How a Modern Twist on Direct Mail
Can Better Engage Customers

By Oz Etzioni, CEO at Clinch & Chris Pritcher, SVP of Creative Strategy at Merkle

Featured in The Drum – March 30, 2022

Though it doesn’t get a lot of press in a world that exalts digital innovation, direct mail is still an effective form of advertising. But here’s the thing: it also has a unique ability to make digital advertising work better. And, when combined with some of the technology that underlies digital ad personalization, direct mail can become the next, better version of itself. Innovation can happen even in long-established channels.

How can direct mail be used to enable digital first brands to build, engage, and convert customers at a more personal level than ever before?

Identifying your audience is the obvious first step of any marketing strategy, yet it’s often the hardest. It’s often assumed that new tools and data sources need to be developed in order to facilitate the relevancy that’s the Holy Grail of modern advertising. But direct mail plus Dynamic Creative Optimization (DCO) technology, can connect online and offline identities in order to better define audiences down to micro-segments and deliver creative treatments to cater to them in any channel.

Here’s how.

First, direct mail must be seen, and measured, as a source of authenticated online hand raisers, not just as a way to carry a message to a mailbox. That means develop omnichannel learning plans and technologies to create experiences for these users online and off, as well as building a creative development process to jointly these experiences. Finding partners with both the tools and the know-how to implement this strategy is foundational to success.

Imagine a customer receives a direct mail piece for a product that interests them and with a compelling offer designed to encourage an immediate response. It is critical to enable that response through a trackable channel – a customer registers, follows a personalized link, a personalized QR code (physical printing is capable of these personalization touches at scale).

The brand now has a direct link between that customer’s terrestrial and online identities and an understanding of the type of offer that compelled them to action. That connection can be especially valuable in siloed media channels that seem impenetrable without first-party data, such as connected TV (CTV).

Respondents to these direct mail pieces are now a large pool of first-party online identities with expressed interests in the brand/offer/message. They are valuable both for the ability to address them with future, relevant and for the ability to develop lookalike models in order to expand your audience.

The DCO component allows for future impressions to function as small, individual experiments and to optimize and adjust segmentation and creative approaches based on a learnings-first methodology.

Offline marketers can use this pool to test creative concepts directly on their target audience before expanding to a larger universe. Strategic use of DCO can answer key questions on the effectiveness of new offers, pricing, calls-to-action, etc. in a matter of days versus the quarterly timelines typical of offline analysis.

While message testing may seem complicated to put into practice, it’s not. DCO, though originally built to construct massive variations of digital ads, can efficiently create virtually infinite, well-organized creative versions for print, at high speed and at scale. Instead of developing banners or videos, the same technology develops PDFs for printing.

Similarly, online marketers are able to leverage the longer format of direct mail to test a larger messaging strategy, product positioning, brand look & feel, etc. that are more difficult to get a read on in quick-hit online environments and use that learning to inform their web, mobile, CTV, and OTT strategies.

As Mike Law, President of Dentsu’s Amplifi US, recently noted, “We live in really personalized worlds. And as we talk about media—if we can reach the right person, but we tell them the wrong thing, that’s highly ineffective, right? So, in a way that engagement has to be authentic, and it has to create a connection that consumers feel for the brand”. Marketers have invested heavily in data, technology, and analytics to enable that personalization. However, the content demands that personalization bring existing creative processes to their knees. DCO has been a critical solution to the challenge of online personalization, by enabling the rapid construction of creative assets through templates and elements.

By connecting the online and offline identities, DCO can now be used to create efficiencies across the consumer experience. Marketers can stop the siloed development of creative and can leverage impactful elements across online and offline channels. We can now spend time bringing each channel’s unique powers to bear versus recreating the same elements over and over across channels.