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Lobcast Podcast: Intelligent Mail & Iced Mochatinis

What separates direct mail from intelligent mail? Find out in this episode as we sip on iced mochatinis and discuss the power of intelligent mail and how it drives ROI for your marketing campaigns.

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On this episode of the Lobcast Podcast we’re talking about the power of intelligent mail and how it fits in your marketing strategy.

Key highlights include:

  • Intelligent mail, on the other hand, is connected, personalized, and scalable. It targets consumers and helps brands expand awareness, boost response rates, and increase ROI. 
  • Consumers also want mail. In fact 44% of 18-34 year olds told us that direct mail is a great way for them to get to know companies they aren’t familiar with.
  • Intelligent mail is integrated with other channels. Our 2023 State of Direct Mail said that in an omnichannel marketing strategy, 72% of marketers pair it with email and 46% pair it with paid social. 
  • Intelligent mail is sustainable and all mail sent through Lob is carbon neutral.

Meet the Speakers

Stephanie Donelson

Senior Content Marketing Manager

Kim Courvoisier

Senior Director of Content

STEPHANIE: Hello and welcome to the Lobcast Podcast: Mixers and Marketing. I'm Stephanie Donelson, your hostess with the marketing mostess. And I'm the senior content marketing manager here at Lob. I'm thrilled to be joined once again with my senior director of content, Kim Courvoisier. Welcome, Kim!

KIM: Hi, everyone! Thanks for having me.

STEPHANIE: All right. So, today we're going to be talking about intelligent mail and making some iced mochatinis. So to make this cocktail at home, you'll need 1 and 1/2 ounces of vanilla vodka, 1 and 1/2 ounces of coffee liqueur, and 3/4 ounces of chocolate liqueur. And then you'll want some granulated sugar for the rim. You're going to pour the vodka and the liquors into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. And then strain into the prepared cocktail glass with the sugared rim. So, I am lacking on my hardware. So this is mine. But cheers, Kim.

KIM: Cheers and I am a disaster with a martini glass, so I improvised. Pardon me! But it is delicious. So, cheers!

STEPHANIE: I think most people come to this for the marketing portion. So I'm going to say we're okay.

KIM: I hope so!

STEPHANIE: All right. So let's dive into today's discussion topic: intelligent mail. Kim, what do we mean when we say intelligent mail?

KIM: Well, in the past, when you said the words direct mail, it may have conjured up thoughts of junk mail, right? That was mass-produced, sent and highly irrelevant, like the physical form of email spam, right? Intelligent mail on the other hand, it's connected, it's personalized, and it's scalable. It targets consumers and helps brands expand awareness, boost response rates, and increase ROI. And in the end, truly, it all just comes down to relevance. Someone on LinkedIn recently said to me that their Bass Pro catalog was for him and the Chadwicks catalog catalog was for his wife. Now, if those two things were reversed and the Chadwicks catalog came addressed to him and the Bass Pro catalog came addressed his wife, they might be seen as junk and either person would just throw it in the bin, right? So it really does come down to relevance.

STEPHANIE: No, I think that's a really great point. I was going to say, you know, to me, junk is just mail that can't hold my attention. It isn't relevant and it's immediately tossed in the recycling bin. So, how can marketers make sure that consumers regard their direct mail campaigns as intelligent instead of junk mail?

KIM: Yeah I mean, as I said, you probably hear me say the word relevance. We should drink every time I say relevance. Relevance is the Holy Grail. You've got to target your campaigns ruthlessly. So the end recipient gets value from it. And it takes action. And I think marketers are really off to a good start. 62% of the consumers that responded to our State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report told us that they've taken action on a direct mail piece. I also think that personalization is key. 52% of those consumers told us that they expect direct mail pieces to be personalized to them, including, you know, their interests, their preferences, their recent, recent purchases, where they live, things like that. And believe it or not, consumers want mail. 44% of 18 to 34-year-olds told us that direct mail is a great way for brands to get to know them and they aren't familiar with, and 82% of the respondents told us that they have taken action on a direct mail piece nearly immediately or the same day they get it. So that's pretty powerful.

STEPHANIE: I love that. I think, you know, we've talked about this on the podcast before, and I've also talked about it with other guests. But that personalization factor, especially using imagery, we collect so much data about our customers and even our prospects that we really should be able to personalize social media ads, personalize email campaigns. I mean, again, I've talked about that makeup brand that I had a subscription to. They could have easily won back my business by being like, "Hey, you rated these items really highly in the past, and since they're sample size, you've probably run out by now. Maybe you should come back to us and we'll include these in your next shipment."

