Evolution of a Giant: RR Donnelley's Direct Mail Journey in an Omnichannel Marketing World
When it comes to print providers that have undergone a strategic transformation, there is no denying that Chicago-based RR Donnelley (RRD) is one of the success stories. The company, now a leading global provider of marketing and business communications solutions, has proven that embracing the spirit of convergence and expanding into multiple services and technologies can and does result in major increases in every metric that matters. Today, RRD serves more than 50,000 customers, with 43,000 employees across 34 countries. It is hard to debate that kind of success.
Recently, Printing Impressions sat down with Maureen Powers, president of RRD’s Direct Marketing division, to learn more about how this specific segment is contributing to the overall success of the company, as well as where she sees direct mail fitting into the longer-term picture — for RRD as well as for the printing industry in general.
Powers joined RRD in May 2018, coming from a more than 20-year career in marketing in the financial services industry. Her focus was on direct marketing and product management, and she notes, “I have always been focused on the customer experience.” When she joined RRD, her immediate goal was on building a team that would focus more specifically on direct response marketing efforts, and not just the traditional technical direct mail channels. She wanted to see direct mail as a more integral part of the overall marketing strategy, rather than just a mass marketing effort to blanket a demographic.
“The success RRD had in 2018 is a good start to that [philosophy],” Powers says. “It is also built on the fact that RRD is a company that, even though we’re in a transformational stage right now, has a history of partnering with clients to deliver solutions and execute them flawlessly. Not a lot of companies can do that.”
Direct Mail in an Online World
Powers believes that even with all of the success RRD and others have had with multi-channel marketing campaigns that allow consumers to interact with a brand or product in multiple ways, direct mail is still very much an integral part of the mix. Particularly, she notes, that while direct mail might have waned in the past as marketers experimented in digital channels and new technologies, in 2018 there was a real push as those brands began to return to the proven returns of direct mail.
“It is coming back as part of a bigger strategic plan for many marketers,” Powers says. “They have a set budget, and have to figure out how to use it to achieve their goals. It’s not just one channel; it’s using all of them together.”
For 2019 and beyond, she believes personalization, in particular, will become an even bigger part of the direct mail strategy. And, she stresses, “it’s not just sticking someone’s name on the inside letter.” Rather, she believes that as brands continue to collect richer, more relevant data on their customers, they will be able to produce highly targeted, highly personalized pieces that can resonate not with a demographic of people, but with an individual on a massive scale.
“We’re learning more and more about some of the implications of what we can do,” Powers says. “Now it comes down to the fact that our clients can leverage their data to market relevant offers and messages to their customers.”
Those offers, she notes, can be very tailored today, with next-door neighbors getting very different mailers.
“It’s no longer one-size-fits-all,” Powers says. “We are using data to personalize the name, the offer and sometimes even the visual. A mom might see a piece that shows children. Her sister with no children might get a piece with individuals. The industry has gotten to a point where, depending on the level of data available, personalization can be a big thing.”
Powers also believes that direct mail won’t be relegated to the kind of blanket campaigns of the past, where everyone on a list receives communication. Instead, she sees direct mail as becoming more targeted, with trigger campaigns allowing brands to send more frequent messages, in smaller quantities that are targeted to far smaller groups. Examples might be when someone visits a brand website, it could trigger a mailing to drive home an offer that an individual clicked on.
“It’s very different if you think about how direct mail was used in the past,” Powers says. “That kind of targeting was the Holy Grail, and now we have the customer data so we can give them that kind of campaign.”
Always Looking Ahead
For RRD, the path to those kinds of highly targeted, highly personalized direct mail campaigns is based on a strategy of “always upgrading,” says Powers. It is something that print service providers of every size and shape can learn from.
She notes that it usually starts with a strategic conversation between RRD and the client, and the company determining whether or not the solution that will best suit the client is something new, or something they already deliver. And if it’s new, they’ll consider what would be required to add that service or technology to the mix. “I’ve seen upgrades in areas like data management and modeling,” she says, “and a lot of the back end, which is critical. As far as the printers, the operations team is always looking at the next few years — we did make some investments in the second half of 2018, some new digital presses that will help us deliver more real-time responses, which is fascinating to see.”
That real-time response, she notes, is another trend she anticipates will impact direct mail, as well as the other marketing channels in the coming months.
“As a society, we want everything in real time, on-demand,” she notes. “As marketers, we need to be prepared for that.”
One of the biggest challenges that RRD isn’t alone in facing is creating these pieces and using that data in ways that make sense, without being too invasive.
“We have to have the right data, and both clients and customers need to be comfortable with that level of data,” Powers says. “We have to speak to them with data that makes sense, and use it in the right ways.”
There is also going to be more of a need to integrate all of these different elements in a more seamless way — the direct mail piece must have the same look and feel as the website, as the email newsletters, as the mobile apps, etc. “This is one of the biggest opportunities in my mind,” Powers says. “People are still learning, and we’re leading the way to integrate all of these components. At RRD, we’re going to continue to focus on this area to help our clients optimize their communications by integrating their online and offline channels.”
Direct mail is still very much an integral part of the marketing mix. Digital channels are saturated with content, and many consumers find it highly distracting, making it hard for brands to stand out. Using direct mail as a channel to help build brand awareness and encourage customers to take the next step in their relationship with the company can be a powerful tool. “If you’re a brand or company that needs to reach out to prospects, direct mail is a strong opportunity,” Powers stresses.
For RRD, the remainder of 2019 and beyond will feature a strong push toward helping customers from all industries, shapes and sizes to find better ways to use direct mail to connect with customers on a deeper level. The company is experimenting with services such as market testing to help fine tune messages and targets even further, which Powers notes is getting a good response thus far.
Acuity by RRD, the service the company launched, allows brands to do Web-based online testing of their messaging with a representative segment of the target audience. Acuity provides an alternative to traditional in-market testing, allowing brands to identify the best creative approach at far less cost in far less time. It also allows brands to get feedback and tweak their mailings before the first piece is even printed. “That is really valuable information to a marketer as it can refine their in-market testing,” Powers notes.
For print service providers that may not have the same scale or scope as RRD, Powers notes that one piece of advice she would stress is to always pay attention to what clients are trying to figure out. Ask what they are trying to achieve, not just what they need printed. “Many clients don’t know what they don’t know,” she says. “They’re not going to say ‘can you get me research on XYZ?’ What they will say is that they need to use their budget to hit specific goals. My advice would be to listen to those clients to see how you can help them. That’s what we do — we ask if we can come in and talk to them, and let them tell us what they need, rather than bring in a sales pitch for a specific product or service.”
It is an exciting time to be a direct mail provider, with Powers noting that direct marketing is absolutely here to stay. It is evolving and changing, but the industry has a lot of opportunity to be the experts on pushing the limits of what mail can do and how it can be used as part of a bigger direct marketing strategy. “We have to keep learning,” says Powers. “We can’t, and won’t, ever sit still.”