Direct mail done right: today's direct marketers have a sophisticated, targeted option to email.

Author:Kaelble, Steve

THERE'S A REASON DIRECT mail has often been called "junk mail" in the past--a huge percentage of the mailed pieces would typically end up in the recipient's trash can. Direct mail marketers were totally fine with that outcome, because each piece didn't cost all that much to produce and deliver, and the business they got from the tiny percentage who did respond more than made up for all the junk.

But don't try applying that rather derogatory term to the kind of direct mail that many marketers are using these days. The latest concepts are much more sophisticated, and while they cost more, the return on that investment can be incredibly handsome. Junk mail? Most certainly not.

The buzzword today is variable data printing, or VDP, and it's proving wrong those who predicted that all the direct marketing action would move to the email front, that direct mail was a medium of the past. Printers remain quite busy creating and delivering marketing pieces through the U.S. mail. In fact, email and direct mail are the top two direct marketing promotional methods, according to the Direct Marketing Association.


"People thought that email was going to take away all the print," says Billy Bradberry, president of Lincoln Printing in Fort Wayne, "but we have not seen that happen."

"I've heard from some clients that they consider email bothersome," adds David Harding, president and CEO of Harding Poorman Group in Indianapolis. "I don't know if email is bothersome, but with direct mail you have a choice whether you throw it in the wastebasket."

Getting personal. The key to variable data printing is that it's anything but mass mailing, not in the traditional sense. "Direct mail has grown up with the advent of variable data printing," Harding says. "It's a lot more effective than the mass mailing option."

In earlier forms of direct mail, the marketer would create a mailing--perhaps a postcard, a brochure or a catalog--and mail the same thing to thousands or tens of thousands of people. The only thing different from one piece to another would be the name and address on the label.

With variable data printing, on the other hand, digital technology allows each piece to be truly personalized, often in remarkable ways. Not only is the name of each addressee different, but that name might be incorporated throughout the mailing. And that's just the beginning. "You can even change a picture based on the data," Harding says.

For example, the models...

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