Designing Direct Mail that Drives Customers Online

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As the representative of a recognized national leader in wholesale commercial printing, the debate of digital marketing versus direct mail marketing comes up all the time. I’m often asked, “Is direct mail dead?” Naturally, my answer is “No.”


In our plugged-in society of smart phones and social engagement, tablets and Twitter, blogs and big data, there is no denying that people are consuming vast amounts of digital information. In fact, it is estimated that the average American consumes 34G of data daily. In order to reach and connect with these audiences, it’s not surprising that many marketers are allocating more time and money to digital strategies. And it makes sense. Digital marketing is flexible, measurable, and (to some degree) less expensive.

However, that is no reason to abandon direct mail altogether. Why? Studies show that direct mail (still) really works. In a recent survey conducted by ExactTarget, even young people, who are often dubbed the “digital generation,” indicated that they had made a purchase based on something they received in the mail.

Direct mail is a great way to reach potential customers outside of their inbox. Findings in a study conducted by marketing analysis firm Brand Science found that:

  • Combining direct mail with other channels increases campaign payback by up to 20 percent.
  • Online and outdoor marketing channels achieved the highest rates of success when integrated with direct mail.
  • 47 percent of consumers visited a website after receiving a promotional direct mail piece.

If you ask me, the real secret to successful marketing is the creation of compelling multichannel campaigns that demonstrate the best of both worlds by integrating both digital and physical communications. Think of direct mail and digital marketing tactics as two athletes playing for the same team. Each one uses their unique strengths and talents to influence your consumers and achieve a shared goal — be it to drive sales, increase brand awareness, inspire action, etc.

Direct mail is great for capturing a person’s attention and enticing them to learn more. The Internet is a great vehicle for information. Together they work to do more than either one could ever do alone: provide your customers with the information when and where they need it.

Want a few tips for integrating both digital strategies and direct mail into your next marketing campaign? Here are a few suggestions for how to use offline tactics to drive your business online:

1. QR Codes

One of the most popular methods for integrating digital and mobile marketing with traditional direct mail is by using Quick Response codes (QR codes). A QR code is a matrix code (or two-dimensional code) that can be printed on practically anything. Using a smart phone with a QR code reader application, a recipient can scan these stamp-size codes to gain instant access to all kinds of data including your company website, specific product information, a special offer or coupon, a registration form, your social media presence and more.

2. Personalized URLs (PURLS)

Pursue the power of personalization by integrating variable data printing (VDP) with personalized URLs (PURLs). VDP is an affordable form of on-demand printing in which elements such as text, graphics and images may be changed from one printed piece to the next without stopping or slowing down the press. PURLs are personalized web-based landing pages (such as that incorporate the recipient’s name and are dynamically generated on each direct mail piece. Not only are PURLs great for capturing a prospect’s attention, they add relevance and are highly trackable — making them a great way to measure the effectiveness of your campaign.

3. USB Web Keys

USB web keys are a simple and low cost way to instantly connect a user directly to a web site, microsite, video, presentation — or virtually anything you desire that’s online. Web keys are similar to a standard USB flash drive but without memory storage. They can look like a standard USB drive or can be shaped into practically anything and are fabricated out of aluminum, plastic, or even paper. A user simply detaches it from a mailer or brochure and inserts it into the USB port of their computer. Because it contains no memory – only a routing URL – web keys are safe and virus-free way to drive your offline audience online.

4. Clickable Paper™

This is one trend to watch in 2013. Developed at Ricoh Innovations, Inc. (RII), Clickable Paper is a new cross-media service that enables consumers to instantly connect to related online content simply by pointing their iPhone or Android at a printed surface. Ricoh reports that Clickable Paper technology can be used with any kind of printed media (newspapers, direct mail, books, brochures, posters, etc.) and can be used to link consumers to all types of digital media and services including multimedia content, websites, e-commerce services, social networks and more. Currently in its trial stages, it’s proving to be very popular in Japan and is expected to be available in the United States sometime soon.

Direct mail has always been an effective form of influencing consumer behaviors and strengthening brand identity. But now, with the development of new interactive technologies and tools, direct mail campaigns can be more powerful and influential than ever before.
If you have any questions about how direct mail and digital marketing can work together or would like to share your opinion on this topic, please post your comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

Image credit: bloomua / 123RF Stock Photo

Paula Brewers is member of the Independent Reseller Marketing team for Navitor, a wholesale printing company that specializes in digital, true spot and artisan printing processes. Paula writes articles for the Navitor blog and other social mediums.