The 13 Trends That Will Define Direct-Mail Marketing in 2021 (Part 2)

The 13 Trends That Will Define Direct-Mail Marketing in 2021 (Part 2)

In our first installment, we looked at defining direct-mail trends for 2021 in the areas of data and technology, and examined the growing use of “triggered” mail.

Specifically, we looked at the following:

    1. Triggers
    2. Improved customer identification
    3. More sophisticated variable data
    4. Increased use of QR codes
    5. Implementation of voice recognition

For more details on these trends, you can check out that post here.

Now, let’s take a look at how new developments in print technology are impacting direct mail, and other trends to watch for as you execute your 2021 campaigns.

Print technology

Over on the print technology side, here are some of the things that are happening:

    1. More creative looking pieces
    2. Less creative looking pieces
    3. Additional focus on touch
    4. Shorter direct mail pieces
    5. Focus on interactivity

Trend #6: More creative-looking pieces

Whether it’s different-shaped pieces, different inks, different folds, even more out-of-the-box things like voice integration or scented mailings, direct mail is leveraging every new printing and production technology in an effort to grab people’s attention right away.

It’s not always true that the first piece of mail that catches someone’s eye gets the business, but it’s true in enough instances that many smart marketers are going for the glitz with their mail campaigns.

If that strategy appeals to you, it’s imperative to work with a direct-mail specialist who understands the technology and has experience working with marketers and designers, so that everything looks great and nothing gets lost in translation.

Trend #7: Less creative looking pieces

Strange as it may seem, the opposite is true as well. Part of the drive toward personalized messaging and marketing has manifested itself in low-tech-looking pieces that trade glitter for a high degree of personalization.

These personal appeals leverage multiple data points to create messaging that resonates because it seems like it was created especially for that recipient – and it bears no resemblance to the “junk mail” of the past (because let’s face it: trends may come and go, but “junk mail” is forever).

This type of mailing works extremely well in fundraising situations – and again, it’s important to work with a specialist on mailings like these to ensure that the personalized datapoints are integrated seamlessly and naturally.

Trend #8: Additional focus on touch

While marketers are taking baby steps toward successfully integrating audio into mailings, other senses are stepping into the spotlight as targets for enhancing direct mail’s appeal.

We mentioned scent earlier, but touch is more important than ever as a tool for making mailings stand out.

Thanks to the iPhone we have a greater understanding of haptics and what touch-based sensory feedback can do to add life to previous lifeless situations.

Raised inks and multiple surface textures create richer mailings with greater staying power.

Direct-mail specialists stay on top of the latest printing innovations, and can help come up with ways to employ them in your mailings.

Trend #9: Shorter direct-mail pieces

Long-form content may be reasserting itself on the web, but when it comes to purchase paths and purchase decisions, shorter remains better.

In fact, word counts on all types of direct mail have been dropping steadily:

Direct-mail pieces that have a compact call to action, almost like a billboard, can be combined with QR codes to deliver additional web-based content and calls to action in campaigns that make the best use of both media.

Think of the mail piece as the punch that gets the customer’s attention, and the digital back-end as the reinforcing messages and the enhanced calls to action. It’s a powerful combination.

Trend #10: Improved interactivity

The office environment of 2021 will continue to be the home environment – not to quite the extent that we saw in 2020, but to a larger extent than any other year in history.

People are going to be spending more time at home, and they’re going to be interacting with their home mail at rates approaching those of 2020.

The best way to take advantage of that trend is to make your mailings more interactive. Can you create and deliver mini-magazines or other branded content? Can you create puzzles and games? Can you run contests?

Anything you do to enhance interaction will have direct impact in how long your piece is kept in a household, delivering your messages. Direct-mail specialists have some great ideas on how to up the interactivity quotient of your mailings.


Miscellaneous trends

While these trends don’t have much to do with printing technology or data use, they’ll play a big role in determining what your 2021 direct-mail program looks like:

    1. Website-centric advertising coordination
    2. Direct-mail mashups
    3. “Canned” mail pieces


Trend #11: Website-centric advertising coordination

The hierarchy of a brand’s marketing assets have shifted. These days the website is the asset that most clearly reflects a brand’s identity and purpose, and serves as its chief marketing hub. Every other facet and asset ideally takes its design, messaging, and marketing cues from the website.

As a result, any marketing campaign has to first start with the website and how an organization’s marketing goals are manifested in the website.

What does that mean for direct mail? Simply this: Every direct mail campaign needs to reflect back to the website whether directly (as in the case of a QR code sending customers to a dedicated landing page) or indirectly (as in reflecting the look and feel of the website).

If you’re wondering what impact this has on direct-mail marketing, the answer is: It flips the process.

These days, it’s best to first ask, “What is my website telling me?”, then look at your marketing plan for business imperatives. Combine brand cues from the website with the business imperatives from the marketing campaign, focus obsessively on your customer, and bingo! A successful mailing.

All this is more easily said than done, obviously. But you’re never going to be wrong looking to your website for guidance on your next mail campaign.

Trend #12: Direct-mail mashups

Mailing costs are only going to get more expensive – so can you team up with another business on a combined direct-mail promotion that provides a customer with one-stop shopping at a great price?

Case in point: Can a fitness center team up with a nutrition consultant on a two-for-one mailing?

In a scenario like this, everyone wins. Businesses get the impact of a mailing at half the cost, and customers get an unbeatable combo offer.

Trend #13: “Canned” mail pieces

Very often the process of creating a direct mail piece has taken one of two forms:

    • Repurpose something old; or
    • Create something from scratch

However, more and more organizations are relying on a third path: a “canned” direct-mail piece with variable elements that can be personalized and modified to serve multiple purposes.

Pieces like these can save on creative costs while enabling smaller businesses or budget-conscious larger businesses to still be active in the direct-mail space.


There’s a lot going on in direct mail in 2021. If you’re interested in any of these trends, or want to know more about direct mail in general, contact us. We are the direct-mail experts.


6/2/21 by Dan Topel

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.