Why Marketers Should Incorporate Emerging Technology in Direct Mail

Technology can be a great way to engage your customers and prospects with your direct mail pieces, connecting offline to online marketing efforts. I previously shared the USPS’s 2020 Tactile, Sensory, and Mail promotion, and today want to highlight another promotion that can save marketers using direct mail some money, as well as encourage them to embrace new tech.

Technology can be a great way to engage your customers and prospects with your direct mail pieces, connecting offline to online marketing efforts. I previously shared the USPS’s 2020 Tactile, Sensory, and Mail promotion, and today want to highlight another promotion that can save marketers using direct mail some money, as well as encourage them to embrace new tech.

The 2020 Emerging and Advanced Technology promotion from the USPS runs March 1 through Aug. 31 this year, and encourages mailers to incorporate technologies such as “enhanced” augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, Near Field Communication (NFC), video in print (ViP) featuring shoppable video, integration with voice assistants, and digital into direct mail campaigns. You can create really fun and unique experiences while getting a 2% postage discount for eligible pieces.

For this promotion, you can use presorted first class, standard and nonprofit letters or flats, but please not that you cannot use it for periodicals, bound printed matter, or Media Mail. You must meet automation requirements for letter or flat size pieces.

Since there are quite a number of emerging technologies available for this promotion, let’s take a look at them:

  • Mixed Reality: This combines both augmented and virtual experiences through a combined immersive technology that can include sight, sound, and touch.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): VR is commonly defined as a computer technology that creates replicas of an environment, real or simulated, that includes a user’s physical presence to allow for user interaction. Virtual realities artificially create sensory experiences, which can include sight, touch and hearing.
  • Digital to Direct Mail: This is also known as automated or re-targeted direct mail. It encourages mailers to produce mail pieces that create a greater connection and elicit a higher response from consumers by using dynamically printed, personalized messaging that is automatically triggered based on a digital interaction. Unlike other options in this one starts with digital behavior such as a form filled out on your website that then creates customized mail pieces that get sent to them.
  • Near Field Communication (NFC): NFC technology generally consists of embedding a small chip into a mail piece that can be recognized by a NFC enabled device such as smartphones or tablets. The interaction is initiated by touching the mobile device on the NFC embedded item or by placing the device within close proximity to it. No app or download is needed to launch this technology so it is seamless for your prospects and customers.
  • “Enhanced” Augmented Reality (AR): “Enhanced” AR provides robust features that allow consumers to engage in experiences using the technology. “Enhanced” AR also includes video animation and 3D interactive graphics playing in front of or over physical objects so they appear to be interacting with the physical object. The “enhanced” experience can also use gamification or mobile game play. Think of the popular Pokémon Go game, this can be really fun for people to play around with.
  • Video in Print (ViP): ViP is video advertising that integrated into a printed mail piece. ViP can be integrated into a printed piece in several ways including, but not limited to Integrated video screen within a printed, mail piece, Integrated Video/Picture utilizing translucent paper, Personalized Interactive Video, or Shoppable Video. These are pretty cool, but they can be very expensive so make sure if you use this you are selling high end items that make it worth the investment.
  • Integration With Voice Assistants: Direct mail can be an effective way to educate recipients about the benefits of voice branding and how to interact with voice assistants such as Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Home and Nest. This should allow for the purchase of a particular product, provides a business related “tip of the day,” etc. with the assistant.

Each of these technologies gives you a different way to draw your prospects and customers into interactive experiences that not only have a wow factor, but work to generate more business for you and increase your response rates. Of course, be sure to refer to the USPS program document once you’ve thought about what you’re interested in experimenting with, especially to review the specific requirements of each technology. Are you ready to get started?

The Future According to Facebook … Is Terrifying

In a lot of ways, I feel like marketers are still catching up to what the Internet has done to marketing. But a couple weeks ago, at the F8 developers conference, Facebook announced plans to totally upend what the Internet is, blur the lines between our offline and online lives, and basically take us all one step closer to The Singularity … And I don’t think marketers are going to be ready for that.