KIM: Yeah, absolutely. I just had an experience like that. I went to Sephora and had this, like, little mini makeover trying to step up my game for the podcast. And it was so great because after when I got home, they sent me an email and it had the makeup items that they had used in my mini makeover with the Buy Now button. I was like, brilliant. Like, so drop dead simple to convert. So they could have done that on a direct mailpiece as well.

STEPHANIE: And like when you think about it with our MarTech this these days like that doesn't take that much work to have those personalization tokens built out. And then it's just mapping those different variables being like, oh, OK, she was this specific shade of this foundation, like bloop. There we go. We've got the photo like. You have to put that work in the front end to make sure that all those pieces line up. But then when it comes time to execute the campaign, it's basically plug and play.

KIM: Absolutely and I know we'll talk about how to make it plug and play a little bit later on the podcast.

STEPHANIE: So talking about how it's easy, I think that also plays into the scalability of the channel. How does that come into play for intelligent mail?

KIM: Good question. So intelligent direct mail enables you to execute at any scale, at any frequency. And that's important because it removes the barriers and the obstacles that used to exist when you did direct mail in a more traditional fashion or with a traditional print vendor. Right there were minimums. You got price breaks if you had a certain volume. So you were almost incented to have to do mass mailings and said, you know, ridiculously huge amounts of mail, right? But with intelligent direct mail, you have the immediate advantage of flat-rate pricing. You're not locked into having to send x number of mail pieces. You can send one or a million,right? So now you can really cherry pick those cohorts or the different segments of your audience that you want to send to. So you can mail smarter, not harder.

STEPHANIE: That's a great point. And I think it goes back to the point about, you know, the printer, you were buying these mass volumes so you could get those discounts. But then the end result is that mail might not be that valuable to the end recipients because I think of the word valuable when I think of intelligent mail. So how can marketers make smarter or more informed decisions about what offers or messaging to use to make their direct mail more valuable to that recipient?

KIM: Yeah you hit on this just before. That's right. Data and data gives you powerful information to create valuable mailers that convert. And you do you have a plethora of data about your customer, including things like where they live, you know, what pages on your website that they may have browsed, items they added to their cart but didn't, you know, buy things they've already purchased. They also things like when did they last login or when did they make that last purchase? How long have they not made a purchase for of all kinds of things? Right? So these are really powerful data points when it comes to targeting nail pieces that you can use your customer behavior activity just like you would in a digital campaign or to do digital display ads. Right as an example, consumers told us that using an image of a recently purchased item is a super effective personalization tactic to capture their attention.

STEPHANIE: Would have worked on me.

KIM: I know, right? Just like that's for a thing that I got, you know, it's like I didn't purchase that, but it's something I just interacted with. And, you know, we talk a lot about this, like, strike while the iron is hot, you're top of mind. So then just deliver. Make it really easy.

STEPHANIE: No, definitely, I think you just brought up the point about, you know, working it in with your digital efforts. So that takes us on to our discussion topic number two of today. Let's get phygital. I know you love that word.

KIM: There's the phygital!

STEPHANIE: But I think one word that we also associate with intelligent mail is integrated, and that's where phygital comes in. You know, as an Apple products owner, I love that all my devices played nicely together. I have the same experience no matter if I'm on my laptop or on my phone, I get my messages spread out across the same thing. It's integrated. So, Kim, how can marketers think about integrating direct mail into their other campaigns so they all play nicely together?

KIM: Ah, yes, integration so important to create those memorable customer journeys and ensure your campaigns, whether they're digital or physical - phygital, work together to deliver that all important role. And today, only 7% of marketers are using direct mail as a standalone tactic. So clearly we understand that direct mail plays nicely with other channels. 72% of marketers are using direct mail in conjunction with their email. And about half are using it with social media. And that's other separates. So but in order to do that, you know, that doesn't just happen in a silo, right? You have to integrate direct mail and your marketing tech stacks, including your CMS, your marketing automation platforms. And we've also seen companies plugging us into their CDP is, and I'll talk a little bit about that later. And other technology platforms with really impressive results.

STEPHANIE: So you just kind of talked about some of the channels. So, what channels would you recommend marketers focus on pairing direct mail with first? I know that our own State of Direct Mail report said that in an omnichannel marketing strategy, 72% of marketers pair it with email and 46% pair it with social paid social. I'm a little bit biased as a social media manager, but I've got to agree with my marketing friends about pairing it with paid social. It's just a channel that makes sense. You're already trying to get them online. And like you mentioned earlier, you know that 44% of people preferring direct mail as a channel to reach them when they don't know that brand. That's a very nice way to pair it. Maybe you didn't capture their attention on Facebook, but here you are sliding into their mailbox. So, Kim, I have to ask, are you biased towards email Having spent so much time in that particular marketing field?

