2021 has been a year of rapid change for the direct mail industry. The pandemic drove a wave of adoption and modernization, as companies looked for new ways to reach consumers at home. We expect this period of rapid change to continue accelerating through 2022, as companies continue to adapt to changing consumer demands and economic instability. Here are our predictions for the year ahead.
Recommended reading: 2022 State of Direct Mail
In 2021, the United States Postal Service put into place a range of price and service changes targeted towards making mail service more efficient and sustainable. While a modest but significant USPS price increase was the biggest news, postal logistical changes also affected delivery performance, the relative costs of different types of mail pieces, and other factors. These changes accelerated ongoing trends in optimizing direct mail, which will continue throughout 2022, as organizations seek to establish more efficient operations.
While postal rates in the US remain among the world’s most affordable, the 2021 USPS price hike highlighted the need for businesses to factor in the costs of various types of mail pieces into their direct mail strategy. The combination of rising costs and the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic has driven companies to be more cost-conscious than before.
In 2022, businesses will increasingly focus on tracking direct mail ROI, and cost factors as they work to offset rising costs in a leaner economy.
As part of their 2021 pricing changes, the Postal Service downgraded first-class delivery standards. Previously, first-class mail could travel from any sender to any recipient in the lower 48 states within three days. Now, depending on the distance, first-class mail delivery can take up to five days.
In 2022, there will be pressure to optimize mail production to offset this change in service. However, organizations will find that addressing this change is difficult or impossible within a traditional direct mail workflow. If your printer is in New York and your recipient is in San Francisco, there’s not a lot you can do to speed the delivery process.
On the other hand, Lob customers have hardly noticed the change, because of the way our direct mail automation works. When users send a letter, our system automatically selects printers as close as possible to the destination to print the letter. That means in most cases, letters sent within the contiguous United States will still arrive in two to three days, regardless of where they begin their journey.
In 2022, we see speed optimization becoming a more important selling point throughout the industry, as companies look for ways to offset the service downgrade.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a flurry of direct mail upgrades, as companies sought to adapt to the radical change with more efficient direct mail workflows.
These direct mail practitioners have gained a lot of experience and are now honing and optimizing their transactional and marketing direct mail tactics. Look for more targeted offers, better personalization, and more timely messages in the mailbox as companies look to push the envelope with their new direct mail capabilities.
Marketers have touted the importance of omnichannel communication for years at this point, but legacy direct mail has placed a concrete limit on their ability to actually realize this goal. With the recent influx of never direct mail automation, true omnichannel is finally within reach.
Realizing true omnichannel communication will be a major goal in 2022, particularly among enterprise marketing teams.
As organizations work to coordinate digital and non-digital channels, the importance of direct mail timing will become even more important. Being able to choose the exact day for mail pieces to arrive will help companies communicate more effectively across a wide range of use cases, from billing to product releases, to nurture campaigns.
As more businesses recognize the value of exact date delivery, consumers will increasingly look for this capability in vendors. Lob already provides the best delivery date accuracy in the industry, but we’ll still be working on ensuring even more accurate timing in 2022 — and we don’t imagine we’re the only one.
We’ve long touted direct mail automation as a way to get ahead of the competition, but by the end of 2022, that message might be outdated. After the big bump in adoption during the pandemic, automated direct mail seems to be quickly reaching a tipping point.
By the end of 2022, we expect legacy workflows to be on the wane across multiple industries. While there will probably always be some companies that do their direct mail manually (particularly smaller businesses and startups), we expect them to become much rarer, as the next wave of businesses phases out their legacy workflow.
As you can see from our list of partners, there are already heaps of fantastic services providing off-the-shelf direct mail integration for a wide range of industries and use cases. As the cohort of pandemic adopters look for new tools to help them get an edge in their direct mail game, we expect to see a boom in direct mail tools, both in the form of new features from existing providers, and new applications.
New rounds of integration and automation usually require new data flows. Legacy direct mail systems usually require some very dated data practices and unfortunately, that often means manual processes and spreadsheets.
As companies automate mail workflow, there’s going to be a major push to integrate the automated workflow with other marketing and transactional communications. That means unifying data practices across the organization.
Our State of Direct Mail report was the most comprehensive study of direct mail adoption in recent times, but we’ve only scratched the surface. As direct mail continues to go digital, companies are generating a lot more data, across the board — on usage, delivery speed, ROI, conversions, types of mailpieces, cost, and many other topics.
In 2022, we’re going to see the creative things companies will do with all that data. Look for more robust personalization and customization, as well as more cutting-edge creative and other tactics used to improve response rate and conversion.
From bringing consumers back to retailers, to coping with the lasting decrease in face-to-face B2B events, here are some of the ways direct mail strategy will help cope with the challenges of 2022.
COVID-19 took challenged brick-and-mortar retail like never before. Now, as businesses reopen, targeted direct mail is already playing a role in bringing customers back, through offers and promotions.
We expect this trend to continue in 2022, as brick-and-mortar stores complement digital channels with direct mail as a way to entice existing customers to come back as well as attract new customers.
