Personal touch points to a positive response

Direct marketers are using technology such as analytics software and volunteered personal information to deliver messages that raise levels of engagement.

These days, technology and innovation tend to go hand-in-hand. For direct marketers, the latest products and services provide exciting possibilities for generating responses from their consumers.

Last autumn, Pepsi became the first brand to embed a video advert into a print magazine when US title Entertainment Weekly incorporated a wafer-thin video screen and built-in speakers into the paper page. Up to 40 minutes of video could be stored on each special chip inside, powered by a tiny rechargeable battery.

While this was an American innovation, direct marketers on this side of the Atlantic are also excited by the potential of this technique. Lazar Dzamic, digital planning director at Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, explains: “Seeing what can happen with a press ad makes transferring this technology to traditional direct mail paper packs a logical next step.

“Unlike magazines, DM is a medium that the marketer controls. We could produce separate screens containing different content and use bigger batteries.”

Dzamic says ever since the Pepsi story broke, he has been talking to clients about this technology. “It will take a particular type of client who is willing to try something so cutting-edge. Hopefully, we will test it in the next few months.”

Electronic paper is another innovation that Dzamic believes more direct marketers will start to take advantage of during 2010. This involves extremely thin, flexible displays that are connected to mobile devices to display content. They can be folded up or rolled away like paper when they are not being used.

“We are talking to clients about how they can use this technology to send high value DM packs to consumers they already have a relationship with,” he says. “It would replace the need to send promotional DVDs.”

Another potential direct marketing “game changer” identified by Dzamic is Apple’s new iPad tablet computer, which is bigger than a mobile but less cumbersome than a laptop. He says the iPad’s new variety of applications will create new response scenarios for brands.

Pre-destined web page
One of the priorities for DM specialists, however, must be to better link online and offline activity for maximum effect.

Brand engagement specialist Kyp offers a special USB key for this purpose, which is already being used by O2 and Astra Zeneca.

When the key is plugged into a computer’s USB port, it connects the user to a pre-destined web page. Marketers can then gather data by tracking a user’s behaviour online.

O2 and its direct marketing agency Archibald Ingall Stretton have used the USB key concept for its “Let’s Go” mailing to connect users to benefits found online. It helps the telecoms business connect up the paper mailings with access to the online “blueroom” and exclusive offers.

Kyp chief executive Nicholas Miller says the company’s latest innovation is new analytics software for the key called CurametRx, which has just been launched for the pharmaceutical industry in the US. Each key has a unique code that helps healthcare professionals manage offline relationships with patients. It can track, for example, when a patient needs a new prescription and connect the company selling
the drugs with the doctor and the patient.

Creating this personal touch through direct marketing is where much of the sector’s innovation work is focused. The key to being more personal is taking into account people’s preferences and their needs at any particular time.

Utilities company E.On has recently added a page to its bill documents to promote relevant products and services using information gathered from HP Exstream document automation software. “We do not now promote certain products to customers who we know do not have a gas supply, for example,” says E.On fulfilment manager Louise Pearson.

E.On also produces a colour digital welcome pack with different marketing messages and special offers. These are sent to customers when they first sign up, when they submit their first meter reading and when the transfer to E.On is complete.

The next step for E.On is to include more marketing information on its bills. The process of combining bill information and marketing messages is called “transpromo”. Pearson believes this will produce higher response rates than inserts because customers are more likely to read their bill. It will also reduce paper use.

John Carter, UK managing director of printing and production company Stralfors, says direct marketers must now be more creative with transpromo by using variable data and full colour.

“It is possible to send two neighbours the same piece of direct mail but with a completely different image on it based on an individual’s tastes,” says Carter.

In the business-to-business sector, marketing automation software is helping companies manage their offline and online campaigns and generate leads. As the economy emerges from recession, organisations want to ensure their sales teams are targeting the hottest leads.

One champion of marketing automation is Debbie Williams, independent consultant and chair of the Institute of Direct Marketing’s (IDM) business-to-business marketing council.

