Direct Mail Outlook for 2018 Includes Ranking of Top 5 Direct Mail Printers from Latest PI 400 List
Every day, people around the country look forward to receiving their mail. This “Mail Moment” - as coined by the U.S. Postal Service - describes how recipients of tangible mail focus their undivided attention on examining everything in their mailbox. According to the findings of a recent USPS study in which consumers revealed how important mail is to their daily lives, 98% of consumers bring in their mail the day it’s delivered and, of these people, 72% bring it in as soon as possible, while 77% sort through their mail immediately.
The Mail Moment provides marketers - and their print partners - with the unique opportunity to get their messages noticed and their offers considered. Thus, direct mail continues to be a viable source of communication with the general public.
“Companies and vertical markets which are ‘new to mail’ are finding a channel that is sophisticated about data, analytics and in-home delivery that integrates mail with other channels in ways that drive response across all channels,” says Jim Andersen, CEO of IWCO Direct in Chanhassen, Minn.
But in order to ensure that “Mail Moment” happens, marketers and printers need to work smarter - leveraging data for personalized and relevant direct mail messages. “As companies continue to capture data about their customers, we are able to market smarter to them. Our investments have all come around to being able to allow for this ‘smarter’ marketing,” explains Mark DeBoer, director of customer experience at Darwill in Hillside, Ill.
Laura Helfers, director of creative and marketing at Milton, Wis.-based Freedom, agrees. “Marketers are tipping the scales in the personalization direction more than ever. As consumers are bombarded with advertising from every possible media channel, a vanilla mailer addressed to ‘Resident’ simply won’t do. Make your direct marketing efforts relevant, or don’t make them at all.”
More Channels Versus More Response
Today’s consumers receive more messaging than ever before from multiple platforms, channels and sources, dividing their attention (social media platforms alone can add at least five channels per person). But while more channels means more exposure, more exposure doesn’t necessarily mean more response.
In a world where everyone seems to have less time, consumers are still spending up to 30 minutes with their mail. But in order to ensure your direct mail piece grabs their attention it is important to have an omnichannel, multi-sensory and personalized mindset when working with brands and marketers.
“It’s critically important to provide something beyond ink on paper that gets mailed in order to succeed in today’s market,” advises IWCO Direct’s Andersen. “It’s not enough to deliver generic messaging and bombard a mailbox or inbox; messaging must be personalized and customized to the prospect or customer, and the cadence of messaging must be thoughtful and well-timed. To cut through the competition and make an impression, marketers must be smart in their approach.
“Packages and campaigns must complement and build off each other for the offer to receive maximum exposure and create a lasting impression. They also must instantly appeal to the consumer by reaching them on a personal level,” he continues. “Consumers are smart and can spot mediocre efforts a mile away - they also know their worth as a customer. Marketers must be prepared to deliver relevant offers to consumers in a non-intrusive, multi-channel way, or consumers will find someone else who will.”
Marketers are realizing that the more targeted and interactive they can make their offer, the better their chances are for boosting response. “Delivering a 1:1 marketing experience and producing those variable materials in a perpetual manufacturing environment is an essential component to success in 2018 and beyond,” Helfers says.
“Imagine reaching into your mailbox and grasping a silky-smooth mailer flood coated with soft touch UV,” she notes. “An interesting embossed groove texture awakens the senses like no email can. Add some weight and rigidity to that mailer with an ultra-thick buckslip, or brighten the senses with a scented glue strip that immediately transports you into a flower garden. Giving the recipient something to touch and feel offers so much more than just an electronic experience.”
But being able to take a “data point” and convert that to a way that can be creatively used is an art form. Data security becomes an increasingly critical piece in the direct mail puzzle.
“As companies build these intelligent databases there are often parts of this data that would be considered highly sensitive. As marketers try to use this data well, there is a need to make sure that only relevant information is being passed outside of their walls. Using this data is powerful, if done correctly,” DeBoer cautions.
The Fork in the Road
The direct mail printing market is at a crossroads: create a new marketing super-highway or do nothing and reach a dead end. Education and awareness is needed to help change marketers’ perception. Educating brands and marketers on how to deliver the most value out of the printed piece within an overall customer touchpoint strategy is essential to the health of the direct mail market.
And without a viable Postal Service, direct mail cannot survive. “Postal reform legislation is stalled in Congress; the USPS board of governors lacks any presidentially-appointed, senate-confirmed members (which has delayed 2018 mailing promotions). And, as of mid-November, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has yet to complete its rate and regulatory review,” Andersen points out.
“The direct mail industry has benefitted from stable, inflation-capped postage rates during the past 10 years. Although the USPS has announced a CPI-based rate adjustment for market dominant products in January 2018, its management is pushing hard for the PRC to lift the rate cap, which could result in much higher rate increases going forward.
“In addition, the postal reform legislation currently before Congress includes a 2.15% one-time rate increase,” Andersen adds. “Uncertainty is reflected in the 3 billion-piece drop in Marketing Mail volume in FY2017.”
“The direct mail industry needs to get the PRC rate review behind us, with a ruling affirming the inflation-based rate cap. Congress needs to pass postal reform to solidify USPS finances and address retiree health care and pension liabilities.”
As 2018 approaches, the industry is preparing for increasing postal rates, shifts in the paper market, demand for shorter production cycles and greater requirements to protect confidential personal data - all of which will significantly contribute to the success - or failure - of omnichannel direct marketing efforts.
“It’s all about evolution. Yesterday’s solutions may not create tomorrow’s opportunities,” Helfers concludes. “However, our ability to quickly and nimbly address our clients’ critical business challenges with flexible resources will allow us to accommodate precisely-targeted direct marketing campaigns well into the future.”
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.