Direct mail has been one of my passions since my first job as a copywriter at a direct marketing agency in Washington, DC. I’m always on the lookout for trends that impact this channel and creative mailings that grab prospects’ attention and demand response.
So what’s new and what’s working in direct mail these days? Here are seven interesting direct marketing trends I’m seeing as a marketing consultant who often recommends direct mail in a smart marketing strategy:
- Oversized mailings: When there’s a glut of mail, very large pieces command attention. Despite the significant postage savings from mailing smaller-sized pieces that fit USPS standards for automated processing, I’m seeing many direct marketers mail huge, oversized postcards and envelopes. This AAA carrier envelope is 10” x 12”. This postcard from Cleveland marketer Malley’s Chocolates (partially shown here) is 8” x 13.5.” Another bonus of this approach: The ability to make the product image enormous (especially smart for selling mouth-watering food products like chocolate).
- Adding a soft-touch varnish to increase tactile appeal: Another clever way to make your direct mail stand out is to apply a soft-touch varnish coating to the carrier, like this package from American Express. The soft-touch coating literally makes the paper feel soft, which makes you want to touch it. Doug Mack of Duke Print & Mail Solutions in Cleveland says financial services marketers like using soft-touch “to create an impression of prestige or a high profile status. It’s also great for annual reports and many colleges use soft-touch varnishes for their first-impression pieces or viewbooks.”
- Luxury marketers who are doubling down on direct mail: Luxury product marketers have never given up on direct mail. In fact, they seem to be boosting their use of this channel, with very high-end mailings that support their brand exclusivity and feature stunning product photography. Here’s a recent Kate Spade catalog that arrived in a cellophane wrap. This mailing’s creative approach includes silver foil stamping, an unusual size (8” x 10”), a special offer sticker on the wrapper, and an “old Las Vegas glamour” theme starring actress Anna Kendrick. Tucked into the last page: An ace of spades (the Kate Spade spade design, of course) playing card with a 20% off offer on the back. Opening this chic mailing feels like opening a gift – perfect for holiday sales promotion and this brand.
- Loyalty program support and acceleration: Name any customer loyalty program you belong to and I’ll bet direct mail is integral to that marketer’s relationship with you. Casinos are extremely savvy at using data from gamblers’ activities to reward customers and promote future visits. I get at least three targeted promotional mailings a month from the Horseshoe Casino here in Cleveland as part of my Total Rewards program membership – and I’m not even a high roller.
- Power use of direct mail by selected market segments: Nonprofit fundraisers, political marketers, and colleges are the direct mail power users, relying much more heavily on this channel than other marketers. I see no sign of this letting up, despite the proliferation of social media:
- A Cleveland nonprofit I work with says that direct mail continues to be their best fundraising channel;
- Political candidates and causes are already ramping up direct mail for fundraising and driving voter preference ahead of next year’s presidential campaign. I guarantee our mailboxes in Ohio and other swing stages will be deluged.
- Colleges are sending nearly every college-bound high school a huge volume and variety of direct mail. In fact, if you’re looking for samples of the most creative use of data in personalized direct marketing, check out what college direct marketers are doing. This postcard from Rochester Institute of Technology to a high school junior near Cleveland uses the most basic data – his name and address – to create a clever mailing with variable images that map the distance from his home to RIT on a highway sign and adorn his car with personalized Ohio license plates.
- The vanishing reply form: Reply cards and printed response forms are going missing from more and more direct mail packages, especially mailings for high-end products. In a previous Smart Marketing Strategy post, I wondered if this would be a trend and it is. This promotion for Nordstrom’s Trunk Club has a web-only response mechanism. Look at the next five catalogs you get in the mail and see how few include printed reply forms, which used to be ubiquitous in direct mail catalogs.
- Smaller quantities: Every client we work with that’s using direct mail is reducing mail quantities through better targeting, especially our business-to-business clients. This is good news for our industry; people who consider direct mail “junk” are usually looking at mail they never should have received in the first place because it’s not relevant to their needs. It’s also a smart marketing strategy: Mailing fewer pieces gives you the budget flexibility to increase the quality of your promotion, which could produce higher response.
Are you seeing these same creative approaches and strategies in your mailbox? What direct mail marketing trends are you watching right now? Share your thoughts here.