Direct marketing direct route but with a new hi-tech twist

Recent innovations in direct marketing mix cutting-edge technology with back-to-basics strategies to create a more integrated customer experience.

Direct marketing has often been seen as the poor cousin of the sexier marketing disciplines of advertising and, latterly, online and mobile. But far from killing off direct marketing, the online and mobile worlds have been teaming up with more traditional mail and print executions to form integrated strategies that aim to help marketers bring together content and consumers.

The new incarnation of direct marketing sees it billed as the place where the latest technology and physical content can come together. Rather than seeing DM and interactive tools as separate, marketers are being encouraged to consider how they can move people from one channel to another.

Augmented abilities
Direct marketing, in the form of Augmented Reality (AR), is at the forefront of one of the latest visual technologies. AR typically involves squares of seemingly random black and white shapes printed on pieces of paper, which, with the aid of webcam and mobile cameraphone technology, are transformed into a three-dimensional, fully interactive, brand experience.

Far from being a simple gimmick, proponents of AR believe it can bring a brand to life in far greater depth than anything either on or offline media has been able to provide. And because each 3D interaction is individual to each recipient, it aims to allow the consumer to engage in a truly personal brand experience.

The technology is still so new that practitioners are yet to agree a consistent terminology. While some refer to the AR code as a “QR code”, others believe that AR codes are unique to the 3D experience, and that QR barcodes is a more basic way of driving customers to two-dimensional brand websites or online information.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) used an AR execution for the latest phase of its Altitude advertising campaign. Door-drop mailings contained the enigmatic AR code, encouraging its target audience to delve further via the online presence.

When held against the recipient’s webcam, the AR code combined the person’s live-action image from the webcam with a 3D image to seemingly place them in the cockpit of an RAF jet. The ability to tip and angle the piece of paper made the 3D image move accordingly, giving an impression – albeit basic – of flying the aircraft.

Daren Kay, executive creative director at digital and direct agency Tullo Marshall Warren, says/ “Clients are looking for ways that consumers can have another level on which to interact with the brand. There’s definitely a move away from using direct marketing to send out samples or gizmos. People want information and content. Anything that drives consumers to that content, whether it’s a website or a magazine, is key.”

Ford recently made use of AR as part of its ‘Find It’ campaign for its Ka model. David Harris, executive creative director of agency Wunderman, says: “It was using technology that had resonance with the audience. The whole campaign was a treasure hunt and we made codes available all over the place, including unbranded bags in clubs.

“By seeding it in, an exclusive band of consumers would be the first to find it and then pass it on to their friends. It generated valuable word of mouth.”

While the novelty of the technology was obviously a draw, its purpose was also more practical. “We put the car in the consumer’s hand,” Harris adds.

Ford head of communications Claire Hepworth says: “The campaign was all about looking beyond the obvious. It appealed to technology-savvy20somethings on the edge of the mainstream.”

The campaign appears to have worked. While the Ka is arguably not as famously cool as its peers in the same category – the Mini and the Beetle – the model has sold out and now boasts a waiting list. More than 1.2 million people have visited the Find It website so far, while more than 150,000 have registered for a test drive, brochure or e-mail dialogue, or designed a Ka.

Deep targeting
Ford’s Hepworth says that the campaign for the Ka’s sister vehicle, the Fiesta, looked in-depth at blogger outreach: “Its Flickr [an online photograph album] group has 6,000 members and features what their vision of our campaign ‘This is Now’ means. We’ve combined old-fashioned research and the latest analytical software and really engaged with the blogging community.”

The collaboration between on and offline is also making waves in the B2B arena, where DM has traditionally been popular. Neil Phillips, head of marketing and online at British Gas Business, explains: “We’ve been moving towards more digital targeting and using advertising with embedded codes. It’s serving advertising in a traceable way. Then we can tell if you’ve visited Management Today [magazine website] and come to us this way. It’s showing some excellent results. We’ve also moved into using social networks.”

However, Phillips admits this is new territory for B2B marketers. “We are trailing the consumer marketing trends by a little way,” he says.

And technology will continue to evolve apace, enabling marketers to penetrate more directly into consumers’ lives. George Schweitzer is group marketing director at US television network CBS. After it started using thin, plastic, in-magazine video screens to advertise its programmes in Entertainment Weekly magazine, along with Pepsi, Schweitzer commented that he expected to see future TV applications that would counter the “swivel potatoes” who turn to the PC while watching TV. “We want to be part of the trend and stay ahead of the curve on that,” he added.

But innovative technology does not automatically mean innovative DM. To ensure there is quality behind the bells and whistles, some industry figures say there needs to be a reconnection with back-to-basics approaches.

