Direct Mail in a Post-Pandemic World
The opening session for the final day of the Virtual Inkjet Summit focused on direct mail, and what marketing will look like in a post-pandemic future. COVID-19 has reshaped how brands communicate with consumers in profound ways, and inkjet is, in many ways, perfectly positioned to be the technology that helps them reconnect in very personal, meaningful ways.
Barb Pellow, manager, Pellow and Partners, sat down with Darrin Wilen, president of Wilen Direct, to discuss how the current climate has re-shaped business, and what that means for direct mail’s future, as well as the role inkjet will play.
Pellow noted that one thing to keep in mind is that while some industries, such as travel, or membership mailings to local events or attractions, has dropped off dramatically over the past six months, the news isn’t all bad. In fact, some markets, such as health care, elder care services, personal care products, and educational products, among others, have actually see an increase in mailings.
But even for those businesses that have cut back, she stressed that it is up to the print service providers to remind brands that messaging can’t just shut down completely. They have to weight financial considerations with the very real possibility of losing their entire pipeline by allowing potential customers to languish with no contact whatsoever. This is where direct mail can help bridge the gap.
At the same time, she said, PSPs need to help brands craft messaging that is very empathetic and relevant to the times we currently live in. “I can’t stand that phrase ‘we’re all in this together,’ but I do think you need to work with your customers to make sure the messaging that they are delivering is incredibly sensitive and empathetic,” said Pellow.
Wilen, who’s company currently generates approximately $100 million in annual revenue, producing more than a billion direct mail pieces each year, noted that what customers are asking for has changed dramatically. Big data has happened, and, he said, “the term swimming in data is an understatement.” The ability to use data, and create mass personalization with inkjet is what is driving many campaigns forward.
Customers, he noted, want the ability to leverage that data faster, in more ways, with campaigns that deliver measurable ROI — especially in the face of a pandemic, where every dollar has to be carefully weighed. Printed communications, he noted, also have to work more closely with online marketing campaigns, as brands look to use direct mail to drive those customers into storefronts and other buying opportunities.
“I’ve seen a very good piece of technology that ultimately we’ve been talking about for 10 years, that really is entering a mainstay,” said Wilen. That technology is QR codes. Smartphones, he noted, are good enough that consumers can point the camera at a code and it will recognize it, and immediately bring the link up on the screen that the customer can then use to navigate to that brand’s website.
“Who’s to say with inkjet and personalization that every product can’t have a QR code. What you’re now doing is taking print, in a physical methodology — which is one of the last bastions of physical marketing — and driving something now to the mobile phone, which is where everyone is going. … This is a watershed moment of being able to connect physical marketing to all the elements of digital marketing, which will continue to grow. I’ve seen my mom saying ‘what is that thing’ and trying to get a QR code working. So if my mom can do it, we all can do it!”
What does this mean for commercial printers considering inkjet? Today, Wilen noted, 80% of his work is done via inkjet, and all of that is variable data — and he expects that number to continue to grow. Direct mail, he noted, is not going away any time soon, but it is changing. Mailboxes are less cluttered, but with so many now working from home — a trend that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future — more people are taking the time to look at their physical mail, which means each piece has a much greater chance to be noticed.
He believes that printers should start preparing now for lower overall volumes of direct mail to continue, but with those jobs continuing to have much more complex personalization, that uses data to ensure every single piece is highly relevant to an individual, not a general demographic. These are all the things that inkjet was created to do, which makes it the perfect technology to invest in to capture this evolving opportunity.
“You always want the direct mail piece to get the credit for the work its doing. If you’re on social media, there’s complete clutter; if there’s anything that’s nice about the mailbox now — it’s less cluttered. And will continue to be less cluttered,” said Wilen. “So have a good message to make it work, and that will be your job.”