A combination of cost-consciousness and improved capabilities is driving companies to start to phase out mass mail blasts in favor of smaller, more targeted, and more personalized campaigns.
We expect to see this trend accelerate in 2022 as companies, as businesses look to use technology and data to better target consumers and prospects.
HTML templates are the simplest way to design direct mail. They’re flexible, customizable and lightweight, and can get excellent results with far less preparation or room for error as PDFs.
Look for companies to move away from PDFs, and adopt HTML-based direct mail design in 2022.
As business has shifted from in-person to online, we’ve seen a boom in B2B direct mail. Not only do mailings allow businesses to make an impact outside of increasingly saturated digital channels — but they also provide something physical and tangible that will stick with the recipient.
Things have started to open up, but in-person business events are drawing much smaller crowds than pre-pandemic and businesses will have to continue to adapt.
Look for B2B direct mail volume to continue increasing, as a way to make a physical connection with recipients in the absence of in-person meetings.
Choosing the right form factor can help you grab attention, create interest and drive conversions. Here’s how direct mail form factors will shape up in 2022.
With the USPS cost increase and service downgrade getting all the headlines, a lot of people missed a piece of good news from the Post Office: the USPS now accepts 6”x9” postcards for First Class Postcard service.
That means more space at the same low cost and high service level traditionally restricted to smaller postcards.
In 2022, we expect to see more businesses taking advantage of this offer, to send more information, bigger images, and bolder text in their mail pieces.
We've been seeing an overall movement towards larger form factors in the past year. As companies move from mass mailings to more targeted, data-driven campaigns, they’re replacing generic messages with information and images customized for each consumer or cohorts of consumers. And that takes up more space.
We anticipate this trend to continue in 2022, as senders provide richer, more informative direct mail pieces.
Tip-on cards have been around for decades, but the advancement of automated direct mail is driving a resurgence. A tip-on or card affix is a small paper card about the size of a credit card, which is fastened to a larger sheet of paper by a special glue that peels off easily, leaving no residue. Used in direct mail, it’s a great way to share a discount, trial membership, or other special offers in a form factor the recipient can easily take with them.
Lob released tip-ons in response to surging demand, and we anticipate a big rise in card affix usage, both among our customers and across the direct mail industry.
Drab is out, bright and beautiful is in! Driven by more modern fixed pricing that doesn’t penalize color printing, and the desire to make an impact, colorful direct mail will rule in ‘22.
Self-mailers are essentially folded brochures, packing a lot of real estate into a compact form factor. We expect self-mailers to be popular throughout 2022 — especially in industries with long sales cycles, where customer education plays a major role in purchasing decisions.
In manual workflows where designing and printing just a single piece of direct mail can take over a month, switching up the form factor is typically too costly to be worth the effort.
But with an automated direct mail workflow, form factor is just one more variable you can use to surprise and delight recipients.
Tools like Lob’s HTML templates are already driving a move towards more form factor variety. We expect to see a lot more companies experimenting with alternating form factors throughout 2022.
Long neglected by waves of upgrades and automation, direct mail is finally undergoing its technological revolution. Here are some of the changes in store for direct mail tech in 2022.
QR codes have been around for decades, and have been used for applications from augmented reality, to customer loyalty programs, to touchless menus. However, they’ve never fully caught on in the United States.
But in 2022, QR codes may finally come into their own, thanks to the direct mail industry.
QR codes enable direct mail senders to overcome one of the toughest challenges of direct mail: automating conversion. While email and other digital channels can include links that open with a single click, URLs are far less convenient in direct mail, requiring customers to type the whole string in manually. And the truth is, there are a lot of times when recipients are interested enough to click, but might not be quite interested enough to type in a whole string.
With QR codes, that gap between digital channels and direct mail is finally closing. Recipients can access a site or take advantage of an offer simply by scanning the code with their phone. This makes it easier to earn that crucial first “click,” boosting ROI and enabling you to track conversions directly.
While print technology has come a long way, there are certain challenges inherent in converting digital images to print. Printers work in a different color space than digital devices, and certain colors like bright reds are hard to reproduce accurately with standard printing procedures. Colors can drift slightly from machine to machine and print shop to print shop, and manufacturing mistakes can result in occasional misprints.
In 2022, leaders in the direct mail industry will focus on automating quality control to improve consistency and ensure color accuracy. Quality control automation will enable major direct mail vendors to better ensure consistency and accurate color rendition across multiple print shops.
Direct mail can provide the same degree of automation as digital channels, triggering mail pieces in response to customer actions like making a purchase, significant dates like birthdays, time intervals, and other factors.
We expect to see companies utilizing triggers more frequently and effectively, bringing their direct mail tactics in line with their digital practices.
The world has experienced a series of events like no other over the last nearly two years and as we turn the corner into a new year, we look forward to a renewed sense of hope and purpose in helping businesses achieve results and crush their lofty goals.
To learn more about using automated direct mail to increase conversions, check out our Running a Tactical Direct Mail Campaign mini guide.