Isn’t it always the way? Wait long enough and even the most unfashionable things will eventually be back on trend. From the comeback of flares during the 90’s, double demin, which made a return in the last few years, and most recently bushy brows led by Cara Delevigne.
This is also true when it comes to outdated marketing channels. Direct mail being the most relevant.
The poor relation of the advertising industry, badly done direct mail was long the blight of many a letterbox (name another channel that would send us out in our droves to buy ‘No junk mail, please’ signs).
Yet in a surprising turn of events, we’re seeing many brands make a stealthy return to mail. And what’s most unusual is the pedigree of the brands re-realising the power of post as part of their direct marketing arsenal.
Take Next, for example. Like many brands, the retailer turned its direct mail off years ago. But Lord Wolfson has just announced that direct mail is back in the fashion power house’s marketing mix. But why, when direct marketing as a discipline offers so many more sophisticated 1:1 opportunities?
Smart, hugely personalised email, time-triggered SMS, iBeacon technology, behaviour-driven outbound, real-time social…as today’s direct marketers we have the most varied and advanced tools ever at our disposal. When customers tell us they want a personalised relationship, today’s technology lets us create, build and truly manage that relationship in a way our direct mail forefathers could never have imagined.
Add to that the reinvigorated creativity across the whole sector, and you have to ask how can outdated mail, which everyone abandoned, be making a comeback at all?
I think that’s the answer. Everyone did abandon direct mail. Almost overnight, print and post was replaced by the lure of easier, more economical and seemingly more effective email.
Except all that really meant was that the waves of mail that used to flood through our letterboxes simply arrived in our inboxes instead. So what we saw was a channel shift – instead of carpet bombing we had computer bombing.
The ever-sophisticated spam filters soon put a stop to that of course, and today creative, targeted email is a staple channel for most brands. But it meant that volumes of mail dropped, dramatically. And without so much noise (and let’s face it, thanks to the blanket-mailers and bad practitioners, there used to be a lot of noise) the smart brands have realised instead of being drowned out in direct mail, there’s now room to be heard, and heard very clearly.
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Ironically, for the generations who’ve grow up on email, there’s a certain novelty to proper post. Have you heard of Not Another Bill? Truly personal post is now such a rarity you can subscribe to have your postman deliver surprise gifts each month. It’s an bizarre turn of events when the best way to reach your most technologically sophisticated audience ever might not be via their phone or inbox, but through their letterbox.
And that’s what the savvy brands are on to. For standout, for novelty, to allow people to literally feel something, for a touch of the unexpected, direct mail’s creative and targeting opportunities mean brands are doing the once unthinkable, and bringing mail back into the mix.
So will we go full circle? Does this revival signal a return to the dark days of direct mail overload? Will the staple dinner party accusation “So it’s you sending me all that ****” be rearing its ugly head again? No. The cost of print, production and postage means mail will never be the mainstay it once was, but just one tool in the overall direct discipline. What is certain is that now, when customer is king and everyone expects a personal experience with their brands, direct marketing has never been more rewarding.