“The explosion of social media has seen a shift in control from supplier to the buyer and a move from a ’tell and sell’ mentality to more of a ’listen and learn’ culture,” says Williams.

“Marketing automation software lets companies conduct effective behavioural targeting. Previously, they might have only looked at a target company’s turnover and number of employees. Now they can combine traditional segmentation with more relevant and personalised information.”

Williams adds that email content can be based on previously tracked online activity, while the software also allows marketers to tweak live campaigns if response rates do not meet expectations.

Publisher Reed Business Information is already testing marketing automation software. Marketing director Lawrence Mitchell says it is still in its early days, but the results are encouraging as RBI tries to generate leads from digital and offline channels. “Once you put innovative tools in a marketer’s hands, you’re giving them ’permission’ to think about all of the things they can do with them, which is very empowering,” he says.

The increase in buyer influence identified by the IDM’s Williams is driving many of the ideas in direct marketing. One new concept is volunteered personal information (VPI). The thinking goes that in future, consumers will specify their needs more clearly and create personal online profiles. Organisations will then be invited to access these profiles if they can deliver products and services that meet an individual’s specific requirements.

“It is possible to send two neighbours the same piece of direct mail but with a completely different image on it based on an individual’s tastes”

John Carter, Stralfors

For example, a hospital patient might choose to allow an organisation that is undertaking research into their condition access to their personal medical records.

Fundamentally, VPI is about reducing the amount of guesswork for marketers who need to know who their consumers are, the information they want and how they feel about brands, products and services at a particular time. It should mean that only relevant information is shared and the relationship between a consumer and a brand is strengthened.

Consumer empowerment consultancy Ctrl-Shift recently presented its thoughts on VPI – what it calls “the new personal communication model” – at an IDM meeting. The company says that consumers are now their own data managers, collecting, storing and using information about the organisations they deal with.

Another concept attracting interest among DM professionals is cross-media personalisation, which allows brands to target consumers using
electronic and printed media. Digital print and marketing agency Inc Direct was asked by Nissan to help it retain the interest of consumers who had paid a hefty deposit for its GT-R sports car but faced a two-year waiting list. The brand was concerned that buyers might cancel their order during that time.

Inc Direct organised a race day at Silverstone for those who had paid a deposit and a photographer took pictures of customers driving their dream car. The agency then produced a hardback personalised book featuring generic and individual photos from the day and these were sent as a surprise to those who took part.

“This enhanced the brand’s relationship with its customers, many of whom posted contributions on motoring and Nissan blogs saying how impressed and pleased they were to receive the books,” says Inc Direct director Andy Bailey.

This need to marry insight and personalisation with technology means brands that have become used to carrying out traditional marketing will have to adapt.

The DMA’s chief of membership and brand, Robert Keitch, says using only above-the-line or below-the-line techniques will not work in future. The growth of on-demand television means there are now new opportunities to use direct response television (DRTV) more inventively.

“Audiences still react to messages linked to strong imagery – look at the success BGL Group has had with its meerkat campaign for This shows how sensory-driven people still are,” says Keitch.

He says ITV wants to put together different DRTV packages according to a brand’s audience and budget. “An advertiser can combine all its direct marketing material around strong imagery. This will become a powerful weapon.”

While the core principles of direct marketing – obtaining consumer responses – are unlikely to change, only by using new technologies and techniques to help generate these responses can marketers ensure they are part of DM’s future.

Brand Stories

Agency View

Neil Fox, partner, strategy at TDA

Landmark innovations in direct marketing are not driven by emerging technologies.

They are driven by the ideas that can be brought to life in new and exciting ways, thanks to the tools at our industry’s disposal.

Digital technology allows brands to have an ongoing dialogue and inform people while still having one-to-one relationships. This is why direct marketing and the digital domain are so closely related.

However, emerging technologies often suffer from the desire to apply them from a technological viewpoint rather than a marketing or behavioural one.

The important point is that the overall explosion of this technology reveals behavioural trends in society with which direct marketing can actively engage. An example of this is social networks that now have such a significant influence on our dayto- day lives.

