Direct mail marketing has its Rewards

By: Shira G. Goodman, Staples EVP, Marketing

Staples was founded on the vision that direct marketing is a critical part of the marketing mix. This goes back 19 years, to when direct marketing wasn’t nearly as relevant, especially for a retailer. Direct mail is a very rich part of our history and I think it has been one of our secret weapons for many years – it really enables us to have a rich ongoing dialogue with our target customers.

The cornerstone of our direct marketing is our loyalty program. We’ve had a customer loyalty program – in some shape or form – since Staples was created. Today, it’s called Staples Rewards and the goal is to make it easy for our customers to save money and save time.

At least once a week, I’ll meet someone at a cocktail party or someone at my kids’ school, and they’ll ask what I do. When I tell them I work at Staples, they’ll ask, “What do you do there?” “Oh, I’m in marketing.” And they whip out their Staples Rewards card. “Oh, I’m a Rewards member and it is so great.” I can’t tell you how often that happens. They really have pride in being part of that program.

We track Return on Investment (ROI) on everything, and we consistently find that our direct mail pays off. In addition, part of the beauty of direct marketing is you can constantly think of new ideas and concepts and test them.

Luxury Retailers Hit Their Targets with Direct Mail

September 10, 2012 | By: Allan Nahajewski

Question: How do you sell luxury watches and some of the finest clothes in the world?

Answer: Through the mail, of course.

How about a 24-day, $66,950 private jet excursion?

Same answer.

The prestigious, exclusive travel company uses direct mail to get the message out about its luxurious trips by private jet, where consumers can travel around the world and explore ancient civilizations.

To attract high-end customers, the company mails a 20-page packet complete with vivid pictures and detailed trip information. A representative from the exclusive travel company said, “We know from our travelers that the print catalog is still a piece that is very much valued. Many of our travelers use our catalogs to browse and get ideas and then may opt to book by phone or make their reservation online, so direct mail is very much an important part of our overall strategy.”

Direct Mail’s Three Distinct Advantages

“Marketing through direct mail affords three distinct advantages,” says Kirk Swain, principal,

First, direct mail allows luxury retailers to specifically target buyers by income level, so they can extend offers exclusively to individuals who are financially able to accept those offers.

Second, commodities with a high single-transaction value are well suited to direct mail, as low response rates aren’t an issue when fewer sales are needed to offset the expense of the mailing.

Third, direct mail can provide access to data, allowing retailers to identify people who may have purchased the same or similar items in the past, and send them a letter.

Upscale Department Stores Choose Mail
A look at how luxury-oriented department stores incorporate direct mail into their marketing mix finds an array of techniques to pull in consumers and showcase the quality of their merchandise:

Direct mail serves as the focal point of a prominent depatrment store’s multichannel campaign that features barcodes, online, mobile, social media and catalog touch points. The company has placed mobile barcodes on almost every page of its women’s and men’s catalogs, which allow consumers to learn more about the new styles featured in the catalog. Additionally, underneath each QR Code, there is an SMS call to action.

A two-part catalog with up-and-coming design students, models, actors and musicians from New York showcases a department store’s urban, edgy spirit. The first part consists of the new crop of New Yorkers modeling collections, while the second part is purely to showcase products. The catalog is made with a thicker-weight paper and is bound. Its unique fold-out mechanism is also helpful to differentiate the catalog from other retailers.

Mail steers consumers to another luxury retail chain’s blog, mobile site, stores and website using touch points in its catalog. The retailer implements calls-to-action to its blog via barcodes while also drawing consumers to its store to check out the season’s newest looks. The catalog is double-sided and includes editorial, interviews and fashion analysis.

One luxury watchmaker mails two types of print catalogs — an 18-page catalog for women and a 150-page catalog of products and history — to convey an attitude of elegance and to engage both returning and new consumers in a way that fully showcases the brand’s diverse audience around the world.

Mail Prep
George Eddy, president of Denver-based Heinrich Marketing, tells the story of trying to convince the administrators at an exclusive private school to use direct mail to attract new students.

“At first, they looked at me as if I had a third eye,” he says.

The school had been using soft-sell radio ads for student recruitment, similar to the efforts of its primary competitor in the market. Heinrich Marketing pulled together a campaign with 3-D high-end mailers at an average cost of $8 to $10 per piece.

The mailings were targeted. One appeal reached well-to-do parents of students already enrolled in private schools. Another targeted wealthy parents with students in public schools. Each mailing included a DVD and a more direct appeal than the radio commercials offered.

“It worked,” says Eddy. “We were able to boost enrollment far beyond what the radio campaign could do.”

A New Reality

February 27, 2012 | By: Nichole Christian

First came QR codes. Now, augmented reality looms as the next big thing for direct mail.

Many families that ski know Snowmass Village, just west of Aspen, Colo., as an undisputed slice of paradise. Crowds have flocked to the hamlet for years.

But earlier this year, even those in the know got to see Snowmass anew, courtesy of a clever marketing campaign that called upon a dazzling, but relatively new, technology as its centerpiece.

The campaign’s goal was simple enough: engage and entice young skiers and parents to participate in the 2011 Kids Ski Free Campaign. The campaign’s execution, however, was anything but simple, thanks to The Myers Roberts Collective’s decision to employ augmented reality.

Augmented reality — known as AR — works by projecting computer-generated data and three-dimensional graphics into the real world. A computer or cellphone essentially becomes consumers’ eyes and their entree into a multilayered, three-dimensional experience.

For the Snowmass campaign, the slopes literally leapt to life from a printed postcard. About 25,000 mailers were sent to a target audience, each postcard featuring a special black and white patterned symbol, similar to QR codes.