In a lot of ways, I feel like marketers are still catching up to what the Internet has done to marketing. But a couple weeks ago, at the F8 developers conference, Facebook announced plans to totally upend what the Internet is, blur the lines between our offline and online lives, and basically take us all one step closer to The Singularity … And I don’t think marketers are going to be ready for that.

The Facebook Plan

The Facebook Future: Zuckerberg's 10-year roadmap.
The Facebook future: Zuckerberg’s 10-year roadmap. … Am I the only one who finds the word “planning” under “AI” a bit ominous?

The plan put forth at F8 is not exactly sinister, but many do see it as a bit creepy. Over the next 10 years, Facebook is dedicating itself to solving certain problems:

  1. Connectivity for Everyone: Facebook is working on two systems that would improve wireless Internet access in cities and provide it in rural areas.
  2. Applied Artificial Intelligence: This would allow real-time processing of things like translation, image search, real-time video tagging, and other capabilities that aren’t remotely possible without advanced machine learning.
  3. Social Virtual Reality: This is the one causing the most visceral reactions. Using the Oculus Rift headset, Facebook plans to make social media much more of a virtual social-visit-like experience. The tip of the iceberg of that is Facebook Spaces, which would let you and a friend chat via cartoon avatar in the real world via VR. Facebook promises this is only “0.1 percent” of their plans for virtual reality, but it’s an indication of how they plan to use it to pierce the veil between the online and real worlds.
  4. React Native: Facebook’s open source, cross-device development platform is built to allow designers to create apps for anywhere with a base on Facebook.

Isn’t This Great for Marketers?

On the surface, there is a lot of potential to Facebook’s vision of the future. Everyone gets access to your website, there’s AI to help you monetize them, virtual reality spaces to let your sales people (or bots) talk directly to customers as if they were meeting in person, and all your favorite technologies can build for the platform.

The gap from where we are now to there is really wide, though. There are aspects of the online world that are currently truly interactive in real-time, but for the most part the Web today works at the speed of typing. In most cases, your audience is reading something that you had the chance to think through, proof, check for lible, etc.

Everything Facebook is describing here will work in truly real time, more like an actual conversation. All the AI is made for real-time processing, and the VR spaces are literally real-time conversations.

So what will a world like that look like? Surely there will still be crafted, designed marketing, but will you have to have a sales person available via VR to take every order? Or are you counting on virtual assistants to be able to carry on a real-time conversation with a live human being? Chatbots have come a long way, but this functionality still seems further off.

I feel like in some ways the Facebook future for marketers is actually less automated, and would require more free personnel to do the interacting.

So my question is, how many of you are thinking about integrating AI, or preparing for virtual reality at all at this point?

I have a feeling the answer is close to zero. But technology is about to force all of us to think that through very soon.

Hype or Opportunity? 

Marketers today face the huge challenge of creating the right program mix to meet their brand objectives. It’s difficult to balance the risk of new investments against the budget support needed to continue in proven channels. But it could be even riskier to wait too long to test or adopt some of the newer opportunities that emerge with oppressive regularity.

Marketers today face the huge challenge of creating the right program mix to meet their brand objectives. It’s difficult to balance the risk of new investments against the budget support needed to continue in proven channels. But it could be even riskier to wait too long to test or adopt some of the newer opportunities that emerge with oppressive regularity.

The bounty of options makes planning more complicated and can thinly stretch even the largest of budgets across a wide array of team efforts. Each team effort must be supported with planning, development, distribution, optimization and reporting, all of which cost time and money. And though more options generally leads to more learning, it also creates more work — and sometimes even a dilution of impact upon prospects.

