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Using Data to Make Direct Mail Valuable

Written By Amber Breeden

July 1, 2021

My husband and I recently traded in our well-loved, 11-year-old SUV for a new car. A few weeks after our purchase, we received a brochure in the mail from Honda. It was a personalized thank you message, including our account details, instructions for registering online, and tips for care and maintenance. The brochure was also peppered with images of our new car’s model and trim. In other words, this brochure was relevant and completely personalized for us. Instead of tossing it in the bin, I put it in our file cabinet. Now, if we ever need our VIN or account number, we have it handy thanks to this brochure. This is a great example of how Honda is using data to make their direct mail valuable and relevant.

A few years ago, we received something similar when we booked a Disney vacation. The mailer not only delivered our confirmation details, it was customized with images of our resort, down to the exact type of room we booked. I kept it for reference leading up to our trip. I came across it a few weeks ago while cleaning out our office and went to throw it away. But my 7-year-old saw it in the “toss” pile and swooped in. “Mom! You can’t throw away our Disney memories!” This may have been a bit of a stretch, but one man’s trash is another man’s (or little girl’s) treasure.

This is what we mean when we talk about making valuable things in print. It’s not about complicated formats or textured paper or gold foil. It doesn’t require long form content. A simple 12-page saddle-stitched brochure isn’t fancy or expensive, but by making the content timely, relevant and personal, you create something valuable and worth hanging onto. Maybe you don’t sell cars or vacations, but I guarantee you have information about your customers. It’s time to use that data to make your direct mail more valuable.

Getting Started

Remember those matching games you played as a kid, where you had two columns of words or pictures and you had to draw a line connecting the matches? Start there. In one column, write down the information you have on your customers. Everything from name and address to job title, purchase history, age, gender, the list goes on. In the second column, write down the types of information you send to your customers. It might be a welcome email, fundraising solicitation, membership renewal, or quarterly newsletter. 

Think about how you can use the information in the first column to make each communication in the second column more personal and relevant. You could include the name and contact information of the customer’s Account Manager in the welcome email (or better yet, have the email come from the Account Manager!) as well as next steps based on the type of product or service they’ve purchased. If you’re sending a fundraising piece and you know a customer’s donation history (giving method, frequency, amount, etc.), can you use that to inform the suggested giving amounts and the impact story you tell?

Using data to inform content takes time and planning. Most people want to jump right into design and copywriting, but it’s essential to start with this kind of mapping exercise. Plan for personalization BEFORE you design your mail piece so you can account for variable data and images; the data/content strategy should drive the format and design; not the other way around. And remember, you don’t have to implement your strategy all at once—take it one piece or audience segment at a time and make changes as you go. 

If you want to kick around some ideas for how to use data in your direct mail, or if you just need some guidance on designing for your data strategy, give us a call.