The future of direct mail has never looked brighter. 67% of marketers say direct mail delivers the best ROI of any channel they use, according to State of Direct Mail 2022.
But to meet this demand, you need to automate. The era of high volumes, low personalization and mass direct mail is coming to an end as marketers focus on more targeted direct mail strategies that can integrate with their digital channels.
The future belongs to the printers who can best integrate a modern marketing technology stack and workflow to print and send highly personalized and targeted mailings.
Direct mail marketing and the printing industry
Over the past few years, printers and direct mailers have focused on upgrading their capabilities and workflow. Eight in 10 direct mail marketers now send personalized mail, and nearly half (46%) use personalized images in their mail, a feat made easier by more customizable printing services.
COVID-19 has accelerated this change. For printers, the quarantine blow publishing of magazines and newspapers hard, as well as the demand for graphic displays used by physical stores. At the same time, e-commerce has exploded, creating increased demand for packaging.
Having consumers at home and connected all day has also accelerated the growth of direct mail marketing. It’s an open secret that digital response rates have been trending downward for years as consumers have been inundated with too many emails, messages and advertisements. To cut through the noise, marketers were already turning to direct mail and modernizing their capabilities before COVID-19 hit.
- Around 50% use a software/technology platform to run campaigns
- 42% work with internal teams who write/design campaigns
- One-third or less use an agency for various parts of direct mail campaign strategy/design/execution
The pandemic has made direct mail even more important for marketing. Mail creates a tangible connection between suppliers and consumers that digital simply cannot provide – something consumers are looking for more than ever. If they could send emails with the same level of personalization they use on digital channels, marketers could drive much more offline ROI.
But there was a problem: This digital-like approach to direct mail—focused on smaller runs of highly personalized mailings—didn’t mesh well with traditional printing practices. Draws traditionally require many back and forths to gather requirements, set prices, share information, etc. It works when printers serve a few customers with established relationships, consistent demands, and long delivery times. But as marketers adopt smaller, faster, more personalized cycles with larger customer bases, it’s becoming a logistical nightmare — unless and until you automate.
Upgrade print workflows to work seamlessly with automation
For direct mail to work seamlessly with digital channels, it needs the same workflow, automation, and capabilities as digital channels. It forces you to update your capabilities, as well as the way you structure customer relationships. Here’s what it looks like:
Digital campaigns depend on enormous flexibility that only digital printing equipment can provide. Tradespeople use triggers to target the most receptive customers and prospects, combined with personalized content, based on the recipient’s purchase history, demographics, previous touchpoints and other factors.
Once these campaigns are set up, they go into autopilot mode. A marketing team can run dozens of automated campaigns simultaneously, such as:
- Send personalized offers to customers who haven’t made a purchase in 25 days
- Track leads exactly two days after they download a resource
- Sending birthday messages to customers
- Nurture webinar attendees across multiple channels
Tracking digital metrics is just as easy. Marketers know immediately when customers are receiving (or not receiving) emails and other digital messages, allowing them to quickly update wrong or outdated addresses. They also know when recipients use the discounts, links, and other codes they send, so they can quickly learn which strategies are working.
In the printing world, you need to provide customers with accurate reporting information and view tracking for every mail. An automated direct mail provider does all the heavy lifting when it comes to reporting, tracking, and analytics.
This flexibility is made possible by a pricing structure that allows them to customize their content as much – or as little – as they need. Because they don’t have to purchase percentage customization up front (like they do in traditional printer relationships), they can make customization decisions based on the needs of each project. So if they send 1,000 personalized sales emails on Monday and 100,000 identical newsletters on Tuesday, they are not considered a waste of resources.
Print-on-demand networks and dedicated customer portals facilitate contactless planning and scheduling. All of this happens without marketers having to call their digital vendors to negotiate contracts or purchase capacity. It may seem like a trivial detail, but contactless automation is what allows marketers to use direct mail so flexibly.
It’s a bit like the difference between drawing water from a tap and buying it from a store. Even though it only takes five minutes to walk to the store and buy a jug of water, it still adds a whole layer of planning, rationing and logistics to the process. It consumes time and mind for both consumer and seller.
put it all together
This is the new standard for dealing with printers. From the sender’s perspective, direct mail should work almost exactly like its digital channels. This means automated systems for sending and collecting requirements, automated tracking, piece-rate pricing and super-fast turnaround times, all without the need for a phone call.
Advantages of automated direct mail for printers
Fortunately, the problem has already been solved. Automated Direct Mail Solutions use APIs to connect senders to a network of printers, creating a streamlined workflow that benefits both parties.
From the printer’s perspective, the process begins when the customer sends direct mail. The API routes the mail request to the printer closest to the destination, along with the recipient’s address and other relevant information, such as form factor.
The API also shares information with the client. This allows them to track the mailing through production and delivery, so you don’t have to field calls asking for updates.
The entire system uses fixed unit pricing, eliminating the need to negotiate batch projects or deal with difficult clients. It also reduces demand fluctuations and uncertainty. When you’re in a one-to-one relationship, business can fluctuate dramatically depending on the needs of a few customers. But with an automated direct mail provider like Lob, you receive orders from a large and diverse customer base. Although seasonal demand varies, it will not fluctuate dramatically based on the decisions of a few large customers. This makes capacity planning and keeping your store running smoothly all year round much easier.
What to look for in automated direct mail
There are a number of direct mail automation platforms. Here are some factors to help you choose the right one for your store.
Integrated address verification
Incomplete, inaccurate and incorrectly formatted addresses can be a problem for you and your customers. Look for a provider that has address verification built into their system, so they’re ready to go as soon as you get it.
In addition to using a lot of bandwidth, PDFs can create unexpected problems if not formatted correctly. Look for a provider that incorporates customer-facing HTML templates optimized for print. This makes it easy for the client to send you properly formatted designs, which also makes your life easier – there’s no need to clean up PDFs and reduces the risk of misprints.
Ease of installation and use
Before signing up with a direct mail automation provider, make sure the software is user-friendly and easy to install. Every print shop is different, so there will always be work to integrate an API into your workflow. However, this should not be a mammoth undertaking.
Make sure your automation solution is truly automated. Once you’re up and running, you should only be responsible for preparing mail items and delivering them to the USPS. You shouldn’t have to make calls or send emails to request additional information, manage clients, or share tracking data.
Join the automated direct mail revolution
Gone are the days of complex workflows, demand droughts, and difficult customer management. Partner with Lob to future-proof your print shop, reduce inefficiency, and keep your business at the forefront of print automation.
Lob is the only direct mail automation platform that enables businesses to transform campaign ROI and employee productivity. The Lob platform simplifies workflows by automating the entire direct mail process – from creation, printing, postage, delivery and sustainability with end-to-end analytics and campaign attribution . Over 10,000 businesses rely on Lob to send over 700 million pieces of mail through the platform.
Founded in 2013 and based in San Francisco, Lob is backed by Y Combinator, Polaris Partners, Floodgate and First Round Capital.
Learn more about Lob on our website: https://lob.com