Some of those new opportunities will earn key positions in future campaigns via their proven contributions to specific objectives. But many will turn out to just be a shiny object that got its fifteen minutes of marketing fame and ate away your resources. One handy tool to help you hedge this high-stakes bet is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Gartner has been publishing this annual review for many years. It considers emerging technologies in a way that best informs critical business investments. It offers brands distinct interpretations of real value versus hype, charted along a continuum marking the highs and lows of technology adoption over time.

The cycle begins with a peak of inflated expectations, tied to a wave of adoption and a lot of market attention, before negativity and failures lead to a trough of disillusionment. Then the real work begins: adapting best practices and methodologies that lead to higher productivity. Rinse and repeat.

Hype CycleThe 2016 Gartner Hype Cycle of emerging technologies highlights three big trends, including:

  1. Immersive Consumer Experiences, like virtual reality, smart materials and gesture controls
  2. Smart Machines and workspaces that foster the evolution of the Internet of Things and digitize physical objects to improve efficiencies.
  3. Technologies that connect to each other and synergize previously autonomous technologies and platforms.

Gartner actually publishes multiple hype cycles annually. Some of these cycle reports focus on particular technologies, so if you have an interest in a specific area of technology, you should do some further digging.

It is easy to see how today’s technological innovation can evolve into tomorrow’s marketing tool kit, but it’s not a quick, direct or easy journey. Watch for the phases of the hype cycle but also for the availability of tested vendors, channels or service partners to help ease your adoption. Most marketers are not equipped to leverage the raw technology on their own, so they search for partners with a tested offering that effectively employs the emerging technology. But this typically occurs in the later stages of the hype cycle, which in some cases may be too late.

So how do you know when it’s time to jump in, and how do you maximize the impact of your inherently risky choice?

  • Have clear goals and benchmarks in place, along with a time frame to assess whether this new initiative is achieving its function within your plan.
  • Know the difference between technology and marketing. Both have value but they are not interchangeable.
  • Don’t launch what you can’t measure.
  • Some endeavors are more labor and research intensive than others, or further outside of your comfort and experience levels. Weigh the effort expended against the potential return before embarking.
  • Build in additional time. New efforts always need additional launch time, QA time, etc.
  • Fund the effort appropriately. Just dipping your toe in may not return a realistic picture of the actual value.
  • Know what your team resources can support. Unduly stressing them can have unintended negative consequences on unrelated programs that had been running smoothly prior to the adoption.
  • Keep a balance in your budget of proven tactics, but also set aside a testing budget so as to continually learn and freshen your eye.
  • Don’t hang out on the bleeding edge unless your brand and your audience are already there. Not every new marketing opportunity will be a good fit.
  • Do your research. You can learn a lot from watching early adopters.

Success today favors the bold but informed. Make smart choices, and continually test and refresh your marketing mix. Maximize the opportunity and minimize the hype.

9 Content Marketing Tips From Cleveland

Cleveland: It’s not just home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, LeBron James and the Cavs, and one of my favorite speakeasies. It’s also home to Content Marketing World — one of my favorite conferences.

Content is a big dealCleveland: It’s not just home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, LeBron James and the Cavs, and one of my favorite speakeasies. It’s also home to Content Marketing World — one of my favorite conferences.

I missed Content Marketing World this year due to a huge project I took lead on — and if you asked any of the people on my team — that made me super bummed.

But the good news is that my “What Were They Thinking” partner in video antics, Taylor Knight, was able to make the trip and soak up all the glorious content marketing knowledge in the great orange glow within Cleveland’s convention center.

Aside from coming back with a ton of video footage from interviewing some of my content marketing heroes, like Ann Handley and Robert Rose, Taylor also had a bunch of relevant takeaways to share.

So without further adieu, here’s Taylor doing a little Sass Marketing guest blogging about her favorite things from Content Marketing World 2016:

content marketing worldLast week, I had the opportunity to attend Content Marketing World in “The Land” — Cleveland. Thousands gathered to hear the best minds in content marketing speak about their successes, challenges, failures and predictions for the future.

