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Direct Mail 2021: The Bridge Between Physical and Digital Media

Credit: Getty Images by erhui1979

In 2021, we’ve seen brands enhance direct mail campaigns by adding interactive elements and leveraging technology to increase customer engagement.

That means that marketers should leverage technology as a way to boost customers’ experiences with direct mail. By doing this, direct mail pieces can become more engaging, making customers remember not necessarily the piece itself, but how it made them feel.

Technology is Not Killing Direct Mail – It’s Enhancing It

Research shows brands are relying more on QR codes, voice activated call to action, and augmented reality to make their direct mail campaigns more interactive, and thus more engaging. OneMain Financial encouraged recipients to utilize their smart speakers to know more about its offering, Citibank streamlined its card application process by taking full advantage of USPS Informed Delivery, and BMW made it simple for customers to schedule their maintenance service by just scanning a QR code.

More Than a Direct Mail Piece

For example, Disney’s ability to surprise and delight its customers extends to its direct mail campaigns. From engaging storytelling with a simple scan of a QR code, to making customers feel part of the Marvel universe, Disney does not deliver direct mail campaigns to its customers; it delivers engaging experiences. Customers often took to social media their sentiment for the brand and its unique way to engage with them and stated they will keep the mailers as a memento.

Direct Mail is a Place for Brand Ethics

Brands are utilizing direct mail to showcase how they are making a difference in areas such as the environment, poverty, and support to communities and small businesses. Consumers are putting high value on brands’ CSR efforts, especially amid the pandemic. Citizens Bank encouraged customers to help them fight hunger and American Express provided marketing materials to small businesses to help them drive customers when they needed it the most – amid the pandemic.

Five Best-in-Class Strategies

Brands showcased a plethora of new strategies, from the utilization of Voice Activated Call to Action (VACTA) to creating “magic” through the scan of a QR code, these five examples showcase best-in class strategies for making a direct mail more effective and engaging.

1. The old with the new: OneMain and SoFi married legacy and technology

Both OneMain Financial and SoFi encouraged recipients to interact with their smart speakers to find out more about the mailed offer. The inclusion of Voice Activated Call to Action (VACTA) in direct mail pieces can yield good results – according to Mintel data, over a quarter of U.S. adults own a smart speaker.

2. Back to Basics: DIRECTV Stream introduces TV guides to the streaming world

AT&T TV (now DIRECTV Stream) reminded customers that HBO MAX was free with their subscription. Mailer included monthly TV and viewing guides of weekly premier showings and newly released movies for channels such as Cinemax, Starz, Showtime, and Epix. Recipients are encouraged to remove the guide to view at their convenience.

3. Disney adds “magic” to QR codes

Disney Cruise marketed their newest and most innovative ship, the Disney Wish, through an engaging mailer and an interactive QR code (video linked below). Once scanned, recipients are transported to an animated video highlighting the many amenities of the cruise. The mailer additionally included a removable and displayable poster of the ship itself.

4. Disney+ did not send direct mail – it sent memorabilia

At a time when consumers were streaming content more than ever, Disney+ used direct mail to boost the streaming experience and leave fans surprised and delighted. Disney communications caused such an impact that recipients decided to keep them as memorabilia.

5. Amex sent small businesses free signage to help them during troubling times

The free signage allowed small businesses to let their customers know they were participating in the Shop Small campaign, an initiative in which Amex cardholders could earn up to $50 back by spending at small businesses. Helping small businesses will not only strengthen Amex’s brand among business owners but will also do so among consumers. In fact, 51% of consumers stated they would buy from brands who helped people and businesses during COVID-19.

Evolving Trends

In addition to these, the following examples showcase evolving trends in direct mail marketing, including the use of QR codes, creative ways to take advantage of USPS Informed Delivery, and gamification.

Brands Showcased What They Stood For

In a time where consumers are looking for more immediate action, brands are stepping up and making a difference in areas such as the environment, sustainability, food waste, poverty, hunger, and disease. Citizens Bank offered to donate 100 meals to Feeding America on behalf of the person opening a new checking account.

Aspiration sent a welcome kit stating that it is “proud to be a leader in socially-conscious, sustainable financial services.”

According to Mintel trend Moral Brands, these types of campaigns can resonate with consumers that put high value on brads’ CSR efforts in regards to the causes they care about.

Brands Used Informed Delivery

According to a study made by the USPS Office of Inspector General, “many marketers saw value in Informed Delivery for brand image and awareness objectives.”

Citibank leveraged Informed Delivery to streamline the application process for its Diamond Preferred card. Recipients could “click the link to enter your Personal Invitation Number from inside your offer letter to apply.”

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital made it easier for those wanting to donate by including a “Donate Today” call to action.

Fairstone marketed its personal loans during the holiday season with a personalized holiday card; reminding recipients that a personal loan could boost their holiday spending limit. The mailer also included a QR code on the back of the card and on the stamp itself for easy reference to the offer.

Ally did something a little different, it featured a mobile-first approach. Instead of directing customers to its website after customers’ new card activation, Ally encouraged recipients to utilize the abilities and controls of its app — fully integrated with real-time notifications. There’s an opportunity to include a download link via QR code to reduce friction of app engagement.

Brands are discovering new ways to engage customers with QR codes. BMW encouraged recipients to schedule car services, while American Express and Zillow provided codes for an easy application process of various loans. Capital One added an extra layer of personalization by hiding its logo in the QR code. TELUS Health also used QR codes for customers to download their app and, for Father’s Day, Kohl’s provided a QR code for Dad approved gifts.

Car dealerships also provided a game-like experience for recipients in direct mail, allowing them a chance to earn prizes by lifting a series of tabs and matching a series of combinations. In the example below from JAMES Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, the dealership said “this prize giveaway is QR code protected,” giving an extra layer of legitimacy to the game.

Discover included a detachable plastic card with direct mail pieces of the Discover it card. Recipients can easily detach the plastic card from the communication and put it in their purse or wallet, allowing them to apply for the Discover it card by just scanning the QR code at the time of their convenience, without having to hold on to the much larger direct mail piece.

Direct Mail Isn’t an Island, It’s a Bridge

The use of QR codes, VATCA, and USPS Informed Delivery are a few examples of how marketers are leveraging digital enhancements to drive direct mail engagement. The success of a campaign will not be directly tied to the use of these technologies alone, but how these technologies are implemented by marketers to enhance the reader’s experience. Neuroscience and behavioral science research have shown how direct mail stimulates a cascade of neurological responses, mainly because it engages the sense of touch, unlike digital media. Expect technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to be more prominent in direct mail pieces in order to create a more sensory, and thus more engaging experience for readers.

Now that QR codes are becoming more ubiquitous, there is an opportunity for brands to add an extra layer of personalization to stand out from competitors. An example of this would be how Capital One coordinated its QR code to the colors of its logo, adding more brand recognition and personalization.

Recent digital enhancements have positioned direct mail as the perfect tool to bridge physical and digital media. It is up to marketers to take advantage of this in order to maintain their onmichannel campaigns consistent, and thus creating a more engaging experience for readers.

Comperemedia, a Mintel company, is an industry-leading competitive marketing intelligence agency. To find out more about Comperemedia’s products and services, please get in touch.