SOI Report: Direct Mail
ON DIRECT MAIL
The Expert: Grant Miller, chief operating officer, Pitney Bowes Document Messaging Technologies, Stamford, Conn.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the direct mail sector?
Grant Miller: Depending on what source you reference, direct mail volumes and spend are either stabilizing or rising. Almost no one outside of the print and mail industry would have predicted this a decade ago. However, many of us in the industry felt that the value of mail could be enhanced to drive increased contribution and value. That’s because we knew direct mail could play an important role in the multichannel universe. We were right.
But, it’s important that we don’t rest on our laurels. To continue to be successful, direct mailers will need to be more innovative than ever before. Consumer preferences and modes of digital communication are evolving rapidly, and we need to keep pace. The good news is the technology needed to make direct mail more relevant, engaging and effective is available at a lower cost than ever before. High-speed digital inkjet printers; variable printing; multi-format finishing solutions; productivity solutions driven by the Industrial Internet of Things; and software and data analytics that deliver more precise targeting are accessible to a broader range of print and mail service providers. Our industry needs to leverage all of these innovations to create more colorful, dynamic and personalized direct mail campaigns that are fully integrated into an omnichannel physical and digital customer experience.
What do you think the biggest changes will be this year, and what will drive them?
GM: In a word, direct mail is going to become “smarter.” This will happen in multiple ways:
- There will be an increase in the percentage of direct mail that features a digital component, or pushes consumers to a digital channel.
- Direct mail will be able to seek out potential customers faster when it knows someone is in the buying process.
- Direct mail will be more predictable and tightly integrated in an omnichannel campaign to reinforce messaging and outreach.
Let me elaborate on the second point. Marketers are dedicating larger and larger percentages of their budgets to data and the expertise to be able to mine that data for insights. We’re beginning to see tangible results of those investments in the direct mail space. Data analytics, cloud technologies and variable printing have helped direct mail evolve 180-degrees from the carpet-bombing campaigns of the past. It is now completely plausible for someone to be browsing retail websites for new golf clubs on [his or her] mobile phone on a Monday, and then receive an unsolicited direct mail offer for those very clubs by Wednesday. We’re starting to see that level of sophistication in our campaigns, and that will only accelerate this year.
Now that Donald J. Trump has been sworn in as America’s 45th president, what does that and, more importantly his agenda, mean for the direct mail sector (i.e., postal reform)?
GM: To the extent President Trump makes progress on job creation, tax reform and growing the economy, his administration will have a positive impact on U.S. businesses and workers, including those in the direct mail sector.
Prospects for passing postal reform look positive. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT) is committed to passing postal reform. The Chairman has introduced a bill and may move it out of Committee as soon as March.
Our industry benefits from a financially viable and reliable USPS and the current House bill would improve the long-term financial health of the Postal Service.
The pace of change in marketing right now is staggering. How can modern marketers use technology to improve their campaigns, and what is Pitney Bowes doing to help?
GM: It is important for marketers to keep pace with change and innovation that serve their fundamental purpose: to understand markets and customer needs. By understanding their customer needs, marketers will be able to improve the customer experience and, ultimately, influence sales.
To that end, Pitney Bowes is helping clients leverage the convergence of physical and digital technologies to drive better business results. We’re doing this by helping our clients use mail to drive a tailored, seamless conversation with their customers across all channels. For example, by combining video technology with real-time data we can complement traditional paper billing statements in unique ways, providing a personalized sound and motion experience over any connected device.
Pitney Bowes is also helping its clients leverage the convergence of physical and digital technologies to drive productivity and cost savings in the production environment. Our Clarity Solutions Suite is an Industrial Internet solution that integrates and organizes data collected from sensors on production mail machines. The insights derived from Clarity help clients plan and manage production downtime, resource allocation, investment, productivity, service levels, capacity management, job scheduling and forecasting.
Where are marketers falling short? How can they rectify this?
GM: I would encourage marketers to get even more intimately acquainted with customer bills and statements. Monthly billing statements should be viewed as a virtual appointment with your customer—an opportunity to show the value you’re providing; an opportunity to solicit important feedback; and an opportunity to improve service, or upsell.
Too often, the billing department and marketing department operate in separate silos. This wastes a critical opportunity to speak directly to your customers and build those relationships across multiple touchpoints.
Customer bills and statements can be powerful and cost-effective direct marketing tools, especially if we’re leveraging all of the tools and innovations available to us—variable digital color printing; appealing design; compelling, personalized content; on-the-envelope printing; and tight integration with digital channels.
Based on past trends, what are your expectations for the short-term future of direct mail?
GM: Direct mail will remain healthy in the short term as it continues to drive successful omnichannel marketing campaigns and deliver a reliable and measurable return on investment. The long-term health of this sector will be influenced largely by how effectively we integrate our direct mailings with digital technologies and leverage new innovations to drive a better customer experience.