There were so many amazing sessions and keynotes (including Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill and comedian Michael Jr.), so I wanted to share my top three takeaways with everyone who wasn’t able to attend. Here they are:

Takeaway 1: It’s Not the Best … It’s the Best Promoted

Andy Crestodina, principal and strategic director at Orbit Media, shared in his keynote that it’s not the best content that wins, it’s the best promoted content that wins. He said marketers should concentrate on two things to succeed:

1. Original Research
This can be observations you make about a trend, an aggregation of information from other sources or surveys you conduct. “What do people in our industry often say but rarely support? Find the missing stat,” explains Crestodina.

2. Strong Opinions
Your content should take a stand because strong opinions lead to shares. Crestodina suggest marketers answer the following questions to create great content:

  • What do you believe that most people would disagree with?
  • What do you think will happen in the future that people don’t agree with?
  • What questions are people afraid to answer?

Takeaway 2: Slow Down

Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, told marketers to “slow down.” It may be hard to know when to slow down because the norm has been to rush, rush, rush and create as much content as possible. Handley says answer these three questions before creating content:

  1. “So what?” This is a shortcut to empathy and connecting with your audience.
  2. “Wait, what?” This is figuring out the “why” before you even get to that what.
  3. “Does this sustain us?” This can mean either be sustaining you or your brand.

Takeaway 3: Build a Network for Success

Mitch Joel, president of Mirum, gave a keynote titled “Content Is Dead.” This seemed a bit shocking considering we were at Content Marketing World, however, Joel gave the audience great advice.

He told marketers that they should concentrate on building a network, and then the content you produce for that network will succeed. In the future, (when every marketer builds up that network) other changes will happen. Joel says the future of content marketing is:

Augmented Reality + Virtual Reality = The “Next” Platform
Data + Machine Learning + Artificial Intelligence = Actionable Content
Permission + Marketing Automation = Customer Loyalty

Extra, Extra

I couldn’t stop with just three! Here are a few more of my favorite tips and takeaways from Content Marketing World 2016.

• Facebook “views” are counted when someone watches the video for three seconds or more. Measure for longer views and a better sense of engagement. — Chelsea Hunderson, social media marketing manager, HubSpot

• Measure content in real time, then change strategy in real time. Things are constantly changing and they don’t always go according to plan. — Lars Silberbauer, global director of social media and search, LEGO Company Ltd.

• When it comes to content marketing, executive needs to do more than buy in — they need to endorse content marketing. — Deanna Goldasich, CEO, Well Planned Web

• If you want people to share something, you have to know what they want to say, then say it better. — John von Brachel, SVP of content marketing, Bank of America

• A one second delay in page speed can decrease conversions by seven percent. — Arnie Kuenn, CEO, Vertical Measures

• Dates on your blog will make your content look old. — Andy Crestodina, principal and strategic director, Orbit Media


Content Marketing Master ClassAhhhhhhh it sounds like this year’s Content Marketing World was sooooo good as usual!

But guess what? If you’re like me and missed it — and that realization is eating away at your soul … no? Just me? Okay then —guess what? You could attend one of six Content Marketing Master Classes!

The Content Marketing gurus will be touring the country with this 1-day master class, so check out the site to see if there’s one coming to a city near you and sign up! You won’t regret it, AND you’ll have fun!

The New ‘New Media’ Is Coming

The first time I saw a 360-degree video on Facebook, I didn’t know what it was. It was an immersive WWII recreation with tanks and explosions and soldiers running past. I didn’t even realize I could turn my phone to change the view. I wondered why it seemed like everyone had run behind me, had no idea I was just pointing the wrong way.

The first time I saw a 360-degree video on Facebook, I didn’t know what it was. It was an immersive WWII recreation with tanks and explosions and soldiers running past. I didn’t even realize I could turn my phone to change the view. I wondered why it seemed like everyone ran behind me, had no idea I was just pointing the wrong way.

