Making Mail Better

mail_starListening to all the analysts, vendors, and consultants you’d think that every piece of mail that is produced these days is personalized, relevant, and demographically targeted.

A quick scan of your own personal or business mail will tell you the goal of widespread personalized communications is still in the distance. “Spray and Pray” lives on as an often-employed marketing strategy. “Dear Customer” still substitutes for even the simplest recognition of individual customer relationships. Duplicates abound. And relevance? Well, if you live in the selected zip code, it often appears you’re a qualified prospect.

The software to create more meaningful mail is accessible at a reasonable cost. Many document operations have the digital print engines to support the production of highly-variable materials. In most cases, the ability to create better mail already exists. It just isn’t used as often as it should.

What is the Holdup?

It’s quite amazing that an industry facing challenging times and an increasingly lower volume of work is so reluctant to abandon the archaic methods of bygone decades. Is there no imagination? No ambition? Or is it just that some companies are desperately clinging onto anything that can support the legacy business model that depends on volume?

Over the past several years, physical document producers have had to compete with digital delivery channels that were significantly less expensive. It hasn’t been pretty. A lot of traditionally paper documents have moved to electronic versions. But while functionality has improved for both physical communications and electronic messaging, it seems the electronic world has been a lot better at implementing the technology to achieve greater results. Now, not only is the digital channel cheaper, but in many ways it’s better.

The ability to track customer actions as they click on links in emails, landing pages, or web sites is an advantage over what can be achieved with paper documents. Mail can provide similar feedback by using technologies such as PURLs or QR codes. But a good portion of QR code implementations to date have been poorly executed or under-utilized.

Easily-Implemented Improvements

Mail has some advantages that can be exploited with just a little bit of effort. Studies have shown that a minimal amount of personalization and targeting – well within the abilities of almost any mailer with a digital printer and some decent software – can improve response rates. Simply understanding customer relationships or using elementary demographic data to craft more relevant messages can make a huge difference.

How many responses do marketers really get when they send customer acquisition pieces to their current customers? What’s the success rate for pitching landscaping services to apartment renters? How many Medicare supplement insurance plans are sold to college students? What percentage of dead people refinance their homes? The response rates on direct mail campaigns with insufficient filtering criteria and a single version of the message is generally in that 1 percent or less range we’ve been told to expect. And yet, the practices continue.

Mail can done better. It’s not that hard.

Education is Key

Educate yourself first. Seek out advice on best practices and talk to experts or your vendor partners. They can show you how to make your mail more effective. You may be able to save money on materials and postage and invest some of those funds in a second channel.

To counter the negative effects of cheaper distribution channels and uncertainty about future postal delivery services, producers of mailed communications need to step up efforts to make the mail more effective. And it’s going to be up to these folks to make sure the people who make decisions about customer communications understand what mail can do and how it can enhance their results when combined with all the other channels that are available today.

In the long run, making mail better will be the best move for mail producers, their customers, and the mail recipients.

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