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June 8, 2009
Return of the Personal Letter
Direct mail volume is down, Big traditional mailers are departing the scene. Costs are up. And a postal rate hike was on May 11th. But highly targeted and personalized direct mail can be an effective break-thru media during this spiraling recession.
Here's why...

1. We're inundated with opt-in and spam e-mail. There’s no magic, no anticipation and damn few new tricks to surprise us and to prompt more, better opens. E-mail has become institutionalized and with broad scale acceptance and use come response rate plateaus.

2. Nobody gets personal mail any more.  Of the 199.4 billion pieces of mail that the post office delivers less than 3.8 percent is actual personal relevant human to human content. Mail is an underused channel to connect directly with people, even though our mailboxes are full of stuff. Deliver Magazine has a very cool graphic illustrating the breakdown of what ends up in your mailbox in its March issue.

The clear implication (at least to me) is that if you write somebody a personal letter -- one that looks, feels and smells like a personal letter not an ad in an envelope -- using personal, individualized information -- you have a shot a genuinely touching and communicating with a customer or prospect. It's a rare chance to capitalize on the unexpected.

3. Refined creative tactics exist. Direct mail creatives have tested and refined an array of techniques to optimize opens and response -- the twin moments of truth. We have a corpus of knowledge on the size, shape, texture, color, fonts, forms of address, key words, tone and which authorial voice to use in which circumstances to address which audiences. The trick is to blend this expertise with purchase history or behavioral data to create a compelling, relevant, personal, maybe even intimate form of communication. The technology to do this, and still make it look private, individual and personal, is widely available.

4. Mail enables small batch laser targeting. While the big volume mailers and carpet bombers are cutting back and scrambling to survive, according to the Winterberry Group, returning to the basic letter format gives marketers a perfect platform for targeting and testing. Even with a medium that costs 10 times more than e-mail, even small firms can afford to word process and mail  hundreds or thousands of carefully selected and targeted names. Whether the focus is acquisition, retention, loyalty or usage stimulation a personal letter can cost effectively move the needle.

5. There's a first mover advantage to be had. Because so many direct marketers are bombing customers and prospects with self-mailers, double-sided postcards, snap-packs, letter packages that scream "I'm an ad" on the envelope, coupons, flyers, catalogs, circulars, postcards, faux invitations, faux greeting cards, faux bills, faux official documents and all kinds of other printed SPAM, the personal letter won't work if everybody does it. The victory will go to the first mover who does it right because it will be so different and unexpected.

6. You can leverage remembered joy. As children we all were surprised and delighted by something special that came to us in the mail from someone special far away. The memory and the feelings of that moment are stored and carried around by millions of people. A well crafted personal letter taps the reservoir of good will and belief that these memories represent. Mail, more than pixels, carry embedded emotions. These impulses and sentiments can be directed your way.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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