November 05, 2015

How Brands (Should) Use Direct Mail

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(Originally posted on October 15) It never hurts to get a few big brands to help a startup navigate the product/market fit, especially for the startup’s CMO. Last week the PebblePost team had the chance to test the story of PebblePost in front of some very large CPG, auto, travel and retail brand marketers, both at Shop.org’s Digital Summit and at Brand Fusion, a more intimate event hosted by The Brandery in Cincinnati. It was great to meet leaders of marketing, eCommerce, and Innovation at a wide range of big companies, and get direct feedback about how programmatic direct mail can be additive to their marketing mix.

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What we came away with was some fascinating insight. Brand managers, eCommerce leaders, and print-dependent mailers in the financial and insurance sector made it clear how connecting digital activity to direct mail in real time would help them. Digital marketers take a few minutes to think it through, then see the tight connection to a physical “impression.” A few clear themes emerged:

  • Capture customers that show intent but pass on the “buy” button. When customers visit a site, they don’t always raise their hand to say “please market to me”. And in our new, more sensitized ad blocking environment, retargeting ads using display only cause more angst with consumers. But brands don’t want to lose customers, and like the idea that a highly relevant and high quality piece of mail could land at the home of a prospect without the overt messaging that a poorly placed retargeting ad might deliver.

  • Recapture existing customers that are hard to engage online. Another brand, this one in financial services, was trying to figure out how to engage people with low digital activity, but currently come with a high cost of print mailings. With mail sent based on a login to the site or a call to the call center rather than in bulk, this print-heavy marketer could reduce or even eliminate in-house print production, and deliver a relevant and timely message to the customer to drive engagement.
  • Reinforce purchases with additional value. Mail sent based on customer behavior can also be done as a result of a completed transaction. A company that has business partners (say, a travel site with its car and hotel affiliates) could send an offer once a trip is booked that reminds and cajoles the customer to book with partners. The cruise industry is a natural for this, as many of the profitable add-ons are sold well after the cruise is booked.
  • Use digital activity to create a personal, and physical, impression. Just because a brand has deep data on each customer doesn’t mean they have to make it obvious. Grocers, for example, have a ton of very specific product and SKU-level purchase data for each of their loyalty card holders. But if, like with the coupons one gets at checkout, an offer is sent in the mail a few days after checkout, that provides a new way for shopper marketers to engage online and in-store shoppers with some added incentive. And it doesn’t need to explicitly call out the item or price in order to be effective at recapturing the consumer’s attention.

There are many case studies and uses that we anticipate learning about as we engage customers and take them through the programmatic direct mail story. But these early ideas, the enthusiasm with which we engaged with digital and traditional leaders was a great sign of customers to come.