The 13 Trends That Will Define Direct-Mail Marketing in 2021 (Part 1)
As the country begins to re-emerge in the wake of the pandemic, marketing is beginning to resemble the marketing we knew and used to great advantage in 2019.
People are ready. According to GlobalWebIndex, 85% of consumers are ready to see brands get back to normal.
On top of that, the numbers look good for direct mail. IBISWorld calculates the U.S. direct-mail economy will top $8.6 billion in 2021, a 2.2% increase over 2020.
Now, that increase may not seem like much, but 2.2% here and 2.2.% there in an $8 billion-plus market, as the late Sen. Everett Dirksen would tell you, pretty soon you’re talking about a lot of money.
In addition, people’s appetite for mail seems to have only strengthened during the pandemic. USPS Customer & Market Insights found that:
- 50% of consumers have tried a new product, service or establishment in the past six months after receiving a direct mail advertisement.
- 81% of people reported that they look forward to seeing what they’ve received in their mailbox.
- Two-thirds of customers collect their mail every delivery day.
Given all that, what can we expect from the direct-mail industry in 2021 – and how can you take advantage?
Basically, there are four areas of focus for marketers looking to take advantage of direct mail in 2021. They are:
- Trends in data collection and use
- Trends in technology and design
- Miscellaneous trends
We’ll look at these in two shifts, covering the top two now and the bottom two in our next installment. So without further ado …
Trend #1: Triggers
Whether you call it triggered direct mail or programmatic direct mail, this sort of data-driven direct mail is making a big splash.
The concept behind this type of mail is that mail sends are triggered by an external action or the alignment of a series of predictive data markers.
Because the send is determined by multiple data points, messaging can be more personalized, which typically equates to more conversions and higher revenue.
Triggers can nurture leads and move them through a sales funnel, providing a gentle nudge when they get stuck, fill out a form or abandon their cart.
Direct-mail triggers can be associated with life events like:
- Moving: Back in the day, a “Newcomers’ Club” provided special offers for families moving to a new city. Today these offers can be automated and triggered every time the USPS updates its address records.
- Insurance policy expirations:Churn is a profit-killer for many insurance agents. Automated proactive mailings can reduce churn.
- Appointment reminders: Dentist offices and other medical facilities can use triggered mail to automatically send high-impact appointment reminders – and even upsell services like teeth whitening.
- Annual or semi-annual services: Anyone who lives in the northern tier and has lawn sprinklers knows that you have to blow out your sprinklers in the fall. A direct-mail reminder is the perfect way to guarantee that business year after year.
- Activities: Youth sports, dance classes, scouting activities, and church activities can all leverage triggered mailings to automate the tedious task of reminding parents and families when it’s time to sign up, and any upcoming activities that they need to put on their calendars.
- Birthdays and anniversaries: Any date-related demographic marker you have in your customer database is fair game for triggered mailings.
- Customer “thank yous”: You know how you’re often hit with a survey after you call your cable or phone company’s call center? What if instead of a survey you got something of value – and instead of staying on the phone, what if it arrived through the mail?
- Account activation/deactivation/reactivation:With triggered mail, you can celebrate signups or provide a last-chance offer to customers who are leaving.
High levels of personalization matter; 84% of customers say that being treated like a person is important in winning their business.
Implementing triggers is easier than you think — you just need to figure out how they fit your business’s goals.
Creating Triggers For Your Business
The first step in setting up a triggered campaign is to determine whether your business has a trigger-worthy marker.
Triggers work best when they automate an important part of your business that takes a lot of time to maintain manually – so look for those processes. The weakest spot in your sales process or an event that always gets missed is always a good place to start.
At that point, try to define an action that will, uh, trigger the trigger.
Once you’ve done that, either by yourself or in conjunction with a direct-mail specialist, design a mail piece that includes a call to action but will remain timely and accurate over the life of the trigger.
Finally, be sure to review the triggered mail’s performance with your direct-mail specialist every three months or so and make adjustments as needed.
Triggers are one of the more visible advancements in direct mail for 2021 – but what about the other big areas of growth and change in the 2021 direct-mail landscape?
Data and automation
The following trends work on the data side to improve direct mail’s reach and effectiveness:
- Improved customer identification
- More sophisticated variable data
- Increased use of QR codes
- Implementation of voice recognition
Trend #2: Improved customer identification
No matter the campaign, you always want to use data that’s either publicly available or contained in your organization’s database to target customers more effectively.
One way to do this is to build a model of your best customers using multiple data points and apply that model to external data.
Whether you call this creating an avatar or building a predictive model, the keys are:
- To maximize the number of data points you use; and
- To use only the data points that have an impact on your end goal, whether that’s sales or moving someone further down the funnel.
The better you can target more potential customers, the greater the ROI of your direct-mail campaign. Be aware that it takes some experimentation and testing to find the optimal blend of data points that defines your best customers. But it can be done.
Trend #3: More sophisticated variable data
Customers want marketing that’s targeted to them in such a way that it makes them feel special but doesn’t seem creepy. That’s actually right up direct mail’s alley, as a properly constructed direct mail piece can leverage personal data at multiple points throughout the piece without making you feel like the sender has been rummaging through your medicine chest.
What are those points? What data do you have? Working with a direct-mail specialist skilled in personal messaging can match up personalization points and datasets with desired goals to create a piece that truly feels like it was built just for you.
Trend #4: QR codes
We’ve talked about QR codes before, discussed why they’re so impactful in mailings, and described how these codes can supply a bridge between the print and digital realms. But there are other important reasons for making QR codes part of your next mailing, including:
- More opportunities to interact with other printed media that are using QR codes
- Increased consumer comfort and familiarity with QR codes
- Ability to integrate QR code data with other consumer data
- USPS discounts
If you haven’t tried a mailing that uses a QR code to drive customers to a website or perform other digital actions, 2021 is the year to try it.
Trend #5: Voice Integration
Direct mail, and print in general, has struggled for years trying to find ways to integrate sound into mailings. Some attempts have been cumbersome – thick mailings with sound chips and poor-quality speakers – and some have been genius – a cardboard turntable, anyone?
Fortunately, there’s an opportunity to leverage a relatively new yet ubiquitous technology to bring sound into the direct-mail equation.
An increasing number of promotions are being created around Alexa and other voice-recognition platforms. They work like this: You get a mailing that instructs you what to say to Alexa. When you say the trigger phrase you‘re rewarded with a promotion.
Obviously, campaigns like these require a lot of integration and programming, but if you’re looking for a way to stand out, they’re tough to beat.
That’s just half of the innovations that will be driving direct mail in 2021. We’ll be back with the second half next time.
If you can’t wait that long, we have the full list right here and would be happy to talk though them with you at any time. Contact us today to learn more about what 2021’s direct-mail innovations mean for your business.
5/19/21 by Dan Topel