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How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email
January 15, 2015

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email

Author Avatar
Dan Zhao

Just as software has changed the world, we believe that APIs will soon become the fundamental building blocks of all companies. Twilio enables powerful telephony capabilities, Stripe gives simple access to complicated payments infrastructure, and AWS allows businesses to perform the most complex computing process in the cloud. With the APIs available today, businesses can start operating and scaling faster than ever before, including effortlessly incorporating direct mail.

At Lob, we believe that communication in the offline world should be as effortless as it is digitally. By giving developers an API for printing and mailing, we hope to empower businesses everywhere to reach their customers in a more creative and high touch manner.

Email is Powerful & Everyone Uses It

Mailchimp did a great job explaining the concept and utility of "transactional" email. Triggered emails are a tool that businesses and marketers have long used to engage with customers and encourage particular behaviors. They are emails based on an action taken by, or directed towards an individual. We've all seen them before:

  • Email verifications received after setting up a new account on any website
  • Notifications received when friends tag you on Facebook
  • Confirmations received after making purchases on Amazon.com
  • the list goes on...

The beauty of triggered email is that it enables businesses to automatically send personalized communications to customers at a specific time based on actions taken. By performing a specified action, customers identify themselves at a certain point in the business's sales funnel. With this knowledge, the business can tailor content to fit that specific customer. Engaging customers in this manner ultimately drives dramatic improvements in conversion and customer experience.

With the emergence of services such as Amazon SES, Sendgrid, and Mailgun, it has become easy for companies of all sizes to build robust tools around email that serve as their primary channel for customer communication. When is the last time you signed up for any service, online or offline, and didn't receive an email in your inbox shortly thereafter?

This begs the question, why aren't these tools available for physical mail?

Is Direct Mail Dead?

In short, no. Direct mail is very much alive. It remains arguably the most powerful communication channel in terms of open-rate and conversions. Of the $42B in direct marketing spend in the US, direct mail is the #1 channel (bigger than search and display combined)! The problem is that physical mail has been lagging behind digital channels in terms of modern technical innovation. The main things that have scared companies away from direct mail are the difficulty to get started along with the lack of flexibility and agility. Indeed, if used incorrectly, direct mail can become a costly and ineffective endeavor. Technology should give you the tools to overcome these challenges.

Difficulty in Getting Started with Physical Mail

Partnering with traditional printers and mail-houses is a long and strenuous process. In addition to finding the right partner and negotiating pricing, businesses need to spend significant time, money and resources to develop the custom automated solutions that they need. These relationships often cost thousands of dollars and eat up months of time before you can send a single letter. Also, be ready to commit to sending large volumes of mail right off the bat whilst hoping for the results that justify your expenditure.

Testing Creatives and Launching Multiple Campaigns

After setting up something that works, the day-to-day execution of mailings brings additional challenges. Complications often arise around setting up different templates, making minor changes, approving proofs, and checking quality, all taking a considerable amount of time. It can take you up to 45-60 days to set up and fully test a single mail template, and just as much time to set up a different template or product. Even requesting minor tweaks in artwork may take much longer than you'd like because you are at the mercy of the printer, who controls and builds the mailpiece. This makes it incredibly difficult to A/B test creatives and rapidly launch new campaigns, things everyone expects by default to justify any sort of marketing or operational spend.

Skip the B.S. & Start Sending

With Lob, all you have to do to get started is a quick and free sign up. After creating an account at Lob, you can immediately start sending mail. It's as simple as that. You can mail a single postcard and it will only cost you $0.70 all-in, no strings attached. It is a simple as sending out an email using the SendGrid API. Take a look below for a comparison.

name: 'My First Postcard',
to: {
name: 'Joe Smith',
address_line1: '123 Main Street',
address_city: 'Mountain View',
address_state: 'CA',
address_zip: '94041'
front: '<h1>My first postcard using HTML.</h1>',
back: 'https://lob.com/postcardback.pdf'
}, function (err, res) {
console.log(err, res);

to: 'joe@smith.com',
from: 'other@example.com',
subject: 'My First Email',
html: '<h1>My first email using HTML.</h1>'
}, function(err, res) {
console.log(err, res);

Example postcard request using the Lob Node library and an example email request with Sendgrid Node library

Doing it For Real

Lob is developer first, meaning we build our APIs in a RESTful manner following modern best practices, provide clear documentation, and keep our wrappers up to date and readily consumable via Github. Each API request in our Printing and Mailing API takes in a "to" address and content. Instead of an email address and HTML body, you provide a physical address and HTML. That's all it takes to create a physical mailpiece. Every individual request is completely independent. By integrating Lob's APIs, you can start sending sending physical mail in a programmatic fashion. You can also take advantage of open source libraries such as Prawn, PDFKit, and Django to start creating dynamic creatives. Plug these creatives into Lob's API to start sending mail on-demand.