That was before I wrote this blog post about Megadeth turning their album into a virtual reality dystopia. Before I started seeing Liberty Mutual and The Jungle Book 360-degree video ads on Facebook that have to be viewed on a phone, tablet or 3d viewer (so this next video is to view on one of those, not your computer).

Before i went to Adobe Summit and saw a 360-degree camera sitting on the stage between Tom Middleditch and Steve Hammond during the “Sneaks.” Adobe gave Cardboard-style VR viewers to VIP attendees to check out the VR experience.

That’s just a few of the companies coming out strong behind virtual reality video (without even getting into the Oculus Rift, which is on sale now). But VR isn’t the only “new media” worth considering. Alone it’d just be another fad, there’s more.

TV-Digital Ad Spend, Emarketer, 2016For example, TV ad spending has begun to decline, and is being surpassed by online display spending. That’s hardly surprising, since TV viewership has also been on the decline, especially among under-50 viewers. At the same time, streaming video viewership is up, with half of Americans partaking.

That streaming viewership isn’t staying on the TV, either. Much of it is happening on personal devices. According to the “App Annie Index: Market Q1 2016” report, entertainment revenue from mobile apps such as Netflix and HBO Go more than doubled from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016.

And streaming video is gaining capabilities. Beyond 360 videos, which are interactive by necessity, Facebook has also introduce videos that are interactive on any device. That’s barely a video anymore, it’s more like a video game.

Gaming is also becoming a bigger part of the overall media picture. Nielsen reports that 50 percent of Americans 13 and over play games on mobile devices. That goes equally for men and women, and the average age of those gamers is 36. (It’s good to know my wife and I aren’t the only ones fiddling with mobile games while we watch TV on a random weeknight. But then the games we’re playing are both TV-related: Star Trek for me, and Simpsons and Family Guy for her.)

Over the past five years, the big shift in media has been to streaming entertainment and enabling streaming everywhere, from the living room TV to your train ride to work. Better mobile networks and bigger screen devices enabled the latter. A range of home media solutions — from smart TVs to video game consoles and dedicated streaming media devices — connected the former.

Now, the emerging new media are more intimate and individualized. VR viewers (many of which use your phone as the screen) don’t just bring the entertainment to you, they pull you away form your environment to put you into the immersive entertainment experience. Increasing use of streaming apps on mobile, especially paid streaming apps, brings you to exactly the media you want to watch. And that’s not a platform meant for sharing. Interactive video is not, by nature, “2-player co-op.”

This all reminds me of the Walkman effect in the 80s. Our shared media experience is quickly becoming the personal media experience.

So what will the new media advertising experience look like? These screens don’t have enormous side rails to fit ads, and interrupting ads will ruin the immersive experience. Where does that leave marketers?

I have no idea. But I know it’s coming.

The New Direct Marketing

Direct marketing, at its simplest, is marketing to a targeted list of prospects and customers, making an offer to generate direct response, measuring it and repeating it (with refinements). The thing is, today many, many different channels allow you to do that — from the classic direct channels, to typically brand channels, to crazy channels that have never really been used for marketing before.

Dr. Evil: Marketing W/ Frigging LazersDirect marketing, at its simplest, is marketing to a targeted list of prospects and customers, making an offer to generate direct response, measuring it and repeating it (with refinements). The thing is, today many, many different channels allow you to do that — from the classic direct channels, to typically brand channels, to crazy channels that have never really been used for marketing before. (Seriously, Alexa is a speaker from Amazon that users can use to shop from home through audio and voice recognition, we ain’t in Kansas anymore.)

What do you make of these new channels? Have you had success marketing on social media? What about augmented reality, or 3DVR? The Internet of Things?

The Internet allows you to market across borders and over seas. Have you been able to do that successfully?

