38: (Mail) Box to the Future

The FutureDo you remember road trips before GPS units?  Before mapquest®?  How ’bout work before the advent of email?  Can you imagine switching from your iPod® back to stacks of CD cases?

Technology constantly evolves what we consider normal to new levels of efficiency and effectiveness—and new levels of addiction.

What if I told you that five years from now, the way your direct mail is currently distributed will seem as inflexible as a CD and as inefficient as mix tapes?  You’d probably believe me, thinking that it will be replaced by email or some portable device network. If current trends remain, though, electronic media will continue to take a back seat to “snail mail.”  So, how do you change relative dinosaurs like letters, postcards, and brochures—or the post office system—in a seismic way?

Variable Data Printing [VDP].

VDP allows for different people on your mailing list to get a personalized piece of mail, customized to their interests.  The pictures and/or text can literally change from one recipient to the next—in the same print run.  The process prints your mailing addresses along with the advertising content in one pass, and VDP uses your mailing list database to determine the content to be printed around the address it’s applying.

Some real world examples:

  1. A Midwest seed company printed brochures for its farmer list.  Farmers on the list with known John Deere equipment got brochures that showed green machinery, planting and harvesting the product.  Case/IH owners got red equipment images, etc.
  2. A yard treatment firm sent postcards with aerial images of recipients’ respective properties and acreage measurements along with the cost of the amount of product it would take to treat that lawn surface.  Each card had a different aerial, acreage, and cost estimate.
  3. A luxury automaker allows web users to create a brochure based on the car models, features, and colors each respectively would prefer.  Each brochure shows a car the recipient assembled themselves on the Internet.

Some potential auction uses:

  1. For estates or auctions with both real estate and personal property, one part of your list’s brochures could emphasize the personal property with the other brochures emphasizing the real estate.
  2. For equipment auctions, you could have different brochure covers for different clientele, emphasizing trucks or tractors or skid loaders.  (The same concept would work for specialty or antique auctions, with types of items illustrated dominantly for different parts of the mailing list.)
  3. Multi-property auction brochures could use different priority images and text for the properties closest to certain zip codes or for certain household incomes or for property type, etc.  For multi-tract auctions—where you might have hunting areas, building sites, and tillable land—you can have different postcards or brochure covers for each part of your mailing list.

The benefit is simple: people receive mail they are more likely to read. The longer your piece is handled and read, the more likely you are to gain a transaction—if not a customer.  If your mail seems always something interesting to them, you can accelerate the brand loyalty-building process.

If this sounds like science fiction to you—or at least an extremely expensive possibility only for Fortune 500 budgets—know that companies around the country are already implementing this into their marketing.  In fact, if you’re a biplane client, you may already have.  [expresscopy.com uses a portion of this technology to apply recipient addresses and postal indicia as your postcards are printed.]  biplane productions and Shearer Printing & Office Solutions have been researching how to cost-effectively add this technology to your advertising arsenal for over a year.

I’m sure the future solutions will come with some adjustments, just as learning how to set up station presets on your XM® radio or programming your TiVo®.  But the benefits, including a potential spike in return on investment, will probably make the transition worth the initial growing pains.

Technology has allowed mass production—somehow, ironically—to make products more personal. I can purchase an iPod® in three different sizes and nine different colors. I can order a MINI Cooper (from the factory) with over a million different optional configurations.

Somehow this personalization has escaped churches. Sure, we have more denominations than cable channels. But the product—not just the pew experience—in most churches, regardless of format or belief, is mostly mass-applied. Henry Ford would be proud. “You can have any Bible, as long as it’s black.”

Jesus said he knows how many hairs are on each head—times billions of heads. He differentiates between every star in the universe. He is recorded in more conversations with small groups or individuals than in sermons. In Jesus, we have a personal, intimate God.

My spiritual walk has been greatly impacted by the concept of small groups and accountability partnership with other believers. But I’ve more recently seen this approach taken to evangelism, where people—with their baggage, questions, and/or hang ups—are surrounded in small pockets of accepting community. They come to know Jesus from people who want to get to know them. It’s less efficient. It’s often uncomfortable. It’s sometimes messy.

But, based on gospel accounts, so was Jesus’ ministry.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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