Direct Mail is not dead – it remains an essential part of Retail Media

by Debora Franchim, Product Director, Media & CE Product Management

The other day I was cleaning up my wardrobe, and I found a box in the bottom of it that I haven’t touched in a while. Among other papers and documents, there was a little folder filled with direct mails that I received years ago. Yes, I have a box of direct mail – call me a geek. I used to keep cool emails as well, but after a while the images links expire, so I found out it’s pointless as you can’t see the content anymore.

You might think that box in my closet was a box of trash, but it was impossible not to smile all over again with those letters that are so rare nowadays. My favourite was a beautiful one from a local retailer with a delicious chocolate brand; the mail was shaped as that chocolate bar, wrapped in foil and everything. It was filled with a 15% discount coupon for that brand, which I used at the time, and was very happy. There was another one made of seed paper, thanking me for not using plastic bags in my shopping trips. I was supposed to have planted that paper and seen the flower grow, but I just couldn’t get rid of it.

My immediate instinct was to gather them all up and take them to the office to show everyone – after all, at dunnhumby our teams all work with it. But not only we are currently working from home, but my team is based in the other side of the world, so I had to be content with telling them the story. It did get me thinking about everything that happened to this type of media since those days. Emails grew impressively and its low cost enabled everyone to receive personalisation. In the beginning, I remember agencies trying to digitally reproduce the creativity they used to put in direct mail, and it was hard. The reach was amazing, though – we no longer had to choose which customers wouldn’t be able to receive those offers or content. And email allows you to send simple direct messages that you wouldn’t use a direct mail for. Even last week I got an email from a car rental company reminding me that my driving license is about to expire. I didn’t remember that at all until I got this email – it prevented me from getting fined. Now, ask me if I’ll ever rent a car from another company after this?

Then new digital channels came, and creativity not only came back, but married to technology, enabling really cool things all over again. Nowadays I don’t leave the house for the supermarket without first checking my personalised offers in the app. Not only that, but I can also book a time to go to the checkout, so I don’t have to queue. And when I open the app to check my offers, I know that what I’ll see is relevant to me and I will likely want to buy many of them. If it wasn’t relevant, after two of three times I wouldn’t even bother to open again.

And that’s the thing about direct to customer: it must be relevant. Delivering relevancy is a sign of respect to the customer that allowed a company to use their data and enter their territory – their house, their inbox, their phone – with ads and messages. It cannot be anything less than personalised and relevant. Doing it is not difficult, the data is there. If you have the right technology and content, and respect their preferences, customers will be pleased with what they receive. They will buy more, they will spend more, and they will become more loyal to the brand. In that chocolate mail I mentioned, the relevancy in that piece got me to go to the store and buy a few bars. I’d say I probably would have bought one bar anyway, but the ad made me buy more. It changed my behaviour in a way that made me happy, as well as the retailer and the chocolate brand. That’s how any direct to customer campaign should be.

Of course, if it’s aligned to other channels, it’s even better. If I get an email with a few products and they are there waiting for me when I go online, it will make my experience much easier. If I’m shopping online and forget to add something to my cart, I love when the website reminds me, as it knows exactly what I’m used to buying and perhaps that it’s time for me to buy again as I might be running out of it.

I do not expect that customers will keep the mails we send in a box in their closets. I don’t even expect them to save the emails. But I do expect a small smile when they see the content and think “this is for me, they know me” and feel pleased about enjoying a product they might not get if it wasn’t for that direct ad.

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