Marc Michaels, director of direct and relationship marketing at the Central Office of Information, is on the judging panel for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) awards, which took place earlier this month. He says: “It is very easy for marketing people to get hooked on innovation but they need to get other things like copy execution right. A lot of what we’ve seen in the awards has been about clever copy.”

Heather Westgate, fellow DMA judge and managing director at agency TDA, says marketers should be aware that innovation begins at the planning stage and is not synonymous with the latest technology. She predicts: “There is a massive shift happening in terms of integrated marketing – more so than at any time in the past 15 years. This really will be a year to remember, where agencies finally began to truly integrate their activity.”

Brand stories

Amanda Phillips, MMC Ambassador

Typically, when you hear the words “innovation” and “direct mail” together, your mind immediately springs to technological innovation – some new approach to digital personalisation, perhaps. While there have been many of those in recent years, when I think about innovation in direct mail, my mind springs to social marketing.

In particular, I have noticed that there has been a return to direct mail among organisations wishing to engage with customers to create content. An example is the campaign for Wellington Zoo [created by Saatchi & Saatchi] to gain donations for its new animal hospital, The Nest – a refuge for sickly pandas and the like in New Zealand.

Like many such organisations, it relies heavily on public donations to sustain its development. Hence, it decided to put together a donor campaign to support The Nest.

You’d expect a clean, crisp charity mailing, together with cute pictures of animals, and bags of charm. Well, its approach definitely had charm, but it wasn’t the photos of animals that were responsible for this. By co-creating the campaign with local schools, the zoo devised an educational project whereby pupils penned individual letters to potential donors. In one such letter, Rachael, 9, wrote/ “Please will you donate some money to Wellington Zoo… The Nest will make sure there are still pandas when I grow up.”

The campaign gained a whopping 27% response rate, with an average donation of around $84 (about £30). Simple? Yes. But a sophisticated and new way to use direct mail to facilitate user-generated content. The letters were personal, individual, tangible and heart-warming.

This is an innovation in direct mail – using it to connect with consumers so that they, in turn, influence prospects and customers. Direct mail is an important social marketing tool.

in association with

Marc Michaels, director of direct and relationship marketing at the COI

Customers don’t really care about the channel marketers use. So the most innovative thing in direct marketing going into 2010 is the ability to link the on and offline environments.

Taking the customer through the campaign journey is about having multiple touchpoints. A lot has been said about moving everything online, but a lot of web traffic is driven by offline media. Direct marketing can lead them to the online environment, where we can bring the issue to life in an exciting, interactive way.

As government communications don’t generally have constant transactions to drive people online, the COI and its clients need to think creatively to bring people to it and create “excuses for interactions”.

Our Royal Air Force campaign, using Augmented Reality (see main article) targeted teens, who, contrary to received wisdom, enjoy being targeted by direct mail in the first instance. It’s a demographic that doesn’t get much mail so, far from being outmoded, it has a great novelty factor. Add to this the technological resonance that the RAF has, and AR-enabled mailings were the natural choice.

Content has to be reused across media. It’s very easy for marketing people to get hooked on technological innovation and not get other straightforward, but vital, things right – such as the proposition, the copy, or visuals. For example, a Zimbabwean newspaper printed its message on the country’s massively devalued currency – an innovative idea that got people’s attention. Although not a big technological move forward, the newspaper had done something that resonated with its audience.

If you can make it personal, the physicality of mail is a very good complement to the web. Fundamentally, people are social animals. For teens, especially, the physical item is almost as exciting as being online, and it works. Innovation is only good if it engages people and gets them to take action.

Topline trends

Recent DM innovations and trends to come

Nissan: Sent out a £150 racing helmet to drivers on the waiting list for a £70,000 car.
CBS and Pepsi: Video ads played in magazines on wafer-thin screens.
Change4Life: Personalised health action packs with 3.5 million different possible combinations of information.
RNLI: Targeting 12 influential bloggers and letting them spread the word for you.
To come: E-readers being used to send news and opt-in marketing information – using new levels of psychographic modelling based on book choice.

Key learnings

  • New technology has a novelty factor, which is in itself useful.
  • Consumers are not channel aware, so campaigns must integrate seamlessly across a variety of platforms and media.
  • Content must be channel-appropriate. AR technology works very well on computer webcams but requires the most up-to-date mobile technology. Mobile marketing this way may still be some time away, unless you are targeting a specific group likely to own these phones.
  • B2B marketing is still lagging behind B2C in deploying innovations.
  • Clever targeting reaps rewards. Direct marketing is known for its voluminous door drops, but there is value in speaking to as few as 12 people – each marketing drive must be well thought-through.