Print Mixes with Digital

Thanks to a handful of exciting and dynamic digital options, direct mail marketing can reach even farther than before. These technological innovations help marketers create cutting-edge multichannel campaigns. Here is a look at some of the technologies that are expanding direct mail’s impact.


Digital Watermarking: Codes really can be pretty

Example of a digital watermark set within a picture frame

Can interactive codes be visually attractive? Digimarc, the company behind digital watermarking, says they can — and should. Another example of taking a technology developed for one purpose and bringing it into the digital marketing realm, digital watermarks were developed to fight currency counterfeiting, but now offer marketers the ability to embed invisible barcodes into images or behind text, creating infinite design possibilities for code-related campaigns.

Of course, the fact that the watermarks are invisible means users need to be directed to them: For example, Digimarc recently created a small, red-captioned mobile phone icon that helps readers identify the pages with additional content, which includes a “Lucky Breaks” sweepstakes and a “City Guide” that leads readers to the best of Paris shopping.

House Beautiful, a Hearst-owned publication, placed digital watermarks behind several photos in its ads for Glidden Paint in its February 2012 issue, with directions to readers on how to download the Digimarc app and how to access the content by focusing their mobile device on the photos —which led users to videos, photos and other content.

Benefits: The biggest benefit of digital watermarking is the visual possibilities — so it’s no surprise that visually based brands such as magazines have taken to the technology. The graphic design options are endless: Because the watermark is invisible, it can be placed anywhere or put behind any image.


SnapTags: Beyond black and white

Example of a SnapTag set within a picture frame

Taking QR codes beyond the black and white square blot, SnapTags — powered by Spyderlynk — use the company’s brand logo with a code ring around it as the barcode. The SnapTag drives users not just to a website but to a variety of interactive experiences each time they scan or “snap” the code with their smartphone or standard camera phone, based on prior behavior and rules the marketer sets up.

For an instant win campaign with a prominent cola company, for instance, the first consumer to snap received a countdown notice that he was 99 “snaps” away from winning, and the next person received one that said he was 98 “snaps” away — encouraging consumers to snap multiple times. The information is tracked on the back end and marketers can assign activity to individual users or, more important, segment behavior patterns that help customize future messages.

SnapTag recently completed a direct mail campaign with Kaiser Permanente, a managed healthcare consortium, as part of the launch of a new medical center in Washington, D.C. There was a SnapTag on the mailing, with separate code rings for members and non-members of Kaiser, that sent promotional messages and drove users to a virtual tour of the medical center. With the separate code rings, Kaiser could compare the activation rates between the two groups and discover segmentation information that could help with future customer engagement.

Benefits: SnapTags offer the opportunity to go beyond the indecipherable (some say ugly) blot of QR codes and create a version that is a marketing moment in and of itself — that is, an interactive brand logo. Marketers can also embed analytics options — and create campaigns that are uniquely customized based on prior customer behavior and consumer-provided information.


QR Codes: The classic code

Example of a QR code set in a picture frame

The black and white square QR code is recognized around the world — but it was actually developed for the automobile industry in the mid-1990s to track vehicle manufacturing. Today, these two-dimensional barcodes are used for everything from product labeling to mobile couponing, allowing consumers to use a QR code reader on their smartphones to access online content and special offers.

Direct mailers have also found QR codes to be a creative way to drive recipients to personalized content. Recently, Hearst Magazines and HP worked to create the first fully personalized “onsert” mailer for a magazine print marketing program. It was developed exclusively for and bundled with the magazine issue — 300,000 subscribers to Hearst’s Popular Mechanics received the mailer in their November 2011 issue.

The two-sided mailer was personalized with the recipient’s name, images of local landmarks (such as a brownstone for New York City subscribers) and information on the nearest retailer carrying HP printers. The QR codes drove readers to an online sweepstakes and other web content.

The onserts generated more than 15,000 sweepstakes site visits and more than 10,000 unique entries in the first 28 days.

Benefits: A QR code turns a direct mail piece in to a mobile call-to-action. Unlike with a PURL, the customer doesn’t need to be at a computer with Internet access to check out the offer. Another pro is the ubiquitous visual, which has turned into a cultural touchpoint: After all, who doesn’t recognize the familiar black-and-white matrix? Finally, PURLs can be embedded within a QR code campaign, offering a one-two digital punch.


PURLs: Links just for you

Example of a personalized URL set within a picture frame

PURLs, or personalized URLs, are personalized web links for each specific user, which allow marketers to drive mail recipients to a just-for-you online site, creating a mail-to-web multichannel campaign in one fell swoop.

Aon Affinity, which markets insurance products to professional associations, used PURLs in a direct mail campaign to members of various Affinity groups.

A simple mailer highlighted one product — Group Disability Insurance — and the PURL drove recipients to apply for coverage.

The response rate was twice as good as previous traditional mail packages.

Benefits: For mailers looking to reach customers without smartphones, PURLs are the way to go — an Internet connection is all the recipient needs to access an offer on a customized landing page. Campaign measurement is also straightforward, as PURLs allow marketers to track which recipients visited their personalized page and gather additional data.

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