What’s Old is New Again — and Driving Impressive Results

For the world’s most recognizable online retailer, it started as a purely reactionary tactic.

When the demise of Toys “R” Us in 2018 meant its roughly $2 million in sales was up for grabs, Amazon went old school — it mailed out millions of holiday toy catalogs. 

It was a bold move by a digital native, and one that clearly paid off. The Amazon print catalog is now in its third year, and has expanded beyond toys to a full-fledged Wish Book with electronics, bedding, sports gear and more.

Of course, one could argue that every package Amazon delivers is a branded direct mail piece —possibly the greatest consumer-paid, opt-in advertising campaign ever created. But that’s a post for another day.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the demise of direct mail have been greatly exaggerated. Though second-quarter mail volume in 2020 took a dip as brands pulled back to assess the uncertain buying landscape, by the third quarter over five billion pieces were back in the mail, according to researchers at Competiscan.

Further, 70% of that mail volume was personalized, as brands sought to connect with new buyers who suddenly found themselves home-bound.

Direct mail: A fresh look at a traditional channel

Since March 2020, screen time across all demographics has markedly increased — by some accounts as much as 50% — as Zoom meetings, online learning and Netflix binges became the norm. To recharge, many consumers turned to cooking, baking, knitting…and going through their mail. 

As a result, direct mail has become an unexpectedly post-modern way to reach consumers. It’s a tactile experience that engages other senses than simply the eyes and ears. A Canadian study 

about the neurological power of direct mail found it more memorable and more persuasive when compared to digital media.  

Having something to touch, to hold, to experience of a brand is at the heart of relationship building. Yes, even if it’s simply a postcard. There’s an old media expression that “an impression is an impression,” but an email or banner ad is far easier to ignore than something you’re physically holding in your hand.

So, imagine the level of persuasiveness a brand can reach when it combines the power of direct mail with digital into a multichannel campaign. 

A 2020 State of Multichannel Marketing Report found that the inclusion of direct mail in multichannel campaigns boosted return on investment by 18 percentage points. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents noted that direct mail also improved their multichannel campaign performance. 

That’s no surprise considering that you’re adding another touchpoint to your campaign — one that consumers can actually touch. Direct mail is one more way to share your brand story, this time with an added tactile dimension.

However, direct mail isn’t exactly inexpensive. A solid strategy is imperative to generating positive ROI. For brands new to direct mail, where to begin?

Start with the data

Unlike the blanket postal mailings of yore, today’s direct mail is wholly data-driven marketing. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather in concert with every other channel being utilized in a campaign. 

Smart marketers gather intel from all interactions regardless of channel and blend that intel with reputable third-party data to target more effectively and maximize response.

Capitalize on digital intent

Website visitors sometimes browse, but don’t buy. Items are added to carts and then abandoned. The intent is there, but for whatever reason the consumer doesn’t follow through.

Then, a colorful, targeted postcard shows up in the mail and, boom! Mind changed, or at the very least the buyer takes another look. That’s the genius of intent-based postal retargeting. With today’s technology, brands can have a personalized first-class postcard in the mail within days. 

Intent-based postal retargeting also provides an effective work-around to reach email opt-outs and capture sales that might otherwise have been lost.

Employ interactivity

Direct mail doesn’t have to be a static touchpoint. Remember the Amazon Holiday Wish Book mentioned earlier? In addition to engagingly arrayed product photography and illustrations, it also made smart use of stickers that kids could use to mark gifts they wanted, as well as coloring activities and other games to engage young recipients.

One thing the Wish Book didn’t include? Prices. Instead, shoppers could use the Amazon app to learn more about a specific item, or scan a QR code that took them to a curated page of related merchandise for expanded gift-giving ideas.

Another example of brand-building interactivity: Yankee Candle, famous for its dazzling array of seasonal scents, replicated the in-store experience with “rub & smell” patches in its holiday mailings. Not inexpensive to execute, but worth the investment to reinforce a hallmark of your brand, never mind a powerful buying trigger.

Get inspired with your creative

USPS doesn’t limit brands’ ability to showcase their personality. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

In 2020, mailers who took advantage of qualifying specialty inks, paper stocks and interactive elements to provide a “multi-sensory” experience scored a 2% discount on their eligible postage spends. 

Another way to break out of the pack is with a unique fold. Why settle for a standard closed outer and inserts when a single-sheet self-mailer could generate more bang for the buck — and might be more economical as well?

Huddle up with like-minded brands

Nobody was surprised when online shopping exploded during the pandemic. Suddenly, everything from groceries to toilet paper (in hindsight, probably not the best example) were fair game for delivery or curbside pickup. UPS alone recorded a 21% jump in average daily shipping volumes during the second quarter of 2020, with a 65% increase in shipments to homes.

This delivery boom represents an expanded array of package insert opportunities — where your marketing material rides along with non-competitive offers from brands targeting the same consumer base.

A few points are worth noting when adding direct mail to the marketing mix:

Digitally native brands might have to adjust expectations a bit when integrating direct mail into multichannel campaigns, specifically when it comes to timing and analytics.

Longer production times, especially if you’re integrating specialty features like those mentioned above, mean that multichannel campaign planning must begin earlier than digital-only efforts. It’s also critical to work with a partner that can analyze campaign data on the fly, and tweak the digital components as needed to optimize your results.

New year, new tactics

The “good old days of marketing” were literally less than 12 months ago. This pandemic has left many consumers emotionally drained, weary of supply chain interruptions, inventory shortages and the unknowns ahead.

Direct mail bridges the relationship gap, delivering a tangible part of a brand that builds a connection in a fresh way — and provide actionable, scalable results that marketers can rely on. 

That’s a new normal we can all appreciate.