Tour of the Modern Mailing Universe
I got my start (as a youngster) in lettershops. It was many years before I got a chance to migrate over to a real bindery. Back in those days, mailing was a comparatively simple business. Label the envelope (with a PAPER label!), and stuff the envelope with a variety of advertising inserts. There were basically two classes of machinery, the labeler and the envelope inserter.
Since those days, volume mailing has gone through several technological evolutions. Inkjet addressing, digital printing, envelope inserter speeds greater than 20,000 cycles per hour, and so on. Printers used to job out their mailing assignments to lettershops. But years ago, they decided to become “one-stop shops,” with a mailing department as well as the bindery.
Direct mail continued to grow, with incredible volumes peaking in the 2008-09 timeframe. I'm sitting only a few miles from a firm that (back in the day), could churn out 250 MILLION pieces of direct mail a month. Since then, the Internet and mobile platforms have eaten into direct mail volumes, not to mention steady postal-rate increases.
But direct mail isn't going away. Even your sub-par direct mail piece gets much more attention than the best Web ads. And well-targeted, intelligently personalized pieces do really well. When you combine a mail piece with a targeted email, you can hit the jackpot. The real question is, How has the technology impacted the mailing piece itself?
Amazingly, a majority of direct mail still consists of your plain-vanilla envelope. But there are interesting variations, among them:
• Postcards, postcards, postcards.
Digital print has given the postcard a whole new life. They're easy to print and mail, and can be personalized to a high degree. Good graphic design and use of color can make these attention-getters an economical way to reach out for customers. And, they also offer postal savings. My wife is a realtor, and postcards are one of her key marketing tools.
• The re-invention of the envelope.
Several high-speed paper-wrapping machines will now collate inserts and convert a paper web into an “envelope” around them. The big advantage with these machines is added inkjet printing. The web “envelope” can be printed in four color with all sorts of personalization that matches the inside contents.
• Boy, my bills look a lot better!
High-speed color inkjet printing has impacted the transactional sector in a big way. My cable and telephone statements now arrive in blazing color. Studies have shown that targeted use of color in statements can actually speed payments. The “transpromo” effort has also gained some traction in this area.
The bottom line is that technology has the potential to significantly improve results in direct mail, and to keep this advertising medium viable for many years to come.