History has taught us that one medium never replaces another. The advent of television didn’t spell the end of radio or cinema. The birth of the Internet has not brought the death of television. Things change and evolve in the world of media, but this simplistic perspective that a new channel will destroy an old one is not supported by the facts.
The digital revolution has not obliterated the analogue world, but, at its best, has enriched it and made it work better. Think of second-screening, augmented reality, instore price comparison, even just sending an MMS of your new baby to your friends. As marketers it is important that we do not see the digital and real world as somehow in opposition to each other, but rather as an opportunity to add real depth, coherence and richness to the customer experience across both.
When email first arrived on the commercial scene in the Nineties, this was a lesson we had to learn yet again. Direct mail was widely thought to be on its way out, driven out of business by its snappier, quicker, upstart cousin. ‘Snail mail’ we called it with some affection for what felt like a rather sluggish, Dickensian means of distributing words and pictures given the advent of the digital age. We should have known better.
Digital has made the world more connected and more complex for marketers, but it hasn’t made mail less relevant or important. Quite the opposite. ‘Snail mail’ is fast becoming ‘smart mail’ and opening up a whole new world of opportunity at a time when connecting channels to cut through the clutter and noise of so much marketing is more necessary than ever.
Indeed, this sense of connection is a big part of how to achieve a better and more impactful customer experience. The use of multiple channels creates a multiplier effect in a world where customers are increasingly demanding that brands offer a totally coherent experience across every touchpoint.
It is simply not sufficient to look at channels as separated components of marketing activity; our start point should be assessing how we can connect them to best effect. Programmatic mail is a great example of how this can be achieved, because it can join the digital and real world in a way that works to the benefit of both. This is not about replacing digital, but leveraging its unique qualities in order to enhance the effectiveness of every marketing pound you spend.
One of the most important of these qualities is timeliness. A game-changing advantage of digital channels is the opportunity they provide to gather valuable and properly permissioned first party customer data in a way which allows us respond to individual needs and wants at pace.
However, responding from data acquired in the digital environment by using it only in digital channels (typically email) has proved a limiting factor. Sometimes customers need an interaction with a channel that gives more breathing room to both words and pictures, which is tactile and involving, lasting and impactful. A channel that can take your brand narrative right into the home in a way that makes a real difference.
This is where programmatic mail should enter channel planning considerations. It can partner your digital activity by providing that last mile to your customer’s final decision to purchase. And it can deliver this remarkably quickly, from 24 to 48 hours after a digital interaction, a personalised mailing could be arriving on your doormat to take you on the next stage of the sales journey, subject to securing all the necessary customer permissions.
A second vital quality is relevance. If first-party data is captured appropriately then customers are more than open to the idea that brands can use it to tailor communications; this is far more useful and engaging than the spam and clumsy retargeting that has developed such a bad reputation in the digital world.
Programmatic mail is highly relevant. It can feature the very holiday you are interested in, the specific sofa you wavered over buying, the right offer to keep your broadband custom, the outfit that you thought looked right for next season. It takes what preferred retailers know about you and turns into what is of interest to you at that time, enriching offline an interest that began online. This degree of data-driven relevance has long been at the heart of direct mail’s success; programmatic mail simply takes it to the next level of impactfulness.
Programmatic mail is in its infancy in the UK but it has a massive future ahead of it. It offers a unique ability to join up the customer experience, to be timely and relevant, to turbo-charge mail’s well-known and proven qualities around tangibility, longevity and memorability.
Unsurprisingly it can drive response rates, one campaign for JD Williams saw increases of 6% and conversion improvements of 14%. It has staked a very compelling claim to become part of many multi-channel media plans and to being capable of building a bridge between the on and offline world of your customers. Digital has not reduced the need for mail, it has given it a whole new purpose.
Matthew Heath is chairman and chief strategy officer of M&C Saatchi/LIDA
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