I don’t think it takes a great deal of insight to predict the path of direct mail over the short term. If you’ve read this column for a while, you’ll know I’ve advocated for more precise and personalized communications several times over the years. For print/mail service providers, success with mail in 2023 means paying attention to ways they can add value to their product and help customers use the mail to achieve their business goals.

The direct mail business is always changing, and today a lot of the change involves how to use data. Data was always going to drive the advancement of direct mail. It was just going to take some time for the software and hardware to be able to handle the variability necessary to connect with customers on a more personal level. I think all the pieces are now in place.

If you’re in the direct mail business, watch the areas in this list. Adjust your operation if you can, to put your organization in a position to take advantage of the opportunities direct mail promises.

1. Personalization
I can remember the days when adding personal variables to “computer letters” was a big deal. It took some fancy programming to tackle issues like capitalization or centering variable text. Now it’s insanely easy to personalize the text, images, or offers included in a direct mail marketing piece. We can use data about a customer to create results with much more impact than when we simply plugged variable text into the documents. I expect to see marketers using both explicit and implicit personalization more often.

2. Data-Driven Targeting
Digital printing and advanced document composition software makes it easy to filter a list and only market to a narrow group of prospective customers. Marketers can use data about buying history, online behavior, and demographics to zero in on the best prospects and drop likely non-responders from the mailing list. I think artificial intelligence will play a bigger role in filtering mailing lists by recognizing patterns and scoring prospects based on how well they match a buyer profile.

3. Digital Integration
Connecting printed direct mail to digital marketing channels can take many forms. The simplest methods in common use today are QR codes and pURLs, but other integrations are possible. Mailers can explore possibilities such as online cart abandonment mailings, connections to social media, or anonymous web visitor direct mail. The framework for accomplishing a more elaborate integration between physical mail and digital platforms is already in place. Smart people will develop ways to take advantage of multi-channel campaigns in new ways. Sometimes the integration will start with the direct mailpiece and continue digitally, and sometimes the communication will begin in the digital world with direct mail used for reinforcement and follow-up.

4. Triggered Mail
Sending the right message at the right time will improve campaign results. CRM data accumulated by businesses can be beneficial in developing methods to reduce large batch-oriented mailings. Instead, mail to small groups of individuals who meet certain criteria such as warranty end dates, recent website activity, birthdates, etc. Combined with effective personalization, triggered mail becomes a true one-to-one communication.

5. Informed Delivery
A good number of mailers took advantage of the Informed Delivery postage promotion from the USPS in late 2022. Now that they have experience with the technology, more of these mailers will run Informed Delivery campaigns, especially during next year’s promotional period. A new discount offered to mail preparers during the 2023 promotional period should encourage mail service providers to promote Informed Delivery to their clients.

6. Higher Postage
With twice-a-year postage increases, mailers should seek ways to lower their postage costs. Marketers will look to mailing professionals for advice about how to trim mailing lists, combine mailings, or use other strategies to reduce how much they spend on postage while still realizing a decent ROI on mail campaigns.

Direct mail is an effective way to reach target audiences and it will continue to be an important tool for businesses. In 2023, I expect marketers will use direct mail as an element of their overall marketing plans. Even challenges like inflation or supply chain disruptions won’t be enough to dissuade companies from using physical mail to attract and develop leads as long as they generate positive results.

For their part, print/mail service providers should make sure their clientele sees them as a reliable source of valuable information to help them market through the mail. Service providers would do well to double-check their websites to ensure they contain accurate and relevant content concerning direct mail. An investment in informational content that boosts SEO and helps prospective customers understand how to use direct mail effectively will be worthwhile.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content that helps attract and retain customers for companies in the document industry and assists companies as they integrate new technology. Learn more about his services at www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.