Combining physicality, data and connectivity is like lightning in a bottle

From left to right: Andy Bruce, Sarah Simpson, Mark Morin, Elissa Moses and Michael Chase.

Direct mail is enjoying a renaissance with the nation’s brightest marketing minds, as new neuromarketing research extols the product’s virtues.

Canada’s leading marketers actually view direct mail as a triple threat: It is effective on its own, it’s persuasive in combination with other media and it’s especially powerful when strategically sequenced with other channels.

Established marketing experts point to recent research that suggests direct mail may be even more powerful in today’s digital age than ever before.

Direct mail on its own

Ipsos, one of the world’s top three global research companies, examined the role of direct mail and digital channels in optimizing consumer attention, emotional engagement and brand recall. The 2016 study found that direct mail on its own “held participant attention for 118% longer and stimulated 29% higher brand recall than digital advertising.”

Connecting for Action, the neuromarketing report based on the research, was released in the fall. The whitepaper was a collaboration by Ipsos and Canada Post, and it confirms that direct mail “triggers consumer emotions and action.”

The findings build on last year’s seminal report A Bias for Action, which found that the physical attributes of direct mail make it easier to understand, more memorable and more persuasive than digital advertising.

Breaking through the Noise, a separate ethnographic study released by Canada Post in 2015, found that direct mail remains deeply embedded in consumers’ daily rituals and is noticed, opened, read, shared, displayed and kept for extended periods in the home, multiplying brand recall and engagement opportunities.

Elissa Moses, CEO of the Ipsos Neuro & Behavioral Science Center of Excellence, says “the sensory aspects of direct mail stimulate all different kinds of neurons” and its physicality gives it a “tremendous power to persuade.”

Direct mail in combination

Michael Chase, chief marketing officer of St. Joseph Communications, is convinced the winning formula in marketing today has three pillars: physicality, data and connectivity.

That’s what Canada Post calls Smartmail Marketing, a term it introduced to the advertising lexicon in 2015. In Smartmail Marketing, physical-digital connectivity links consumers to product and brands through multiple channels.

What Chase calls the intersection of the Gutenberg printing press and the Internet is simply a recognition that “digital and physical work together.” When they do, there can be an “explosive, dynamic resonance in the marketplace,” he says.

That resonance is what marketers covet and the thing Chase insists Smartmail Marketing can deliver. But there is a more pragmatic reason for marketers to incorporate direct mail into their ad campaigns, he says. “If you were to say I’m just going to be a digital pure play, you’re going to miss people. You’re going to miss them in the places where they want to actually read your stuff.”

For marketing consultant Sarah Simpson, that’s the crux. Direct mail, she says, “is able to enter into that customer’s home to talk to them in the most relevant way, and to engage with the brand and motivate them.”

While some marketers view physical mail as slow, non-interactive and complex, younger customers don’t see it that way, says Simpson. “It’s new to millennials, right? It’s so exciting for the younger generation—it’s like you have a little present that somebody sent you.”

To doubters, she offers some simple advice: “Test it. Take 20% of your budget, five per cent of your budget. Why not test it?”

Andy Bruce, co-founder and CEO of The Mobile Experience Company, an Oshawa-based marketing solutions provider that specializes in digital, believes another Smartmail Marketing pillar—data—is the most important thing in marketing today: “It gives you an unprecedented amount of power to be able to tailor messaging and content.”

He speaks specifically about data that can be leveraged: “This person on this day received this piece of mail—here’s their digital footprint and cookie-crumb trail going all the way through to this store.”

Mark Morin, president of the award-winning Quebec-based Strategies Relationship Marketing, agrees “being able to make the connections between these things throughout the customer journey is really, really important.” He welcomes the ability to use data to create hyper personal messaging.

Chase adds: “If you don’t know who you’re talking to, it won’t resonate with them, and it won’t be relevant to them, and they won’t connect with your brand.”

Adds Morin: “And if you don’t think strategically about it, then you’re going to end up doing a bunch of stuff and some will stick and some won’t.” The unstated message—make it all stick—is as powerful as Chase’s spoken word on connectivity, another Smartmail Marketing pillar: “If you’re not doing omni-channel today, if you’re not looking at your entire holistic marketing mix, you’re missing people.”

Ipsos research showed that integrating direct mail into digital campaigns drives 39% more attention (time spent), 10% higher brand recall and a five per cent stronger emotional response than single-media digital campaigns.

“When you really look at physicality, connectivity and then harnessing data and really using it the right way—if you combine everything—BOOM! It’s like lightning in a bottle,” Chase says.

Media sequencing matters

Ipsos also looked at email, online display ads, pre-roll videos and direct mail—independent of one another and in a physical-digital combination. It also studied the impact on consumer engagement of the order in which these media are used.

It found that consumer engagement with integrated campaigns may be strongest when direct mail follows digital advertising. Specifically, the Ipsos study found that compared to the average for other single and combined media campaigns:

  • Brand recall was 40% higher when direct mail followed email;
  • Arousal was 26% higher when direct mail followed digital display; and
  • Motivation peaked when direct mail followed pre-roll.

Not surprisingly, Connecting for Action reports that the sequenced combination of media can “be a powerful campaign formula for driving consumer action.”

The research left Moses with two important new insights:  “First, each media channel is like an instrument in a symphony, with its own unique impact profile and role to play. Second, digital advertising provides value in its own right, but greater value when it’s combined and properly sequenced with direct mail.”

Connecting for Action concludes that the combination of physicality, data and connectivity make direct mail “the power channel for customer activation.” Together, digital and direct mail are “greater than the sum of the parts,” Moses says.

Put another way: Reports of direct mail’s death are greatly exaggerated.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Rob Warner

Rob Warner

Rob Warner is a senior writer and editor at Canada Post Corporation.

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