The future of direct mail is digital

The future of direct mail is digital
Screens are everywhere and even direct mail will adapt.

Television, computer, smartphone—just take a minute and look around. You probably have five or more screens you can see right now. It’s a large part of the reason some in the political consulting business think direct mail is on its way out. I don’t buy it at all.

What those who are most pessimistic about the future of mail as a campaign tool haven’t considered is that digital allows for just as much innovation in our sector of the industry as it does in others. Even a direct mail guy knows we live in a digital age.

Fact is, the advance of technology doesn’t mean the end of direct mail. Test after test shows mail still works, and in an age where it’s increasingly difficult to find meaningful metrics, those results matter. We are about to enter a new era—digitized mail.

We can produce mail with sound and video right now. The technology is a little more expensive than we would like, but it can easily be done. We can also list a website or include a QR code that points people to where we want them to go, but clickthrough rates are still too low.

The next frontier is embedding computer chips in direct mail pieces. No need to enter a web address or take a picture with your cell phone to access content. Just wave your mobile phone over the mail piece the way you wave your credit card over a high-tech key pad. The computer chip will then match tested messaging to the user’s profile and online history, generating a personalized message for the user.

The merging of this technology will highlight the issues the user cares about and tailor message specifics based on the biographic details on the user’s device. For example, if the user does web searches on education, the computer chip will calculate the dollar amount her neighborhood schools will be cut if the wrong candidate gets elected in her state or district. If the user is a thirty-something female with two young children, the picture on the front of the website will be the same.

Our mother of two will be able to answer a poll question, take action or make a contribution with the click of a button. Digitized direct mail will create an opportunity to take microtargeting and message personalization to the next level.

While all of this is happening, ink on paper will remain an important part of our political future. The reason? You only have one mailbox. That creates opportunity. Overall mail volume is down, and that creates even more opportunity. Moreover, many people actually prefer to read a piece of paper than a screen. That’s a fact that cannot be ignored.

Digitized direct mail will unlock the potential of both digital media and direct mail by merging the two formats, each complementing and bolstering the other. Direct mail will still deliver message, and it will provide a platform to access personalized digital content.

Check your mailbox. Digitized mail will be arriving soon.

Kevin Mack is a partner at Mack Crounse Group, a Democratic direct mail firm. Shanon Henry is a vice president at MCG.

This article is the first in a series of pieces offering 10 bold ideas for the future of political consulting. Read also: The case for certified political managers; Money in politics: Time to embrace it 

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