It takes a concerted effort to develop a successful integrated marketing campaign. Every channel plays its part in driving consumers toward making a purchase and beyond. A campaign's performance ultimately comes down to nailing the right time and place to deliver it.
Digital channels have a natural advantage in this regard. Leveraging mass amounts of data, marketers can tailor and time their campaigns to consumers' digital behavior. The problem, of course, comes down to competition and the abundance of digital marketing that currently dominates the internet.
Combining digital intelligence with direct mail has proven to be an effective way to get customers to take action. In a 2019 internal study commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service, marketing respondents revealed the potency of a new category of direct mail that's more dynamic than traditional direct mail.
This new mail is data-driven and integrated with digital channels. It also delivers results for marketers across multiple industries. According to the study, which surveyed 75 marketing decision makers, 60 percent of respondents said digitally powered direct mail increased ROI and much more. Here are the biggest takeaways from the research.
How Marketing Intentions Translated Into Results
In the study, marketing respondents were asked their goals for digital and direct mail coordination. They hoped it would drive a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) from awareness through conversion, including purchasing, website visits, sign-ups, and store visits. What they saw led them to double down on their initial benchmarks. Coordination increased website visits, response rates, ROI, and leads, the study found. (See figure 1.)
Brands That Coordinate Their Direct Mail and Digital Marketing Efforts See Positive Results
Q. What are the most common actions you are trying to drive by coordinating direct mail and digital?
Q. What advantages has coordinating direct mail and digital provided?
Using direct mail that's more dynamic than traditional direct mail, surveyed marketers were able to drive consumer action from every interaction. Increased numbers of website visits, response rates, and leads demonstrate the channel's ability to push consumers down the funnel at any stage. Increased ROI confirms that the channel can effectively drive conversion as well.
These payoffs also point to another insight from the study: The majority of marketers were using this digitally powered direct mail in their mixes frequently. Sixty percent of companies were regularly coordinating their mail and digital campaigns. Digital commerce companies, which market and deliver their products exclusively on the internet, were the most likely to regularly coordinate both channels; financial services companies followed in second place, the study found.
Coordinating Digital and Direct Mail
The study also dove into how marketers coordinate their messaging across channels. The most popular strategies were to drive traffic from direct mail to digital channels and include a unique URL or discount code in the mail piece. These simple, business-driving tactics have been a favorite of marketers for years. According to the study, more than 76 percent of marketing respondents use them. But the research also showed that while these tactics were the most popular, there were also new ones gaining traction.
Sixty-one percent of respondents were deploying digital media, such as emails, paid social posts, or banner ads, once direct mail was delivered, and 51 percent were sending personalized direct mail that was based on online behavior, the study found. This signals a shift in direct mail that began a few years ago.
Three innovations have transformed direct mail by adding a layer of digital intelligence to the channel: retargeted direct mail, Informed Delivery notifications, and Informed Visibility tracking. They allow marketers to begin targeting their customers in true omnichannel form. Here's a breakdown of each of these innovations:
- Retargeted direct mail relies on programmatic technology to monitor the actions customers take online and uses that information to send personalized direct mail within 24 to 48 hours of an interaction. This allows a direct mail campaign to be automated and cuts production times down to just two days. Forty-seven percent of marketing respondents who used retargeted direct mail saw an increase in conversions, per the USPS study.
- Informed Delivery notifications allow companies to send customers a daily preview of their mail. In the preview, customers see black-and-white external images of incoming letter-size mail, as well as color images and digital ride-along content from participating mailers that can then drive customers to a brand's website, social channel, app, video, or other online property. This supplemental content helps marketers increase engagement. In fact, according to the study, 39 percent of marketing respondents who used Informed Delivery notifications saw an increase in website traffic.
- Informed Visibility tracking provides end-to-end mail tracking for select categories of barcoded letters, flats, bundles, handling units, and containers, providing marketers with insight into when mail is delivered and enabling them to launch their digital campaigns simultaneously. This adds precision to the timing of digital and print efforts. Forty-three percent of marketing respondents who used Informed Visibility saw an increase in reach.
In just a few years, these three innovations have carved out a new place in marketing strategies, each with its own clear strengths.
Making a Case for Direct Mail That's More Dynamic
With these powerful tools in hand, marketers have still had to work within their companies to break down the barriers between digital and direct mail coordination. The USPS study found that no matter the industry, companies were trying to increase coordination by strengthening their omnichannel analytics, breaking down internal silos, working with innovative mail service providers, shifting budgets, and investing in resourcing.
Similarly, with data as the cornerstone of digitally powered direct mail, strengthening analytics becomes crucial. It's no surprise companies are taking this approach — the better they are at gathering data, the stronger their efforts become.
Breaking down internal silos is the second most popular action companies are taking. They need to bridge the gap between their digital and direct mail teams to succeed, in terms of operations and campaign results.
Retail companies, amid fierce competition, are doing the most to facilitate change: The majority of respondents said they are shifting budgets and trying to break down silos. The research showed a clear shift across all industries — not only is this digitally powered mail effective across the entire customer journey, companies are making strides in its implementation.
Today's consumer-driven marketing requires a new level of sophistication to meet customers at the right moment on the right channel. With dynamic direct mail, companies can combine the memorability and reach of direct mail with the precision of digital intelligence to push their customers — and business — forward.
Christopher Karpenko is the executive director of brand marketing at the United States Postal Service, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.