David Bryan
David Bryan 7 June 2017

Direct Mail & Print – Two Industries Which Constantly Innovate

In all industries there is a need to innovate, this is certainly true of both the direct mail and print industries, which regularly fuse together and combine with technology related innovations to deliver excellence in direct mail campaigns. Here we investigate some of the innovations currently taking place within these industries.

What is innovation?

To start with let’s define what innovation actually is, here are some qualities of innovation:

  • An innovation to be viable needs to be capable of being produced at an economical cost
  • An innovative product or service will be one that customers are prepared to pay for
  • Innovations need to deliver against a specific need or customer requirement
  • Innovation involves the increased use of information, blended with imagination and crafted with initiative
  • Innovation includes changes to processes which through adoption lead to new products and services

In business, innovation often results when ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.

What types of direct mail and print innovation are there?

When analysing the types of innovations prevalent in the direct mail industry they can broadly be split into three main groupings. These groups will be the structure of our discussion and are listed below:

1) Technology related innovations

These are innovations caused directly due to new technology adoption. This is the most prolific example of innovation within the direct mail and print industry, which avidly adopts technology within campaigns.

2) Print industry innovations

The print industry itself (like all industries) has to innovate in order to survive and to deliver excellent customer service. Innovations within the print industry have been willingly adopted and incorporated into direct mail campaigns.

3) Direct mail inspired innovations

The direct mail industry has been under pressure for many years with channel substitution and declining postal volumes. Direct mail is making a comeback though thanks to many refinements and innovations which are direct mail specific (rather than technology or print led).

Technology innovations

Technological innovations have been a driving force and have massively impacted the direct mail industry:

  • Big data – Using “big data” approaches is ideal for enriching a mailshot with extra information and leads to a more personalised experience
  • Personalised URL inclusion – The inclusion of a personalised URL (or PURL) within a mailshot is a great way of personalising a mailshot through the use of technology. An example of a PURL would be –
  • QR codes – The use of QR codes (Quick response) is an innovative way of using technology. The customer simply scans the code and has access to extra content, promotional offers and information
  • Pre-loaded USBs – The pre-loading of USBs with extra content and promotional offers has become an exciting way to innovate within direct mail campaigns
  • Remarketing – Organisations which have access to customer/prospect buying behaviour and web page visits can use this for remarketing. A good example are abandoned shopping carts, where past products viewed but not bought can be marketed. Techniques used include remarketing through Google Adwords and/or by sending a follow-up mailshot

Print innovations

Print innovations have been a “freebie” to the direct mail industry which benefits from advancements in the print industry which are being delivered on an ongoing basis. The main aim is for print within mailshots to be interesting and inspiring; here are some examples of print innovations:

  • Add foil stamps – The inclusion of metal foil within a mailshot is very powerful, this could for example add a gold or silver effect
  • Include pop-ups -  Adding pop-ups to mailshot is typically well-received by recipients, there are many examples of successful direct campaigns which included pop-ups
  • Unusual shapes – Innovative mailshots include something a little different from “the usual”. A classic example of this is the use of unusual shapes within a mailshots, examples could be a Christmas tree shape for a Christmas mailshot or a car shaped mailing for a motoring event, etc.
  • Variable data printing - As the name suggests variable data printing (VDP) is the inclusion of “variable data” within a print run. This is applied programmatically from a database and the variation significantly personalises the customer experience. Here are some examples of the use of VDP:
    • Codes – Personalised codes can be added, for example:
      • Barcodes
      • PURLs – Personalised URLs
      • QR codes – Quick response codes
    • Local service information – Content which is local gives a warm feeling to recipients, this could include maps, local store information and opening hours, etc.
    • Name and address – By far the most common type of VDP use is adding a name and address. This is very important not only for the postal service, but also for the recipient who will massively prefer personalised correspondence compared to – “The homeowner” and/or  “The recipient”
    • Promotional offers – The inclusion of personalised promotions and voucher codes
    • Reminders – The images of past products viewed could be incorporated into a mailshot to give a personalised view

Direct mail innovations

The direct mail industry always has sought to “innovate” and always will. Here are some recent examples of the ways direct mail has become more creative and innovative:

  • Envelope customisation – Envelopes should include some degree of customisation and optimisation to incentivise recipients to delve into “what lies within”. Unusual use of colour, using zip strips to open, including multiple windows, adding an offer “inside the envelope” and peel off stickers might all work. Trialling and testing is important to prove which is the most effective method
  • Product samples – Free product samples within a mailshot is a great idea and an innovative direct mail technique
  • Scratchcards – To add extra interest scratchcards can be included within a mailshot, this is proven to be effective in increasing recipient interest
  • Social media – Channel integration with social media can occur by the inclusion of social media URLs and hashtags

Innovations such as these are transforming the way businesses use direct mail and print to market to and engage with their customers. We hope you've discovered some useful ideas about using these innovations for your organisation.


Image Credit: Care Sarunya

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