KIM: I mean, of course. And I just gave that example again of, you know, getting that email right when I got home for my makeover. So and you can't argue. Nearly 3/4 of marketers are using email and direct mail together. Right they're besties, peanut butter and jelly. They just go together. They're like our mochatini, right? They're a natural complement to each other. And it's so easy to use them in a multi-touch or an omnichannel, you know, strategy. We see tons of brands doing this across all different industries, from insurance to, you know, direct-to-consumer food subscriptions to even health care. So using direct mail with your other channels is the way to go.

STEPHANIE: So how would you recommend that marketers pair intelligent mail intelligently with other marketing tactics? What are some key things that marketers should keep in mind when integrating direct mail into their strategy?

KIM: Yeah this is a great question. And mapping out every touchpoint in your customer journey is critical. You know, how you do that is really going to be up to you. And I'm sure people are doing it a myriad of different ways. So I was thinking back when I thought about this question and I remember over a decade ago I was going with the Marketo headquarters for a training and they had every email in their customer journey printed out. I mean, this was 10 years ago, so pardon the paper, but printed out and on the wall. And that way, you know, you could see it, you could read it, you could understand, you know, what the recipient was experiencing. And now I stood back and I looked at that and it really hit me. I'm like, this is so, like, impressive. Just because if you change something, you really it's just right there, physical, right. And this was an email that was being sent out, but they made it physical by like printing it and sticking it on the wall. And that way too, they could, map out all the other touch points and see it like, oh, they see an ad here or a direct mail postcard here. And so bringing that out and just making it real, I was so inspired by that, that I went back to my organization and I did the same thing. Now I had 12 different nurture passed going on, so I took over the walls of the office pretty quickly. But it was also such a great thing because other people around the organization would walk by and be like, what's right? Because you don't see things taped to the walls right now. And you know, it just raise the awareness to throughout the organization. So when people made asked like, oh, let's just send this to our customers, it's like, well, wait, what's that going to do to this customer journey? So you really have to keep in mind everything a customer prospect sees from your brand and how it all needs to work together, right? Create that memorable experience that makes them want to be a customer for life, or at least as long as it takes them to pay back their cost of acquisition.

STEPHANIE: Which we should be looking at that as life because you want to build that loyalty, you want to keep that customer as long as you possibly can.

KIM: For sure.

STEPHANIE: OK, so finally, we have to talk about it and I know you love it, but data. What do marketers need to have set up to best track, attribute, and intelligently optimize direct mail campaigns?

KIM: Yeah, this it's a big question, right. And we could go down a rabbit hole here. And I'm just going to probably tell you a very short story, but this is where all those integrations become so important. So that all of your data flows well from one platform to another. It continues in your campaigns. I think all of us who've been marketers for more than a few years have experienced that pain of having data in silos. And we really want to do this, but we can't get to the data. So you're like, you know, kind of hiccup. Like, I can't get to it. I'm flying blind. I don't have to do flying. I can only do a merge field and do first name. And I was like, Oh my god, we're so much better than that.

STEPHANIE: Right and you hope that first name is correct.

KIM: Oh, right. I mean, we probably all had some disaster where we merged into somebody, put in something in a form that wasn't so kosher. And I was like, did not do well. But yeah, we will go there. We'll have to trace back to doing drinks and this. But I know I'll give you an example of a good example with NEXT. They're an insurance company. They made a big bet on a marketing technology by investing in a customer data platform, all of their different types of communications to customers and prospects all together. Kind of wrap it up in a bow. So this investment would help them better understand what they were sending and how people were reacting after investing in that CDP next needed a way to send out their direct mail. So enter Lob and our intelligent direct mail. Lob was a perfect fit because it allowed NEXT to use the technology with our API, the plug-in and send their direct mail campaigns quickly, easily and at scale based on customer and prospect behavior that they were getting from the CDP.

STEPHANIE: Interesting. I love their story is a great one.

KIM: Yeah and anybody who wants to read it, it's available on lob.com under resources. Case studies. You'll find it there.

STEPHANIE: All the good stories. All right. Earlier, I talked about dumping my junk mail in the recycling bin. And while that's great, it could also be better in terms of being environmentally friendly. We talked a bit about sustainability with intelligent mail, but can you tell us more about that, Kim?

KIM: Yeah, for sure. Like I said at the beginning of the podcast, junk mail has a bad reputation. I mean, because it's bad, but it's a perception of the reality that it wastes a precious natural resource paper and it's environmentally unfriendly and carbon emitting. So some of the key differentiators with intelligent direct mail is that it's much more highly targeted talking about this than mass junk mail. And marketers are sending less mail that's more targeted. So a lot of insurers responsible sourcing and practices and the production of every mail piece and committed to setting a new sustainability standard for direct mail that helps our customers and partners meet their goals. You know, all mail that's and most people don't know this all mail that sent with Lob is carbon neutral through the entire lifecycle from that raw material right from that tree all the way to that ultimate disposal. Recycling and Lob continues to use responsibly sourced raw materials to minimize our footprint as much as possible.

