Direct Mail in the Covid Era (and beyond)

29 April 2020 / By Jeff Tarran
Reading time: 5 minutes

What we are thinking and what we are saying to clients

Shelter-in-place has led to a number of behavioral changes that are amply shared in the media and across social channels. Uncertainty is the new rule in terms of employment status, buying habits, and even for when things start getting back to normal—the “new normal,” that is. 

Even when shelter-in-place restrictions are relaxed, large numbers of people are likely to return to the outside world with caution. Some newer predictions are for rolling peaks and valleys of infection that could last a year or more.

As direct response marketers, we are having regular discussions on marketing implications internally and with our clients. Here are some considerations on the new marketing environment that are driving our thinking in those talks: 

  • Buying routines that add safety and convenience are more likely to stick as shelter-in-place (voluntary or otherwise) is extended. The penchant for delivery to the customer’s door will probably continue to grow.
  • Seniors, especially, are adjusting their buying habits. They are getting things delivered that they may never have thought to have delivered before. For many of them, this behavior is likely to be the new norm.  

  • Local retail options that people enjoyed before may never return. Some estimates show that up to 50% of local restaurants could close permanently.
  • When it comes to larger institutions, consumers and business owners are rethinking relationships based on how they’re being treated by the companies they have been loyal to for years in light of current, unforeseen situations.
  • People’s finances are turned upside down. Consumers are naturally pulling back on spending for non-essentials. There is a lot of feeling ripped off, too (Charmin was $4.75 for a single role at my local store). They are looking for fairness and, especially, deals.
  • Stock market gyrations have investors at the edge of their seats. Many will also look at their financial needs and financial relationships differently as they get a grasp on their situations.
  • Housing is most consumers’ #1 expense. There is little sales or financing activity right now. When mortgage and rent forbearance end there will be a reality check likely to impact the real estate and related financial markets for years to come.
  • There is one thing many people have more of than before—time. Once everyone has had their fill of Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Disney+, etc., they can put their energy into researching big decisions related to their health and finances that they may have been putting off for months if not years, before the current crisis.

 

Based on that topline what should you be thinking about for your direct mail efforts? Here are some highlights of conversations we are having with our clients:

  • Saving people money is huge right now. If you can, make that a focal point of your messaging. In B2B, build the ROI case.
  • Consumers are sheltering at home and mailboxes are empty. If what you market is of value to consumers right now, then get in the mail and get noticed.
  • Smaller, local service providers should look for a wedge to win customers from slower moving, established institutions. Consumers want to help local businesses that they feel can offer more customer-centric and empathetic service. 
  • B2B marketers be ready. When SMBs are back in action they will be looking for cheaper and more efficient solutions to old problems. Saas and software products, in particular stand to benefit. Plan your approach now so you can be the first post-Covid solution in the mailbox. What is your timeline to market?
  • Make bigger offers to move prospects down the funnel faster. Take advantage of your prospect’s willingness to consider new ideas and look for solutions right now. Offer a free trial, X months free, dollar discounts and the like to drive faster adoption.
  • Online-only marketers who consider baby boomers and seniors a secondary target might be smart to reconsider. Target them with a multi-channel approach (online and direct response). Offer strong trial incentives and add a phone response channel if you don’t already have one. 
  • Add a safety message to subscription and other convenience messaging to add relevance to current benefits.
  • If you are selling brokerage or financial planning services, give prospects a reason to connect with you now recognizing that the payoff is more likely down the road when the markets settle down. Consider offers of free advice, tools or consultations.
  • People are thinking about mortality (theirs and their loved ones). And now they have a reason to kick off a journey to establish or re-evaluate life/health insurance, healthcare, estate planning and similar products. Engage prospects now with low friction, online service and fulfillment that get you into an early consideration set.
  • If you’re one of those businesses seeing increased sales right now, reach back into your leads database to people who know you, but did not complete a sale and make them a great offer to act now.

What’s next?

Now is the time to think creatively about mail programs. Mail boxes are empty and printers have capacity. Plus, the USPS is offering 2% postage discounts for mailings that include either emerging technologies or tactile, sensory and interactive engagement. That makes it a good time to incorporate our Respond Fast technology, too.

Finally, a gentle reminder. If you are starting from scratch, there is roughly a two-month timeline from concepting a program to being in the mail. Strategize now and plan for the future. If you think direct mail can help your business, let’s talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Tarran
About The Author

Jeff Tarran

As VP of Account Services, Jeff works with our clients to analyze business problems and develop direct marketing strategies that achieve their goals. A 20-year veteran and strategic thought leader in direct marketing, Jeff has headed two independent direct response agencies in the Bay Area after starting his career at Foote Cone and Belding. He earned a Dual BS in management and communications at Syracuse University and his MBA in marketing at Columbia University in New York.

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