While digital marketing might seem poised for a surge, now could be the right moment to take a fresh look at direct mail as a channel to reach consumers with intimate, physical experiences in their homes.

Polly Wong, managing partner, Strategic/Ecommerce/Creative Services, Belardi Wong

Polly Wong, managing partner at Belardi Wong

The COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt many of the relationships and operational structures that have sustained the retail industry for more than 20 years. Media consumption has skyrocketed with captive consumers stuck at home, yet demand for many nonessential products has evaporated as uncertainty gives way to a “new normal.” Retailers—especially those in industries like apparel and home goods—need to leverage all of the assets at their disposal if they’re going to weather the storm.

While digital marketing might seem poised for a surge in this media-saturated environment, now could be the right moment to take a fresh look at direct mail as a channel to reach consumers with intimate, physical experiences in their homes. For those considering direct mail as a new channel for customer outreach, here are some best practices for getting started:

  • Lean on your data: The data your brand already possesses can be used for segmentation, personalization, and a better understanding of your customers and their lifestyle through data appends. For example, net worth may be more important than income when evaluating which customers may still have higher levels of discretionary income in the coming months. First-party data can also provide a better picture of the entire household beyond the specific customer. Factors such as age, presence of children, gender, marital status and whether they are grandparents can all help focus on the right products to promote. 
  • Create models based on recent activity: Often, historical or seasonal buying behavior weighs heavily into segmentation and modeling for prospects. Over the next several months, it may be more important to consider the recent activity as a more significant driver, while also incorporating online browsing behavior for house and reactivation models.
  • Plan for promotions: Since the last recession, research has shown that even the most affluent consumers have “middle-class spending values.” This trend will continue to snowball as all consumers, regardless of wealth, look for value when spending their money. While we appreciate that many premium brands are sensitive to using promotions to drive sales, the reality is that the consumer is going to be looking for promotions now more than ever.
  • Optimize your circulation mix: While it is tempting to focus on the most active buyers who deliver the highest sales per piece, keep in mind that active buyer results are also the least incremental. Rather than cutting prospecting and reactivation to focus on the active file, consider using digital customer relationship management for many of your active buyers and use print for prospecting and reactivation, which is harder online.
  • Quick-turnaround creative: Be prepared to respond to business needs with smaller formats that have a shorter production time and cost less money. It can take a while to produce creative materials and get them approved by all internal stakeholders. Prepare small-format creative now, including going through the internal approval processes, so it’s ready at a moment’s notice. Images can be generic or can be placeholders swapped out at the last minute.
  • Consider printing ahead of time: You may know you will have a sale but not be sure exactly how deep the promotions will be or their expiration. In cases like these, consider printing early and leaving a big blank area for the promo details and expiration on the back panel.
  • Consider package inserts and shared mail: Consider leveraging external package inserts to find new customers that are actively buying now. Ride along with other brands and split the cost of a mailing with shared mail to reach consumers.

People who are stuck at home due to COVID-19 may be looking for comfort as they settle into this new world, and it’s essential to consider this new reality when planning any marketing activity. Direct mail can provide a powerful new tool for building connections. The brands that skillfully apply their strengths and ingenuity to their customer outreach during this difficult period will be the ones that come out stronger on the other side.

Belardi Wong is a digital and direct marketing agency based in New York City.