Direct Mail in a Digital World

Issue 21 | November 2011

Malcolm Auld

Malcolm Auld is the Principal of Malcolm Auld Direct – or MAD.

He is a passionate advocate of Direct Marketing though he accepts that getting people to respond in an increasingly advertising-averse, time-poor world is getting increasingly hard.

He also believes that there is no such thing as a digital agency. Digital is a technology. But a technology which can help marketers engage more meaningfully with their customers and grow business.

His book “Direct Marketing Made Easy” is the largest-selling marketing text book in Australia and his “Little Book of Marketing” has been ripped off around the world.

He has run agencies for Ogilvy & Mather, J Walter Thompson and EuroRSCG but for the last 20 years has worked for his own company.

One of the consequences of executives being forced to use “productivity tools” such as smart phones and wireless laptops or tablets, has been the disappearance of the office secretary and personal assistant from senior management ranks.

While most C-level executives still have assistants of some sort, the majority of executives now do their own correspondence, filing and other office duties, because their employers don’t regard them as important enough to warrant support staff.

After all, executives have 24/7 access to email, so they don’t need a secretary. Though I don’t recall, prior to the internet, that executives had 24 hour access to secretaries – well not on the company ticket anyway.

So now executives do all their administrative work themselves in the misguided belief they are being productive. They are certainly being productive for their employer, working longer days on-the-move and at home after hours, just because they have access to their email messages via portable wireless technology.

Think about how late at night you have looked at your email before going to bed (or while in bed) only to find the flashing light on your smart phone or tablet meant you just had another newsletter?

As one executive told me, “We’ve become damn expensive secretaries who also do our real business on the side.”

The downside of this situation is this; executives are so overwhelmed with information and menial tasks, they hide behind technology – voicemail and email – to create time to do the work they are really paid to do. Consequently they are getting harder and harder to reach.

A General Manager I spoke with recently did a telemarketing campaign to 1200 prospects and only got one appointment. This was mainly because he couldn’t get to talk with any humans, only digital machines. Not only can’t people be reached, they don’t return messages, so telemarketing is really struggling in the digital age.

But there is an upside to this structural change. The one piece of technology that most executives now have on their desk is a good old-fashion letter-opener. Because executives don’t have anyone to open their mail for them, they are opening it themselves.

This is why there has never been a better time than the digital age to use customised or personalised direct mail, in all areas of marketing.

There’s another reason mail is coming into its own again and it’s linked to the way our brains work. Professor Nillie Lavi PhD is the Professor of Psychology and Brain Sciences at the Department of Psychology and Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience University College London.

She revealed in the whitepaper Cutting through the clutter: marketing products in today’s information overload environment; “that in situations of information overload (produced either by a rapid rate of information delivery), or by showing more than five stimuli to people at the same time (as most web-pages do), awareness virtually plummets: This phenomenon is termed ‘inattentional blindness’ or ‘attentional blink’ (in the case of rapid delivery of information).”

This blindness occurs nearly every time we view a website and explains why online advertising rarely gets seen, let alone pays for itself. Couple this with the overload of email in our inboxes and the poor results of online advertising have created a rethink amongst the marketing community about why they rushed to the digital world at the expense of what has always worked – direct mail.

The Professor continues “Advertisers will often rely on repeat airings of an ad, believing that this will increase the ability of the message to cut through. However recent research shows that in situations of high information load not only does the brain not register visual information in the first instance but it also does not “see” the information, when it is repeatedly delivered.

The effects of information overload have been typically found in situations where all the information is delivered to one sense: vision only or hearing only, for example. Research using multi-sensory presentation (for example both vision and hearing) has discovered that although people have very limited processing capacity for information in one sense (for example in vision) they can share processing capacity more efficiently between the different senses (for example, between vision and hearing).

We have the ability to integrate information received simultaneously from all the senses. Paying attention to one sense, for example tactile information, will draw visual attention to the location of the tactile information and vice versa. Multi-sensory delivery therefore helps to concentrate attention and integrate all the relevant information.”

In layman’s terms, we humans are tactile by nature. We like to touch and feel things, particularly when shopping. Look at the number of people who now go to stores to try things first before buying online. And we don’t usually throw something away until we know what it is that we are throwing, which is why mail has such high cut-through.

It’s also why 3-D mailings have always worked – they engage multiple senses in a focused way where each of the elements are linked and reinforce a message. And it’s why the new types of mail technology that link mailings to websites are working so well.

The first of these were those digitally printed mailings with links to Personalised URLs, known as PURLs. These worked for a couple of reasons: the content in the mailings is customised using data held about the individual recipient so it is very relevant to the individual; and secondly because the individual’s name is in the URL – and people always notice their own name and are curious to see what the URL holds.

One company that recognises the power of multi-sensory mailings is Kyp – originally founded in the UK and now operating in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Kyp has developed a range of multi-sensory mailings that use paper technology incorporating webkeys, video and audio players, audio headsets, information wheels, hidden pockets, pull-outs, QR codes and other tactile devices.

For those naïve marketers who think that digital means “internet”, here’s evidence that it is so much more. Mail is now being digitised in brilliant new ways. For instance, podcast-like content can be embedded in a mailing and listened to either with an integrated speaker or through headphones.

As well as audio by post there’s video too. Imagine getting a mailing with a Play and Pause button. Well, now you can. And early adopters have found the results to be astonishing.

And how about this for an idea for the digital age, a mailing you can plug straight into the USB port of your computer? That’s what a webkey does. It is as thin as the piece of card it can be designed into and lets the recipient move effortlessly from the letter you’ve sent him to an online experience where he can do and learn more.

More importantly, in most cases links of this sort and QR codes mean the campaigns are trackable via a web-based dashboard that provides all the analytical tools and reports. A marketer can know almost immediately whether the campaign is working or not.

The results for marketers using these sorts of mailing are proving very profitable (see case studies), with brands such as Google, Microsoft, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Verizon, Russell Investments, Unilever, Astra-Zenica, Pfizer, Land Rover, Mercedes Benz, Miller, Smirnoff, Virgin, Vodafone, Dell, Travelex and loads more using different Kyp solutions.

Another Professor, Edward Vessel PhD, who is Research Scientist at the Center for Brain Imaging, New York University has studied the Kyp products. He proposes that human beings are designed to be “infovores” as the human brain is intrinsically wired to find the acquisition of information pleasurable.

The Professor said; “This motivational system is designed to maximise the rate of knowledge acquisition under circumstances when other goals and motives, such as hunger or avoiding danger, are not engaged.”

He went on to say that mailings paper-engineered with deliberately tactile features such as pockets, pull-outs and wheels feed “…the human drive for information and can engage the brain’s built-in reward systems, leading to a pleasurable experience and a positive association with a marketing message.”

So there is now scientific research, as well as real results to support the thinking that mail is only going to grow in the digital world.

The other evidence supporting the strength of mail is becoming more obvious each week. It’s direct mail from one of the biggest digital brands on the planet – Google. And all campaigns are linked to websites and are measurable via web-based tracking. So if the world’s most successful digital brand is increasingly using direct mail to grow its business, why don’t you?

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