By Brendan Read

Is the “past is prologue”, as William Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest? Or, on that vein, is “history bunk”, to paraphrase Henry Ford?

Measures of both views might be the right answer, for while history may set the stage it does not anticipate the future, like of disruptive events and innovations: like the automobile, and yes, the Gutenberg press and the uniform penny post.

Which leads to Canada Post, and mail marketing, both of which are at crossroads in more ways than one as we turn the decade at the end of this year

. The Crown corporation has a new president and CEO, Doug Ettinger who has taken charge at a time where the role of mail is being transformed in today’s digital always-on era.

Here are two views of where it all goes years from now. John Leonard below. For

By John Leonard

Let’s take a look at the future of direct marketing (DM), where evolving technology and the power of database marketing might criss-cross in the years to come. Some potential developments are in a direct line from our history and others are fun, blue-sky concepts.

We were on a sales kick a few years back espousing the concept that direct mail was the “original digital”. Today with everything digital being so obvious: online targeted advertisements and pop-ups, that spooky recurring advertisement for my Kenneth Cole Shoes and even the abandoned shopping cart follow-ups in my in-box, it can be easy to forget that it all emanates from the use of data. And that direct marketers were the first to make use of the data being collected in the ‘70s.

Clunky as it was, database marketing is the origin of today’s marketing database machines, and the resulting behemoth companies (Amazon, Facebook, Google, et al.), as well as many of the concepts behind digital marketing being employed today. Simply put, database marketing is about collecting information about consumers’ habits, preferences, histories and demographics then using those data points to offer them products and services they would have a higher propensity (than the average consumer) to acquire. And it was the basis for DM and direct mail specifically.

Then and now
There is a direct line between what was started 40 or 50 years ago to today’s iteration of digitally driven physical (i.e. mail) and digital marketing. Now marketers have access to more data than ever and that data can be presented in a variety of ways to create relevant communications for consumers. Brands and companies like Air Miles (LoyaltyOne) and Loblaw have created world-renowned loyalty programmes and a great deal of consumer value by using data to create completely variable marketing communications to their customer bases, driving consistent sales activity.

Our current state is trigger marketing, whereby an action (online or offline) can be used to trigger a form of communication, such as e-mail or physical mail. Yet until more recently it was difficult to connect the digital world to physical mail. But with the implementation of automation and tools such as application programming interfaces (APIs) to directly connect networks and databases to production, most activities, if captured digitally, can trigger a mail piece that contains information and even images specific to that person and interaction. The lead time to mail can be as quick as same day or even overnight in many cases.

Drawing an arc into the future or what is possible, consider three things: one, data-driven (as always), two, timeliness (or timing) and three, personalization/engagement.

We are already making use of data-driven, but what if we could use real-time modelling in a sort of artificial intelligence (AI) fashion to create pieces on the fly? Pieces that not only provide personalized relevant information from the data, but where we could fill the “white space” with more value for the recipients.

A product that is in-market and gaining traction is Canada Post’s Postal Code Targeting (PCT). Conceptually it affords marketers the opportunity to target consumers in a marketer’s target audience, while saving the postage and production costs of those that are not in the target audience at a very attractive cost.

One of the unique aspects of this “product” is that it targets down to a postal code level and allows the marketer to personalize to the postal code and suppress individuals within the area. This is an excellent use of Canada Post’s data that will no doubt evolve over time as more mailers and service providers use it and figure new ways to leverage the intelligence. As more data is collected, and AI is deployed more extensively in database modelling, we will see even more driven by the data.

What is considered timely is rapidly changing. The timelines seemed to have been halved every decade for the last 30 years, which is hand-in-glove with society’s expectation of having everything now. Technology has been great at keeping up with this exciting aspect of the industry. As a service provider it’s always a pleasure when we can solve a client’s challenge. We are in a time when the ability to react to customers is very quick.

Moving to the future
As previously mentioned, trigger marketing can be same day in the mail. What if, in the future, we could use this timing, coupled with predictive analysis, to market to people just before they might need a product? In the past this was done on a generational segment of demographic level, but what if it could be done at the level of one?

Engagement can be an exciting area that delves into technology and creativity. What the industry might be able to do in the future?

What could a mail piece look like if paper could replicate video? In the old days there was lenticular (I still have a lenticular postcard from my visit to the CN Tower in 1977!) But what if short videos or even GIFs could be contained on paper? As 3D printers become more prevalent and able to create better details, think about what kind of depth we could create, or about the pop-ups and dimensional products could be created? What if these could be data-driven so that a postcard, with depth, could be changed for each recipient?

Another new and exciting way of engagement is tracking, confirmation and connecting to another medium. An oft-overlooked aspect of postal transformation was the installation and implementation of new scanning hardware across the country. While this is boring operational stuff it might afford new products that connect the post with the sender and recipient.

Also, think of how you track a package, but in a mail sort of environment? What if, for a cost, you could track a mail piece and follow-up with a call or e-mail upon receipt? What if, blue sky here, an advertisement on TV, a mail piece and a follow-up call could be co-ordinated? While it feels a bit like some of the images from Blade Runner, much of the technology is available now, but not connected.

Really, it wasn’t that long ago that we marveled at the devices in Star Trek. Yet now a communicator, a tricorder (of sorts), a translator, replicator (3D printer), tablet and even natural language queries (speech-to-text) exist, many simply on our handheld devices. Think big!

John Leonard is vice president sales and marketing, Cover-All ( John has an extensive background developing, acquiring, on-boarding and servicing clients in data-driven environments. He also has a long history of involvement on education, having developed and administered seminars on mail for the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA), authored a handful of books and was an active member of the CMA’s Postal Relations Committee.

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