STEPHANIE: No, definitely. And I also love that, you know, we work with Eden Reforestation Projects to help plant, what is it, two trees for every one we use in our mail production. And so it's always great again as a social media manager to be able to share that stat each month. Like we just planted 18,000 trees, you know, this past month alone. So just being able to pay that back to not only the environment and mother nature, but also the communities that then are growing these forests and bringing them back to life.

KIM: Yeah, and that's the course for the future, right? For the future generations and for the future of direct mail.

STEPHANIE: Yeah so outside of partnering with Lob, what other steps can marketers take to make sure that their direct mail is eco-conscious or reduce their return to sender rates, anything like that?

KIM: Yeah, I love this question, actually. Thank you for asking it, because one of the first steps is along the lines of, you know, everything we keep talking about today and mailing smarter, not just more. You can send less mailers and get better results because you're targeting, you're personalizing and you're making your mailer relevant to the recipient. You can also proactively ensure that your mail gets delivered by using address verification before that campaign gets sent to ensure the addresses that are sent are valid. And address verification also helps by making sure the accuracy of your addresses are right. By correcting those mistakes and misspelled addresses. It's so easy when people are just typing things and a lot of us have been filling in addresses and now pops up an AutoCorrect it for you and helps meet US Postal Services address formatting requirements with the aid of standardization and it prevents those bad addresses from causing downstream bottlenecks. So again, this is an efficiency play, right? We're helping you get into those mailboxes faster by stopping those things before they get out those bad addresses. You know, if you turn the coin on its side, now that you're insuring your Mail's personalized, it's relevant, you know, it's targeted and those addresses are valid. You can use a direct mail partner that invests in sustainable direct mail and builds ESG into every direct mail campaign to help you meet your goals. And lastly, your partners should ensure that all the mail sent is carbon neutral. Like we said, from raw material all the way through to ultimate disposal. And that's really how you set a new sustainability standard, and that's intelligent for the planet.

STEPHANIE: No, I love that. And I think another area that marketers can be a little bit more eco-conscious. And we've talked about this before, but it's bringing back preference centers. I swear so many brands, it seems like, to hide their preference preference centers or wait until you go to unsubscribe from emails and then it's all, well, we can limit the communications we send you. Kim, do you think we'll see preference centers make a comeback in the coming years? Or, as you know, as brands aim to be more sustainable and letting the customer choose how they want to be communicated and what channels both in their physical marketing assets and their digital ones.

KIM: Oh, my gosh. I just wish when you say it. Maybe when you edit this later, when you say preference centers, you can have it be like, ahh! I feel like preference centers were table stakes even five years ago. And now they seem to be like falling by the wayside. They're like Jurassic Park or something again. Like they're becoming extinct, you know, as brands try to make it more difficult for consumers to unsubscribe. But in reality, preference centers make it better for both sides by enabling your audience to tell you what they want that you really, really want. And that's data, right? That's data you can use to provide them more relevant content and information. So please bring out the preference centers. I beg you.

STEPHANIE: I'll see what I can do on the editing side of things, but I'm pretty sure Spice Girls is going to be copyrighted, so I'm not sure I can get that one for you. Well, I'll do my best, though. All right. Do you have any final thoughts that you want to share or is there anything that we didn't cover during today's episode?

KIM: I mean, honestly, I'll just raise my glass. It's kind of almost empty. But, to all the positive momentum that direct mail practitioners have made and are making to level up the channel and continue to ensure it delivers the highest possible return on investment. This is not an easy job, but the way that we're all pushing the envelope to make it better and better and, you know, to do these things to make it more intelligent. That's cool. So, cheers.

STEPHANIE: Cheers! I love that. All right. Well, Thank you, Kim, for coming back on the podcast to talk about intelligent mail. To our listeners, thank you so much for joining us for mixers and marketing. Learn more about intelligent mail at lobdemo.co/intelligentmail. That's lobdemo.co/intelligentmail. If you want to dive even further into this topic and see how other marketers are leveraging Intelligent Mail in their marketing campaigns this year, please feel free to download a copy of our 2023 state of direct mail report at lobdemo.co/directmail2023. We hope you'll join us again to listen as we talk about all things marketing and enjoy a mixed drink. As always, you can browse our library of episodes over at lobdemo.co/lobcast. Thanks for listening. And that's all, folks.