Let's bring back direct mail, and make it personal

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Marketing has seen a shift in tactic; podcasts and direct mail – approaches that had previously fallen out of favour – are making a resurgence. Is it nostalgia or the changing economic and political climate that is turning agencies’ heads backward, or is there something else at play?

With so much noise in the market place in almost every industry, and concerns that budgets will tighten thanks to Brexit, brands want to talk to consumers on an individual basis. Audiences are becoming increasingly discerning about the information they consume, whether that's choosing to listen to their favourite bloggers in a podcast, curating a playlist in Spotify or picking what they view through on demand services (Amazon Prime, Netflix, BBC iPlayer). With this new level of control, we want to feel that brands are making the effort to vie for our attention.

To be clear, this is not just about using our first name or slapping it on a bottle of Coke or jar of Nutella. This is about creating a connection on an emotional level and really engaging with both prospective and existing customers to build brand loyalty and leverage ROI. This means agencies need to be ever more selective in their approach – whether it's the comeback kid of collateral, the direct mailer, whispering sweet nothings via a podcast or cutting edge tech in chatbots and personal web content.

Inbox overload is a daily occurrence and for every newsletter you signed up for that you actually read, there are probably five you delete without even opening. Yet, it's likely that the last time you received a beautifully designed piece of direct mail, it is from event you can recall. We’re not talking about the crumpled pizza delivery flyers you get stuffed through the letter box or the latest begging letter from a charity including a free pen in the envelope, but something eye-catching and interesting. Segmenting your audience can mean the ability to discern who to talk to, making an investment from your budget in physical collateral that feels relevant and shows your recipients some love.

By the same token, we know that, depending on your business model, a direct mail campaign might not be the best use of your budget if you are seeking quantity reactions over quality ones. We’ve seen first-hand how different business models’ customer bases can react to a smart email campaign that sends carefully timed reminders and follow-ups based on client reactions, such as opens and clicks. It’s not about whether the customer feels the nostalgic pang of a piece of post. Instead, it’s about demonstrating that as a business, you not only care about your customers, you understand and empathise with them.

Likewise, visiting a smart website that has learnt your preferences and shows relevant content first offers an improved UX and helps engender brand loyalty. It benefits the business by knowing what stage of the journey your customer is at, offering tangible data about your customer reactions and experience through the sales funnel. Details specific to certain personas such as their needs, wants and possible roadblocks mean your website can offer the most relevant content supported by marketing emails.

With brands embracing technology as much as nostalgia, will we actually care if it's a chatbot rather than a person behind a social media channel? We expect instant responses, immediate solutions and a certain level of reverence for our status as a valued customer as a consumer – so long as the AI has advanced enough to pull the wool over our eyes in short exchanges, making us feel like we matter, we will continue to retweet our direct messages or responses from companies none the wiser. We will feel cared for and understood by the brands we feel loyal to. It doesn’t matter whether it’s old school or new cool, because, for us as consumers, it's personal.

Léonie Sidgwick is senior strategist at Kent based design agency, iFour.

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