To access the Snowmass AR campaign, users were directed to a special website and asked to hold the mailed postcard in front of the webcam. And with the symbol functioning as a key of sorts, relaying vital digital-recognition information much like facial recognition technology to the computer, virtual skiers came alive along with a 3-D ski lift, all surrounded by the sounds of children laughing as they learned the ins and outs of skiing down the mountains.

“This was a way to generate a wow factor around an existing promotion and to let people have a bit of the Snowmass experience using just a postcard and a webcam. It was fun,” said Kevin Roberts, a co-founder and principal of The Myers Roberts Collective.”

A 3-D Business Tool

Marketing experts and observers say augmented reality is much more than fun and games. It offers an entirely new avenue for direct mail, an eye-catching and meaningful way to ensure that mail continues as a mainstay in multichannel communications.

Recently, one of the nation’s largest discount retailers sent out an AR mailer to promote its expanded grocery section. The mailer included a coupon for soda that, when peeled off, revealed an AR code printed on the mailer. Used with a webcam, the code activated a 3-D AR image of the retailers’ new grocery aisles, all stocked with fresh food.

One global auto manufacturer has used AR to encourage virtual test drives of its vehicles. And a German toymaker has combined AR with its catalog to produce 3-D images of cars racing around tracks. “Ultimately, we’re all out to extend the length of time a consumer is going to keep that printed piece with them,” says Art Calamari, vice president of strategic accounts for Taylor, one of the largest direct mail printers in the nation. “AR is the perfect tool because it gives consumers a real reason to hold on to printed pieces and to hopefully take the next step.”

Kevin Roberts offers an even more upbeat view: “AR takes a venerated medium in direct mail and jumps it further into the future. When a client realizes they can look at a piece of printed material and have it convey information in the same captivating way as a digital campaign, the potential is mindboggling.”

But Is It Trackable? Of course, for direct marketers the real measure of relevance is always this: Can you track a campaign’s footprint among consumers? With AR, the answer is, by design, a resounding


Wherever a barcode is embedded on a printed piece, it instantly opens the door to targeted tracking.

“Now, with AR, there’s incredible real-time opportunity for clients to monitor and to adjust to consumer response and be very fluid doing so,” says Kevin Roberts. “Every time I click, you know I clicked — and the client can see it. They know what happened and that it originated from a printed piece of mail. It’s an enormous selling tool.”

Making the Case for Augmented Reality
Art Calamari, of Taylor, encountered the technology for the very first time just a year ago.

Calamari was so impressed he made an immediate decision to make AR the star attraction of the Taylor booth during the 2011 Direct Marketing Association convention in Boston. Visitors to the booth received a printed postcard and an invitation to visit a special website to unlock the encoded graphics and information. “From the postcard,” explains Calamari, “we were able to monitor people taking it back and showing others some of the possibilities.”

“We created an application featuring a postcard that an insurance agent could send out showing his image and a neat little graphic that could change with information, like a billboard, each week using the same postcard,” says Calamari. “The selling point is again helping consumers hold on to that printed piece a little longer.”

Taylor created another demo using printed sports tickets. “We were able to show season ticketholders their seat in the stadium and the view it offered from different angles. When you can come up with something that makes sense and naturally drives consumers to take a next step, then AR sells itself,” Calamari says.

Future Potential
One widely imagined use for the technology is among real estate agents and architects, sectors that routinely advertise via direct mail and even newspapers. “Using AR, it’s really not too hard to imagine getting a postcard in the mail for some vacant piece of land, then going out with your iPad or phone and seeing your dream house before it’s even built or a builder has been hired,” says Kevin Roberts. “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

While potential for AR’s impact on direct mail is clearly high, the costs can seem so too for some budget-conscious marketers. Creating the necessary three-dimensional renderings can cost upwards of $10,000, according to Art Calamari. Design, video and sound must be factored in as well, depending on the campaign’s scope.

“The complication comes in determining how much you need to spend to make your product look good. The further we can move beyond the cool factor, the more it can be justified and the more the costs will come down,” says Calamari.

A Slow Embrace
Kevin Roberts says AR could use its own marketing campaign. As a prime example, he points to a recent worldwide AR convention that he attended in Silicon Valley this past spring. The crowd was paltry, compared to the thousands who attend the Direct Marketing Association convention.

“The phase that AR is in right now is kind of like when e-mail and the Internet were just getting started,” Roberts says. “It’s game-changing, but not everyone has quite caught on.”

He adds, “The developers are putting all of their effort and attention into making it work. None of the people actually creating it are out marketing it, which creates this natural lapse in its growth in the marketplace.”

Robert argues that the missing message of AR is that it’s more than digital wizardry gone wild. “A lot of AR up until this point has been done just because it’s so cool and so new,” he says. “But now companies are realizing and experiencing the fact that it’s more of a tool of visual innovation than a fad.”

The challenge, says Dennis Ryan, chief creative officer for Minneapolis ad agency Olson, is to continue demonstrating AR’s unique ability to engage consumers and to “extend mail’s shelf life and make consumers feel bad for throwing it away,” especially in industries where print is still a viable channel — such as local restaurants, real estate, architecture and even car sales.

“A ton of education needs to happen, but it’s like any technology; you do it, then you get it. We just have to continue driving adoption in ways that make AR meaningful to the end consumer,” he says.

But, Ryan cautions, while AR may be enough to entice consumers, good old-fashioned marketing principles still trump technology: “Technology has empowered consumers to be incredibly selfish. They don’t have to bother, no matter how much effort has gone into a campaign. And that means that AR will not advance if the experience at the end isn’t remarkable. But if you can promise — and deliver — a remarkable experience, AR really does have a great chance to become mail’s next logical leap into the future.”