Most of my mail fails to impress me. Even though modern software, hardware, and data make creating and producing highly personalized and segmented mail an achievable outcome, much of the content landing in my mailbox is relatively unchanged from the types of documents produced 10 or 20 years ago.

Mailers aren’t taking advantage of variables they could exploit to improve the effectiveness of their messages. My latest cable bill, for example, includes an offer to add a movie channel to which I’m already subscribed. Catalogs for pet supplies arrive regularly though we’ve never owned animals, and the pool products company sends specials for the wrong equipment even though I have supplied them details about my swimming pool. Generic messaging is the norm. The mailers are making almost no effort to communicate with me as an individual.

Mailers Comfortable with the Status Quo

If all mail pieces in a run are identical, application development is simple. Error risk is low and time to market is swift. The skills necessary to print names and addresses on generic letters or postcards are easily learned. Sales conversations with customers are straightforward and familiar. I can understand why so many shops gravitate to tried and true methods instead of seeking ways to improve the documents.

This is a dangerous practice to continue though. Clients may be accustomed to direct mail’s traditional response rate, but when physical mail costs a great deal more than other channels they’d like the results to be better. Clients want to connect with the right customers. They want relevant messaging that encourages positive action. They want new leads and repeat sales. Clients don’t really aspire to mail higher volumes; they want the pieces they are paying for to work better.

Education, Consultative Selling Required

Clients can get stuck in the past as well. Print and mail service providers may need to educate their customers about the availability of precise messaging made possible with modern document composition software and digital printers. It may be helpful to present case studies where personalization and targeting have made a measurable difference in response. Focusing on outcomes instead of papers, colors, and volume price breaks is a different sort of sales call than the pitch traditionally made by print/mail service providers.

Judging from most of the items I see, mailers are still relying on generic statement messages, bill stuffers, or direct marketing materials as a primary means of generating customer responses. My household receives a great deal of inappropriate messaging based on age, customer status, business size, geographic location, or other factors.

More effective communication is possible when mailers adjust messages to match known customer information. Varying offers based on travel distance to a retail location can lure distant shoppers with larger rewards. Financial advisors who send young parents advice about building a college fund and 50-year-olds information about rebalancing their retirement investments acknowledges the needs of individual customers. Companies can use data they already have to connect with customers and minimize waste - exactly what clients are seeking.

Not as Hard as it Sounds

Making mail more effective doesn’t have to be complicated. Though there may be times when intricate strategies are an appropriate approach, it isn’t necessary to be comfortable with data analytics or big data to improve the appeal and relevancy of most printed documents. Varying the content based on just a few customer data points can instantly turn mass mailings into targeted communications.

To counter the negative effects of cheaper distribution channels and uncertainty about future postal delivery services, producers of mailed communications need to step up efforts to make the mail more effective. In some cases it will be necessary to inform the people who make customer communication decisions about what mail can do. Print and mail service providers should schedule customer meetings to discuss how they can change the mail to align with customer goals.

Improving the quality of the mail will be the best move for mail producers, their customers, and mail recipients. Everybody wins.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He helps his clients get the most from their document print and mail centers and prepare strategies for the future. Visit and sign up for his free newsletters written especially for document industry professionals.