Now that everything can be done in house, companies can make changes on the fly, rapidly launch new campaigns, and scale their mailings up and down on-demand. By integrating Lob, a single developer can now build and control their company's entire print and mail workflow, regardless of size, directly from their terminal. You can now truly send physical mail as effortlessly as email.

What Can I Do With This?

The possibilities are endless. Direct mail is very powerful. It gives you a personal touch which email lacks that is necessary to close new customers, nurture fragile leads, and win key customers back.

Pretend for a minute that you are a company that offers peer-to-peer lending products such as Lending Club. There are several points in your customer's lifecycle where they can drop off, never to be heard from again. You have probably identified these points of drop off and discovered how far a customer needs to go before they become a valuable long-term customer.

Perhaps you notice that a sizable chunk of people that reach your website and apply for a free credit quote never actually take out a loan. These are customers who have expressed interest in your product, but just never got there. It would probably be smart to send a triggered letter with a promotion code to these people, giving them that extra nudge they need to convert into a paying customer. You can activate this trigger after 7 days, 14 days, 30 days, or X days, testing cohorts to see what has the best conversion.

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email image 2

Harness your customer data by turning your bits into atoms

Many of our customers have set up triggers such as these, helping them to win new customers and keep leads from leaking out of their conversion funnel.

Why is this Important?

Mail may be more expensive on a per impression basis than email, social media, or other digital ads, but it is a medium that is worth the money spent if done correctly. According to the Direct Marketing Association, response rates for an existing customer average 3.4% vs. 0.12% for email, a roughly 30-fold difference.

Ideally, you should be running all of the available communication channels in parallel because each has its own benefits. We believe that choosing between online vs. offline doesn't have to be an exclusive decision. You should leverage both appropriately. For example, you can use email to reach masses in the online world in a very cost-efficient manner. On the flipside, you can reach those who operate primarily in the offline world or need a higher touch in a cost-powerful way with physical mail.

Be Smart

Our customers have put our API to work in many effective and creative ways. The most successful ones have followed four general principles.

1. A Beautiful Creative:

Be sure that your mailpieces embody your company's brand to the fullest. Create artwork that is bold, yet welcoming. Think about a mailbox the same way you would about an inbox. You want the subject line to stand out from the rest of the emails, but not seem spammy. Take advantage of a less crowded mailbox by focusing on color, imagery, and bold messaging.

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email image 3

Ubiquiti World Network Postcard

2. Personalization:

Make sure each mailpiece is customized and dynamically generated based on the recipient. Everyone is unique, so you should make sure each individual mailpiece is customized as much as possible. Don't be afraid to use customer data to personalize and make a statement with your mailing.

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email image 4

3. Clear Call-to-Action:

Make sure everything about your mailpiece is measurable. Place a clear call to action within each mailpiece so you can clearly track the effectiveness of any campaign. This could be a redeemable promo code, a tinyurl link, etc. Be data oriented and measure ROIs so you can make the best decisions going forward.

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email image 5

4. A/B Testing:

Make changes to your creative and messaging frequently - you never know what works best if you haven't tried it.

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email image 6

Run multiple campaigns and measure performance

More Features

We want to make sure all businesses have all the information they need to maximize their spend. To do this, we believe that everything needs to be measurable. By exposing things such as mail tracing from the postal system via our API, we enable users to know not only when they send the mail, but also the time it takes for a customer to respond to any single mailpiece.

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email image 7

Tracking events from a Lob GET request

How to Send Postcards as Effortlessly as Email image 8

Tracking events as shown on Lob user dashboard

This is just one of the many features that are always in the works here at Lob. As always, if you have any questions about our product or how it could work for you, please do not hesitate to shoot us a note at support@lob.com, we'd be happy to hear from you!

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