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The Total Retail Edge: Ultra-Precise, Fast, Hyperpersonalized Direct Mail

For retail marketing executives, one area that must not be overlooked is the value of utilizing extremely precise, high-speed, hyperpersonalized direct mail. Despite the rise of digital marketing, direct mail is still broadly utilized by retailers (and other industries) to get marketing messages out to target audiences. This article examines the benefits for retailers in using the latest in hyperpersonalized direct mail pieces.

Why Hyperpersonalized Mail is Mission-Critical for Today’s Retailers

For some time now, this type of mail has used variable digital printing techniques to personalize marketing materials and envelopes. This was already considered “mission-critical” given the internal contents of an addressed envelope may contain sensitive financial or health information and shouldn’t get into the wrong hands.

Now, with a trend toward adopting a hyperpersonalized marketing approach, matching the various component parts of a mail piece — messaging, addressing, envelope, attached cards, etc. — is even more critical.

Hyperpersonalization in direct mail is a strategic approach where marketers leverage past purchase records, browsing habits, demographic details, and other available data to customize messages and offers for individual recipients. A hyperpersonalized strategy can significantly improve the efficacy of marketing endeavors by increasing open rates, clickthrough rates and, ultimately, boosting sales.

For these reasons, securing the right mail manufacturing system is of paramount importance. Most systems are a combination of technologies from inkjet systems that employ different types of technologies and even inks to inserters, card attaching systems, and tracking and cameras that verify printed information is correct and that items are properly matched together. Software often ties the entire process together.

Challenges in Selecting the Right Mail Manufacturing System

Unfortunately, critical components such as the software, the camera systems, and even the inkjet printer may be sourced overseas — a factor that might not be immediately evident without digging deeper. This approach can limit the equipment manufacturer’s ability to make any changes to hardware or software given there are no engineers or product designers on staff.

Sometimes direct mail service providers view inkjet systems as “just a printer” that doesn’t need to be that high integrity, and they don’t know that until they have a problem.

There can be significant advantages to working with suppliers that can offer a customized, end-to-end mail manufacturing solution. By owning and controlling the technology in-house, company engineers can make changes or customizations as issues arise to provide a superior solution with full accountability for results from design to implementation to nationwide support. This is the best way to ensure the end-to-end system delivers error-free results.

A Successful Example of Hyperpersonalization

At Summit Direct Mail Inc., the Dallas-based company has the capability to produce 2 million personalized pieces of mail per day. Founded in 2003, the mail operations are in four facilities throughout Dallas for a total of approximately 230,000 square feet, run by 160-180 employees.

Summit Direct Mail is a provider of print, mail, and fulfillment services in addition to other multichannel marketing and digital communication solutions. The company offers digital printing, offset printing, direct mail, product/literature fulfillment, transactional mail, web to print/e-commerce, and complete online marketing automation services.

“If [the mail] doesn’t get opened, nobody wins,” says John Barber, president of Summit Direct Mail. “The more personalized you make something, the better it performs and the higher the response rate. The amount of data [for personalization] that’s out there now is so immense compared to what it was, and now the technology allows us to use it. Every way that you can mail it to make it look personalized, we do it.”

Tactics for Stimulating and Tracking Direct Mail Response

This can include a laundry list of techniques designed to stimulate and track responses to an individual, from unique offer codes to personalized URLs to intelligent mail barcodes. Outbound phone calls, SMS, and text messages to an individual can be tied to these items.

For example, a custom personalized QR code is a unique branded appearance of a QR code. With customization options like varying colors, patterns and background, or adding a logo and call-to-action frame, one can design a unique QR code that represents its brand.

A company’s prospects and customers will scan the QR code on their direct mail postcards, brochures, letters, envelopes, etc., with their smartphone camera and they can be immediately sent to a website, personalized landing page (PURL), social media platform, YouTube video, given a digital coupon, and more. The possibilities are endless.

Barber says that Summit Direct Mail clients have seen an increase of over 80 percent in scans from these codes since 2020. According to Barber, to stay at the leading edge of hyperpersonalization, Summit Direct Mail continually invests in new technologies. Since the company was founded in 2003, Barber said he has worked with MCS to acquire high-speed inkjet systems, high-speed inserters, and a TK 1000 high-speed web press.

According to Barber, MCS provides all the features that “put the sizzle in [direct mail].” One example is MyFont, a new way to address mail with real handwriting using MCS high-speed inkjet technology. As an optional feature in the new MCS Raptor 10 inkjet software, envelopes and teasers can be printed in natural and customized handwritten fonts — not pre-designed selections. For years, the nonprofit and financial services industries have used this proven technique to increase response rates for advertising mail.

“MCS’ equipment allows our innovation to come to life,” Barber notes. “It allows us to put our vision on paper and allows people an easier way of responding.”

The speed of the entire end-to-end system is also important when considering the ideal mail manufacturing equipment. Summit Direct Mail recently purchased one of the fastest inkjets in the industry, the TK 1000, that can run more than a thousand feet a minute. “It’s one of the fastest inkjets in the marketplace, and the lowest cost per impression,” says Barber.

Art & Negative is another top print and fulfillment solution that offers a wide range of commercial printing services, including direct mail. The company can produce up to 30 million pieces of mail per month on its high-speed printing equipment, including newsletters, nonprofit mail, postcards, as well as enrollment kits, credit card marketing, and promotions for universities and colleges.

According to Jim Myers, vice president and one of the owners of Art & Negative, the company purchased its first inkjet system in 2004 for printing self-mailers, promotional material such as postcards, brochures, or catalogs mailed without an envelope.

Myers says he was familiar with MCS equipment having worked at another printing company before returning to his family business in 2001. He said most of his competitors also utilize MCS equipment.

Art & Negative later purchased a FlowMaster high-speed mail inserter from MCS that can achieve speeds up to 12,000 envelopes per hour. Inserting machines automate the process of inserting documents, flyers or other materials into envelopes or packages. As Art & Negative grew and needed more capacity, the company continued to purchase additional FlowMaster inserters.

The system includes MCS’ Perfect Track Tracking System that includes match mailings, read and print, output verification, electronic double detection, insert verification along with extensive logging of data including time, date, operator name, machine ID, piece ID, and destination of piece.

“The tracking system can also take a picture of the item,” Myers says. “If it’s in the healthcare arena and they want verification that person passed through your machine, it can take a picture and track [every piece of mail].”

The Benefits of Working With a Single Expert Vendor

Myers says he appreciates having one company to contact. MCS has its own network of support technicians nationwide for technical support as well as installation and training.

“If there’s ever an issue with the equipment, you can call them and their technicians can remotely access the machine and fix any type of software updates or see any error codes you might be having to troubleshoot via the internet. Then, if needed, they can send a technician in to help,” notes Myers.

He adds that MCS also works with Art & Negative to find solutions that fit within a defined budget. “If I have to come in at a certain price, most of the time they have been able to work with us by offering solutions or other models that will get the job done,” explains Myers.

Summit Direct Mail’s Barber agrees. “It’s not only speed and personalization, but also the price efficiency. At the end of the day, we have to give our customers what they want, and they want it at a low cost.”

David Loos is president of MCS, Inc, a company that designs, manufactures, sells and supports industrial inkjet imaging, tracking, and inserting systems and solutions for the mail manufacturing industry.

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