Sites like Facebook must be seen as just a component in the way people engage with each other and share information. Facebook offers just one dimension, along with other applications such as Twitter and LinkedIn, which also play a role.

However, we must ask ourselves why so many people now use social networking to conduct aspects of their relationships and what this means.

Once we know this, there is potential for brands to occupy a more meaningful position
with individuals using direct marketing’s ability to engage one-to-one with customers. New and innovative technology is certainly a vital part of this approach to marketing, but it is not the driver.

An appreciation of social and behavioural psychology has always underpinned the best direct marketing strategies; it is just that today, we are able to leverage this more powerfully than ever before.

Client View

Marc Michaels, director of direct and relationship marketing at COI

Government departments spend more than £45m a year on direct marketing through COI, so innovation is welcome if it has a real purpose. There is no point jumping on the latest technology bandwagon or being flashy for the sake of it.

We keep an eye on the latest developments and test ideas but always consider how they will apply to what we are already doing. The worst thing you can do as a direct marketer is jump into something new without proper testing just because you find it exciting.

Nevertheless, it is important to take risks and to keep innovating. Even if you are doing well, you must be willing to try something new and different.

Direct marketers need to make more use of innovative technology and personal data to achieve genuine individualisation. They need a real understanding of people’s preferences when communicating with them.

The NHS Stop Smoking Quit Kit launched in December was based on data analysis showing that 44% of smokers in England had resolved to quit during 2010, and we knew we would be talking to many people for the first time.

We decided to move away from the hardhitting campaigns of the past and to take a more supportive approach. The quit kit now includes audio downloads, a stress toy and a tool to help smokers work out how much money they are saving by giving up.

New ways for direct marketing materials to be more sustainable must also be found, which is why we support an inventive idea like the DMA’s PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 20/20 scheme, which monitors the use of recycled paper and volume of paper.

We received PAS accreditation in February after running a pilot scheme. PAS 20/20 demonstrates the industry’s commitment to best practice and has credibility because the British Standards Institution has certified it.

Recent DM innovations and trends to come

  • Try embedding video in DM packs using wafer-thin screens and tiny rechargeable batteries.
  • Think about how to use electronic paper which consumers plug into their smartphones and laptops to display marketing messages.
  • Marketing automation software can help marketers generate leads, especially in the business-to-business sector.
  • Volunteered personal information (VPI) will become an important area as consumers decide which of their needs and wants they choose to share with organisations.
  • More brands will include marketing messages on everyday transactional documents, such as utility bills and account statements.


Angus Morrison, MMC ambassador

Direct mail’s biggest strength is its ability to personalise a message.

Advances in print technology have made it possible to individualise mass mailings but innovation is not simply about developments in technology – it’s about imagination. Aim to surprise and delight your recipient.

New Zealand Post has recently managed to engage one of the most difficult target audiences on the planet – above-the-line
creative directors. These are people who think of advertising in terms of the 30-second TV spot; mail does not appear on their radar.

NZ Post went to an awards ceremony and got a portrait photographer to take snaps of the great and the good in advertising. Days later, each person received a set of stamps with their face on each stamp.

Elsewhere, Häagen Dazs in Austria created a set of stamps featuring not just images of their ice creams but the taste of them as well
when you licked them. And in Germany, stamps featuring the heads of German politicians were produced with envelopes that had pictures of headless bodies wearing skimpy lingerie. When the stamps were placed on the envelopes it looked as if the political big-wigs were modelling underwear.

Royal Mail has a product called Smilers, which allows people to turn snaps into stamps. I am waiting for someone to see the business opportunity here. Some people may see a stamp as a stamp, but others may see it as an opportunity to encourage improved response.


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Jo Roberts

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No longer the dumb waiter

MaryLou Costa

A new approach to franchises is gathering sway that treats the relationship less like a ’master and servant’ set-up and more like a marriage of equal sides. Giving franchisees more input can have its pitfalls, but brands are finding the benefits far outweigh the negatives.