That’s a lot of potential … whether it’s potential opportunity of waste is hard to say. And it probably depends on the specific opportunities for your business. When does it make sense for a company to leverage home appliances as part of an Internet of Things marketing strategy? Are you the company it makes sense for?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I’d like to hear how you’re thinking about them yourselves. What is “The New Direct Marketing” to you?

We are talking about a lot of these topics tomorrow at Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk. If you want to hear what some fo the industry’s top experts think about The Internet of Things, taking your marketing global, crowd-funded marketing and more, click here to register!

Free Virtual Reality Is Totally Metal

When it comes to technology, adoption is everything. And that’s a great opportunity for marketers … like Megadeth. Their “metal origami” gambit is a model of how virtual reality can work for marketers today, even though VR adoption may not yet seem ready for prime time.

Megadeth's "Dystopia" limited edition, virtual reality bundle.
Megadeth’s new “Dystopia” in its “metal origami” limited edition virtual reality bundle.

When it comes to technology, adoption is everything. That’s why many of our ubiquitous devices either have cheaper versions (you can get a PC or laptop for less than $300) or subsidized versions (like smartphones, which exploded after phone carriers began bundling them “for free” with their services).

A few years ago, Facebook bought the virtual reality (VR) gaming headset Oculus Rift for $2 billion and Mark Zuckerberg called it one of the company’s most important platforms. But the $599 headset is going to be a serious buy-in, and each one needs a $1,000-plus computer system to power it. That’s a significant barrier to mass adoption.

There’s already a growing market of cheaper devices. The Samsung VR Gear is designed to use your existing smartphone as its screen (with an app controlling the display), and already retails for $99. Lenovo recently bundled a similar headset with a low-end tablet it only sells in India, and the company sold 10,000 of those mobile-VR bundles in less than a second.

But the real beginning of VR, and the real usefulness of VR in marketing today, is even cheaper.

The future is cardboard.

By that I mean Google Cardboard, a project to create a VR player for smartphones held in cheap cardboard “viewers” with glass lenses, literally a poor-man’s Samsung VR Gear. You can order one for yourself for $20 to $50.

Or, as a marketer, you can give them away.

That’s where this gets “Metal.” Enter Megadeth.

What’s beautiful about Megadeth’s new symphony of VR destruction is that it’s basically an album. The virtual reality experience, including the cardboard viewer — which frontman Dave Mustang describes brilliantly as “metal origami” — comes with purchase of the “limited edition VR package” of their new album Dystopia. And that’s being sold for the very typical album price point of $15 to $25. The VR experience is essentially free, a marketing gimmick, a response booster.

Of course, in our post-Napster time, few people actually buy albums anymore. But when you couple it with a free virtual reality experience and the equipment to make that real, that’s a great offer.

Verizon and Star Wars teamed up to put fans in the universe with the "Jakku Spy" experience.
Verizon and Star Wars teamed up to put fans in the universe with the “Jakku Spy” experience.

Megadeth isn’t the only organization using cardboard VR to build a bridge with its audience. Star Wars got in the game ahead of December’s release of Episode VII. And in the January/February issue of Target Marketing magazine, Mobile First columnist M.J. Anderson talks about a virtual reality holiday card with cardboard viewer that TREKK sent last year.

I boiled Google Cardboard down to just the viewer, but the wider project goal is to make VR more approachable to creators and audience alike. And other companies have stepped up and pushed the technology forward themselves, including Megadeth’s tech partner, CEEK. The tools have been developed.

Creating the experience takes investment, including a pretty high quality video shoot using special camera set-ups (which are available, you can see some options in the Megadeth video and on the Google Cardboard website). But it seems to be similar to any other professional video creation.

I’ve had a few conversations about what virtual reality means for marketers. For now, I think it means this: It’s a value-added, immersive experience that is within the marketer’s reach to offer candidates as a freebie. People have heard a lot about VR without necessarily having the chance to see it for themselves. Most people want to try it. If you provide that, along with a cool experience as part of it, that’s going to get a lot of exclusive attention from your target market.