticed among stacks of paper postcards, envelopes and catalogs.

The gift card look and feel has a perceived cash value by the consumer, and the durability of the media allows it to be retained for an extended period of time for later or repeated use. Magnetic stripes and barcodes further the functionality, integrating the mailer with a retailer's point of sale or loyalty system and making response tracking easier than ever.

From Carpet Bombing to Precision Targeting

It is no longer necessary to cover entire zip codes in a "carpet bomb" approach when mailing.

With the ever increasing cost of postage, it is imperative that you target precisely where your best prospects live and work in order to avoid wasted coverage and expense.

One zip code can house drastically different demographic groups within its borders, so even though the zip code may make sense from a geographic standpoint, there may be hundreds of households draining your budget with every mailing.

Look beyond zip code geography and analyze the postal carrier routes contained within each one.

Then let the demographics do the talking. You will be surprised at what you find. If your business is lucky enough to have a customer database to draw from (as many automotive service retailers and fitness clubs do), use this information to build your ideal customer profile.

Find out where your current customers are coming from, then match the demographics of those areas to others within your geography. "Fish where the fish are" so to speak. You'll find the fishing is a whole lot better when you're fishing at the right lake.

Direct mail remains an effective advertising vehicle, whether it's the foundation of your marketing program or complementing other efforts.

Call it old fashioned, outmoded or any one of the various adjectives associated with "print" these days, but the fact remains - it works.

The tried and true aspects of the media remain, while the production methods, media options and targeting strategies are better than ever before.

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