The Rise of Personalization in Direct Mail in 2016


Every year brings shiny, new advances in tech, and 2016 is shaping up to be no different. With expected innovations that include virtual reality; doorstep-delivery by robots; improved drone tech for recording high-def aerial video; and the inevitable release of the latest iPhone, you could be forgiven for thinking that handwritten direct mail is an archaic, outdated form of marketing.

But what if I told you that it’s precisely because of all this tech that people are coming to appreciate the personal touch even more?

Think about coffee for a minute. Just about everybody loves a good cup of coffee. It’s the fuel that keeps entire economies going. Millions of people have the same morning routine – get up, get ready, go to work, stop in at the most convenient Starbucks and get their morning fuel within the promised two minutes.


It’s great, it’s efficient, the coffee tastes good and it does its job. But those same people, on the much-loved lazy weekend morning, will bring out the French press, leave their coffee to brew for a few minutes, pour it into a favorite ceramic mug and sip it slowly while allowing the last vestiges of a crazy work week to drain away.

It’s reflected in an attitude toward the ever-increasing prevalence of tech that’s causing some people to switch to a basic phone instead of a smart phone, or carry a second, basic phone instead of their smart phone when they socialize. It’s also the reason why more people are looking for ways to disconnect from their constant connection to the internet and look for ways to simplify things, at least part of the time.

So what does this have to do with your business and the marketing trends of 2016?

It means you should give some serious consideration to making things personal again. We’ve all been there – the marketing campaign designed to cover all your bases, draw in as many new customers as possible using every channel available from text to email, TV, radio, mail drops, desk drops… the spray-and-pray approach has its own merits, sure, but it rarely engenders any real return.

The major marketing trends for 2016 all point to the idea of simplification and personalization: the top three stand-outs are 1) email for its ability to contain all relevant information and its demographic targetability, 2) mobile for the benefit of getting a simple, clear message across and, of course, 3) direct mail for its craftability, tactile experience and its potential to drive consumers online and in store.

Email’s relationship with marketing is a love-hate one, with everything from advance-fee fraud scams and every type of spam imaginable.


Despite all this, email’s star is back on the rise for direct marketing. It’s the one medium potential clients can’t – and don’t necessarily want to – get away from, with it being so intimately tied to their jobs and daily lives. This does rely on telling clients a good story, though. Focusing on personalization is critical, for reasons we’ll go into in a bit.

Mobile’s rise is one that comes as no surprise.


Even taking into account those people who prefer basic phones, mobile is an enormous market. In many markets, especially the developing world, phones and tablets with internet connectivity are many people’s primary digital device and mobile Google searches have bypassed desktop searches for volume. With a world of analytics available, carefully targeted mobile marketing is not only possible, it’s basically a no-brainer.

But why direct mail?

It could have something to do with people’s love for stories. Sure, a genuinely well-crafted radio or television commercial can tell a story, but it’s brief, fleeting and frequently lost to the “skip” button. But imagine holding a handwritten note on a beautifully textured sheet of paper, getting immersed into the story being told; blocking all external sight and sound from your focus, losing all distractions and just taking a quiet moment to enjoy the tale that’s being spun.

Now imagine that story bears real, tangible relevance to you.

It fits with your world view, your life experience, the people you know, the car you drive, the lifestyle you choose and pursue. That’ the magic of direct marketing – using big data for all it’s worth and targeting your audience, personalizing the message to the people you want to sell your product or service to. Because let’s face it, people respond to personalization.

Your potential customers like to feel as though you put some thought into what they might enjoy, what could make their lives easier or what they might really need, right now, to make their goals and aspirations happen. They also like to feel that the information you’re giving them is actually relevant to their lives; along with the need to disconnect from being constantly plugged in comes the need to escape the millions of irrelevant messages that hit us every day.

Does a Generation Xer really care what millennials’ favorite restaurant is? Do millennials really need to know what the best vitamin supplement for over-40s is?

No, they don’t, which is why reaching the right audience is so important.

And it’s not just generational. Handwritten letters aren’t the preserve of the old, the retired, or people who just don’t “get” technology. On the contrary, whether your target audience is retired, middle-aged, or barely out of college, there is a distinct upward trend in appreciation for physical mail, for reasons as far-ranging as nostalgia to information overload and retro-cool.

But just getting your mail in the right mail box isn’t enough. If it looks like junk mail, feels like junk mail and reads like junk mail, it’s going in the trash.


If it looks, feels and reads like a personalized letter, hand-written exclusively for you, it’s going to make you stop and read it. And if the company sending it to you has really made an effort to get to know you or respond to a specific need that you’ve expressed, that letter is going to make you feel a much stronger connection to that company and give birth to brand loyalty, one of the trickiest things to achieve, yet one of the most powerful and important contributors to sustained sales in today’s market.

More than that, for every person you successfully reach through personalized direct mail, you have created a brand ambassador – being made to feel special causes people to open up, to share their experience with friends, family and on social media, giving you an even better reach than you could have anticipated.

Time is really one of the most valuable things you can spend, and when a customer feels that you have spent time on them, rather than just throwing money at an expensive campaign, they respond positively to that, both emotionally and financially.


When you’re planning your next marketing campaign, give some serious thought to including not only a direct mail component, but one that really brings across the message that you are willing to invest your own time and effort in your customers. There’s not a lot that’s going to beat the return on that investment.

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