DM – The Medium of the Future?

Being a comms planner, I am occasionally obliged to take time off from hovering around the great and the good of the blogosphere to talk to clients about channel thinking. And it was during one of these conversations today when an interesting thought came about. It’s not something that is immediately obvious – in fact it is, prima facie, probably counter intuitive. But when you think about it a bit, it kind of makes sense, and it’s actually quite exciting because as far as I know it’s not something that has really been discussed too much in the public domain. The central theme of our discussion was:

Direct Mail – the channel perfectly placed to embrace the new communication world

Told you it sounded like a strange one. What with its (very negative) associations with junk mail, the ridiculously difficult methods of execution for new advertisers, and, most problematically, the fact that more often than not the planning of DM is disjointed from the rest of the comms strategy (due to the structure of most clients and agencies), you’d be forgiven for thinking of direct mail as, at worst, an arcane and potentially irrelevant channel from a bygone era, or at best, a dull channel that can sometimes create low-cost acquisition for ‘harvesting’ customers.

But, after we’d chatted it through for a bit, it emerged that DM, far from being an outmoded (even moribund) channel actually ticked many of the boxes that you’d want your comms channels to tick in the increasingly busy, fragmented world of the long tail.

– Engaging? Check. People love post (I’m not including ‘junk’ mail here). I imagine this is only going to get more pronounced too, with social mail falling of a cliff and the majority of the young generation’s peer-to-peer communication being digital, people don’t get as much post anymore. There’s intrinsic value in physicality within a digital world. Send a consumer something relevant and of value (in whatever form) and they’re going to appreciate it.

– Targeted? Check. With the boom in data capture and increases in ability to exploit the resulting databases, DM doesn’t have to rely on the old demographic targeting model. I’m no data expert, but I’d hope we’d be talking about proper psychographic targeting – speaking to people about what they’re in to, not because they’re a 50+ bloke in Surrey.

– Personalised? Absolutely (albeit at a cost). Get the targeting right, understand who you’re speaking to, and each and every piece of DM can be relevant and bespoke. Nail this and it’s enormously powerful.

– Welcome? It’s easy (so I’m told) to opt out of receiving DM. However, if what you’re receiving is all of the above, it’s likely to be welcome.

– Impactful? Yep. Providing the content is right (whether it be a sample, creative work or whatever) and you’ve got the targeting correct, you’ve got some great cut-through going on.

There’s a lot more to this list but for the sake of brevity I won’t go through it all now, but hopefully you get the jist of what I’m thinking here. DM has a lot to do (making it easier to execute, reducing lead times, demonstrating brand ROI – the focus has always been on DR rather than branding and to embrace the ‘new world’ I think this needs to change – and try to break down the still existent ATL/BTL split) but if it can achieve this, I reckon it could find itself in the very unexpected position of being a future-proof comms channel, fit not just for prosaic direct response campaigns, but for building some serious brand love too.


5 Responses to “DM – The Medium of the Future?”

  1. Gagey Says:

    I agree with many of your points (as you might expect!). DM is criminally under-valued, and has a potentially new role to play in enhancing the digital experience, especially as there is greater mash-up between the physical and virtual world.

    But some builds…

    I think the big question for DM in our web x.0 world is how it copes with people (customer / consumer) self-selected content for communications….


    So in the digital world most of what I see is a result of my positive interaction with whatever digital experience I’m having… my amazon, my google, my flickr, my opodo etc, The mix of of content between what I’ve asked for (e.g. shopping list, searched for items, personalised homepage), and what it (the back engine) thinks I want (recommendations, ideas, links, adwords) is getting increasingly more in favour of what I choose.

    Amazon may chuck recommendations at me based on my transactional behaviour, but I’m allowed to interact with those recommendations (rating, i own it etc) to continually improve my experience, and make it even more personalised.

    In other words, the content gets better and better the more I interact. It learns. And more importantly, it learns practically instantaneously.

    So let’s look at DM. We can gather loads of fantastic data (attitudinal, psychological, behavioural, transactional, demographical…) And with digital printing, we can produce a pack that is practically tailored to me (or seemingly so). ergo Tesco’s now infamously clubcard statement with 1Million variants sent through the mail.

    Cool? But will I give all that information before I get some sort of payback? Is the opportunity to win a weekend in New York enough? When i can have an entirely digital experience that lets me interact along the way?

    Not sure of the answer to all this, but for DM to really deliver in this space it needs to:

    a) utilise digital channels for data collection (obviously) and provide immediate gratification (probably through digital)

    b) Have a MUCH quicker turn around time from data to mailpack (i.e. within a day or two)

    c) Have flexible creativity – templates etc. that work with / second-guess what people might want.

    d) Actually allow me to create my own mailpiece in some way?

    e) And is there a new role for a different type of social mail that comes from me to my friend via a brand and can bring in my digital world. I.e. I create my ‘mailing/letter’ on (say) Amazon – that physically gives a CD / book with some personalised content – photos, videos, mp3s from [enter whatever social network i’m into here] with a nice email/letter (on nice thick paper and maybe an envelope with a seal)….

  2. Oakie Says:

    I sometimes prefer DM because it has 3-dimension, represents some experiences that electronic mail can’t such as smell, types of paper, folding techniques etc. I also love postage stamp, it’s classic.

  3. Faris Says:

    Yeah man. When all channels are digital, they can then be personalised, which means that all channels will become DM whether they realise it or not.

  4. Doug Says:

    that’s a great point mate – all media will be ‘direct’ (in the current use of the word) at some point. direct mail, it could be argued then, will become even more powerful – i can’t stop thinking about the ‘physical in a digital world’ angle…

    problem is it’s never (well, rarely) used to its full potential (junk mail, anyone?)

  5. Clay Parker Jones Says:

    Just the same way as we step out of the plannersphere to interact with one another in person (Coffee, anyone?), people need something tangible to make a relationship real. Despite the fact that young people are increasingly online-only folks, there’s something natural about things you can hold (duh). Well-executed extensions of our online experiences (whether in print, in-store or via a product or service) will always be relevant. And as Faris says, almost everything is DR these days anyhow…at least, if you want to even try to measure it!

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