Today’s direct marketers are plagued by forces that seem designed to short-circuit their success:

  • Increased competition for digital inventory, which has pushed prices up.
  • Steeply higher postage, paper and printing costs for another effective DM tool, direct mail.
  • A drop in meaningful insights that can be gleaned from digital platforms like Facebook thanks to Apple’s recently introduced privacy feature.
  • A wobbly economic outlook that is making consumers think twice about spending, and has already caused many brands to cut marketing budgets.

But there’s a glimpse of a silver lining in all these dark clouds. Some direct marketers and their agency partners have begun to rethink which tactics should go into their direct marketing strategy, presenting the opportunity to find new (and often unexpected) efficiencies. For instance, the data shows that combining offline-to-online and online-to-offline tactics delivers better value for the money spent.

Digital in the crosshairs

In late December 2022, Ad Age reported on Insider Intelligence data that showed DTC brands had cut their digital advertising spend on Facebook and Instagram by almost 8% between January 2021 and January 2022. Some of those dollars went to direct mail and other offline media. Spending on offline channels grew to more than 15% of DTC brands’ total outlay in early 2022 compared to about 12% a year earlier.

Denise Anderson, head of global marketing and creative for Smartwool, which sells online, in its own stores and through other retailers, explained the reasoning.

“[Direct mail] isn’t a two-second impression. It’s a five-minute impression, and then it’s over-and-over again, because people pick [the catalog] up again, or they pass it along,” Anderson said.  “Having something to physically hold and look at while you’re drinking your coffee or sitting on your couch — it’s just such a different connection to the brand.”

Having something to physically hold and look at while you’re drinking your coffee or sitting on your couch — it’s just such a different connection to the brand.

Denise Anderson
Head of global marketing and creative for Smartwool

Digital vs. households first

A big part of why direct marketers value digital is the immediacy of measurement. They know almost instantly when somebody opens an email, when they click on a link or the CTA in a banner ad.

Yet direct marketers are finding that they can get more, and more meaningful, consumer data by starting with what’s known about households.

“If you start with the household, a mailing address, we know where it is — it’s an actual place with people and animals and families. We know how many kids are in the house, the income, how many cars they have, what magazines they subscribe to. It’s a known audience,’’ explained John Puterbaugh, executive director of advanced media and innovation at Quad.

“Whereas with digital only, when you’re targeting based on devices or cookies, oftentimes it’s an unknown audience. On Facebook, all I know is I bought some impressions against an abstract audience of 25-to 43-year-old Millennials.”

Combining online with offline strategies is the solution to this marketing dilemma. It adds another layer to the customer journey, opening effective new engagement avenues that create meaningful 1:1 relationships with consumers. The result? The most impactful direct marketing campaigns.

So what’s the best way to marry offline to online media? Here are some ideas:

Use a unique QR code per household in each piece of direct mail. Scans of the codes provide a variety of benefits:

  • Expand information needed for effective personalization.
  • Capture emails in prospecting campaigns (“Sign up to get 15% off your first purchase,” etc.)
  • Remove friction (e.g., form auto-fills).
  • Capture more first-party data.
  • Personalize digital content associated with direct mail. When someone scans the QR code, responding with contextual personalized digital content via email, SMS or landing page ad increases engagement and conversion. For example, is the consumer near a store that carries your brand and is currently open? Make sure the digital messaging highlights this. Or is new merchandise arriving in stores soon? Tell them with personalized product/lifestyle imagery and offers.
  • Remarket from offline to online and online to offline. Capturing and acting on intent is critical to engaging consumers. Household data offers a trove of intent signals, from the car someone drives, to pet ownership to the presence or absence of children, and more. Visiting a website, viewing a video or other immersive media and scanning QR codes are all intent signals that can be used as triggers to initiate remarketing. Online remarketing (pixel to pixel) and online to offline (pixel to a postcard), reaching them where they are.
  • Leverage mail tracking to set up physical-to-digital/offline-to-online triggers. Intelligent barcodes (IMB) on a piece of mail provide confirmation of when a piece of mail is delivered that then can trigger geo-targeted online follow-up, emails and social media outreach.

Plotting a new customer journey with online plus offline touchpoints drives returns across KPIs. The goal is to create seamless connections — meaningful and frictionless — that  maximize engagement.