Direct mail- an unstoppable force

Submitted by: Print Power 22/05/2017

Cutting-edge technology and sophisticated targeting is making direct mail an unstoppable force in the world of print marketing, with impressive results matching creative innovation. Prepare to be inspired.

Article taken from Print Power Magazine Issue 13

Author: Simon Creasey

With a UK spend of over £1.8bn and US spend of a staggering $46bn, direct mail is a huge force in marketing. Defying the rise of digital media, the traditional format is growing in both volume and value as companies and agencies are using data and targeting more effectively, while devising incredibly creative, highly targeted, short-run campaigns that have a greater chance of delivering a much better ROI for their clients. What’s more, they are using some of the most cutting-edge technology and print techniques available. You need examples? Here are just a few. 

Music to German CFOs’ ears
Financial and HR enterprise cloud application provider Workday wanted to invite Chief Financial Officers from Germany’s largest companies to a classical music concert, but didn’t just want to send a boring paper invite. Advertising agency Saint Elmo’s Munich came up with an innovative alternative in the form of a music box created by AudioLogo. The box has a black sleeve that bears the words ‘Where does the music play in your human resources department?’ written in gold foil. The sleeve reveals a box covered in colourful graffiti and inside is a conductor’s baton. 
“When opening  the box, one hears tones of various instruments warming up – the orchestra of the Munich Philharmonic,” explains Christopher Bardin, Owner and Managing Director of AudioLogo. “Then, when you pick up the baton, the music suddenly changes. The orchestra warming up turns into classical music. Then the volume of the music becomes full and dynamic. The classic sound of the Munich Philharmonic, under the direction of Chief Conductor Kevin John Edusei, turns into rap music by the band EINSHOCH6.” To create the full effect of a loudspeaker AudioLogo used a transducer, which effectively turned the box’s carton material into a speaker, creating a multisensory delight and effective mail-out.

Programmatic DM 
One of the biggest challenges facing brands today is getting highly targeted and responsive DM messages out to customers. Although brands have the ability to capture data, they can’t fire out communications quickly enough since they have to design the creative then get their print partner to produce and mail out packs – a process that, compared to digital media, takes a long time. 

However, if a new ‘programmatic’ DM service offered by Paperplanes takes off, this issue could be a thing of the past. The idea is the brainchild of Daniel Dunn, formerly of Dunnhumby and now founder of Paperplanes. “We are taking the best aspects of digital delivery – the ability to move at speed and automate – and combining that with the effectiveness of the DM channel,” he explains.  

So if a retailer wants to run a campaign targeted at people who abandon their shopping basket, Paperplanes takes the retailer’s customer lists, product assets and creative, and sends them a piece of direct mail in the post. The company is currently setting up trials with customers, but it’s already achieved impressive results. It ran an abandoned basket campaign in the UK for plus-size clothing retailer JD Williams and saw a 14% increase in sales recovery and an 8% increase in average order value.

Video link
Inserting one video screen into a DM pack is a complicated process. So, imagine the problems UK-based Talking Print faced when it was tasked with producing a three-screen personalised video brochure for business software company SAP to showcase the company’s digital boardroom technology. 
As well as personalising the pack, there was also a personalised envelope, as well as those three screens that played a video interacting across them to reflect the boardroom scenario that SAP’s technology is typically used in. 

“As you can imagine, there were a few challenges to ensure the mailing was foolproof and 100% successful,” says David Hyams, Founder of Talking Print. “Linking the three screens so they activated in unison when the brochure was opened was the biggest challenge, but we worked with the factory that provides the modules to find the best solution.”

The packs, which were sent to senior directors in large organisations across Europe countries, were deemed highly successful. “The physical piece was very impactful and resulted in enquiries from a number of its senior-level recipients,” says Andrew Baillie of marketing agency Anderson Baillie. 
Baillie also says that follow up calls from SAP account managers resulted in “multiple new business opportunities”.

The lightbulb moment
As the trade body for the DM industry, it’s imperative that any information sent out by the Direct Mail Association (DMA) is as impactful as possible – especially when it comes to communications sent out around their prestigious annual awards. “Because the recipients are marketers from brands and agencies,” explains Marcelo Bustamante, Managing Director of Amstore Innovation, “any messaging has to be creative, stimulating and hit home.” 

It’s fair to say the judging packs sent out to judges for the 2016 DMA Awards were worthy of being award winners themselves. Produced by Amstore, 400 video packs were sent to judges containing small screens that played an introductory video to the judging process. The fully personalised packs also contained a DMA-branded lightbulb USB that, when plugged into a computer, contained further information about judging. “The USB lightbulb lights up when you plug it in,” explains Bustamante. “So the concept was that lightbulb moment when you’re planning a campaign for a client and you hit upon an idea.”

The email that’s not an email Global furniture giant IKEA came up with a challenging brief for its advertising agency LIDA, to “send an email without an email address” to members of IKEA Family – the retailers’ loyalty scheme in the UK. These individuals had been identified as high-value customers, but the company didn’t have an email address for them. As it wasn’t possible to send a digital email, LIDA hit upon the idea of sending a physical email with a twist. The agency created the prototype of an email window carrying marketing messages that was sewn onto hessian fabric. This was then sent to a manufacturer in China who produced 40,000 stitched ‘emails’ to be mailed out to IKEA customers. Recipients were told that if they provided an email address they would instantly receive a money-off voucher, as well as useful or relevant communications from the brand in the future. 

“In line with IKEA’s reputation for craft and design, the approach was inspired by cross stitch design,” says Vaughan Townsend, Creative Director at LIDA and the creative lead for the project. “To send an ‘email’ in this way was intriguing and exciting for the recipient.” The approach worked, with 13.5% 
of people receiving the pack going on to provide their email address and opt in to email communications with the furniture store.

Where next for direct mail?
The DM packs sent out today are radically different from the ones sent out a decade ago, when the boundaries of innovation were being pushed by greater levels of personalisation. However, in the future, DM packs are likely to rely even more heavily on technology. “There’s just so much noise out there,” says Marcelo Bustamante, Managing Director of Amstore Innovation. “People are getting bombarded with marketing messages every day from many different brands and it’s only the ones that are memorable, engaging, or innovative that cause people to remember them. By fusing print technology and packaging together it creates a high impact, multi-sensory product that people can interact with. As a result you have a much higher response rate.”

Hence the next generation of DM packs that Amstore is about to unleash on the market. First is a pack called ‘Live Beacon’ that’s about to go into production. Beacons are small electronic transmitters that send information to smartphones and tablets. “The beacon technology is fused into the print and packaging, and transmits branded web content to recipients,” explains Bustamante.   

Next off the production line is a ‘Wi-Fi Pack’ that’s still in the ‘tech oven’. Amstore has created a way of embedding a wi-fi hotspot into print and packaging that broadcasts a signal that can be picked up by smartphones, tablets and laptops. “Say it’s a campaign for Nike,” explains Bustamante. “The customer would be sent a Nike-branded pack and when they open it up, it starts broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal. The end user then searches for ‘Nike Wi-Fi’ in their Wi-Fi settings and they can connect and receive the content.