Direct marketers need to get personal

Damian Bentley, managing director at Snowball, says direct marketers can learn from the personal touch offered by luxury brands.

Damian Bentley
Damian Bentley

People often talk about luxury brands providing the personal touch, but it is not something you often hear about direct marketing. Personalised, maybe, but never ‘the personal touch’.

It’s a shame, really, because that phrase implies everything that good, personalised and relevant direct mail and email are capable of: an implicit understanding of a consumer’s needs and the type of understated relevant service that you might get in an upmarket store.

DM could be the Rolls Royce salesman of the marketing world – understanding, understated and always appropriate. But instead the channel still owes more to the double glazing hawker, banging on your door, ringing during dinner and shouting on television in cheap infomercials.

Luxury brands, are leading the way in the channel.

Let us look at what makes them successful. Collecting data comes easily to luxury brands, their customers either have or are looking to start a relationship with the brand, and given most of them have a good customer service track record, consumers trust them to deliver similarly appropriate marketing materials.

The resulting campaigns make use of purchase data and personal preferences, often along with very high quality digital print, to create subtle and effective personalised communications.

Digital print has unfortunately earned itself a rather bad reputation in recent years, becoming known for ‘cheap and nasty’ direct mail with crass personalisation, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Maybe you’ve recently bought a high quality MP3 player? The next communication you receive will not need to state: “we notice you recently purchased our Z3000 MP3 player…” as the consumer will already be aware of the fact. But it might recommend the right headphones to go with that player, and thanks to digital print, will be able to provide a picture of these, along with details of the nearest stockist and the current price.

And yet, in the regular direct mail world, the best most customers can hope is to receive a pack with their name written in clouds, or sand, in the hope that they’ll be amazed enough to devour the rest of the irrelevant accompanying letter or booklet.

What a great shame. We have all this data, all this knowledge about consumers, and yet we often still turn out this tripe.

You don’t have to be a wealthy luxury brand to adopt the same sort of attitude to your customers and marketing. If you have the information in a database (and many brands do) and you are already using, or have used digital print in the past, then it is not an alien concept.

You might have considered variable digital print and will certainly be aware of the many fields you can insert personal data into. But there’s a higher, strategic discussion to be had about why you might do this and how you want your customers to feel when they receive your communications.

Start by making consumers feel valued (without telling them they are ‘a valued customer’), think strategically about what that might involve and engagement, purchase and relationships will follow.

Direct mail has the potential to revitalise itself, but only by starting to think more intelligently and strategically about the incredibly powerful information at its fingertips.

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