When I first got the idea for a new kind of direct mail company, one of the first people I met with was Randy Rothenberg. Randy is head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which is a champion of digital marketing. Our pairing might seem counterintuitive, if not downright adversarial, like the head of a proposed gourmet burger chain wanting to bounce his idea off the president of PETA.
But I knew Randy would get where I was coming from — and, just as important, where I was trying to go. And I was right. As I talked through the whole idea of Programmatic Direct Mail® — of using digital intent signal to reach the consumer with high-quality physical collateral in the home, where decisions are made, and then enabling the recipient to act on the offer through any purchase channel — Randy was right there with me. He understood how extraordinarily powerful that could be.
An Overnight Sensation
That vision has since become a reality. And it’s been really cool to watch Programmatic Direct Mail evolve from a skeletal idea to a fleshed-out leader in one of the biggest growth categories in all of retail.
Just as cool, IAB has evolved right along with us. Their focus has shifted from pure digital to more of a direct-to-consumer (DTC) model, which is a perfect fit for us. We’ve joined their community and are eager to collaborate on the best strategies to reach our common goals, with our research showing that 40% of U.S. shoppers expect that 40% of their spending will be on DTC brands within five years.
Admittedly, this all sounds a tad abstract. But all I have to do to see concrete evidence of this rapid evolution in the marketing world is take a walk through my neighborhood in SoHo. You see far fewer traditional retail outlets than you did a few years ago. Instead the cityscape is dominated by brands like UNTUCKit, Parachute and Casper, which all happen to be brands that we work with. They’re also listed in the IAB’s “250 Direct Brands to Watch” report.
Meeting in the Middle
It really is remarkable how quickly this has all happened. At the time I had that initial meeting with Randy, successful digital marketing was still largely restricted to what I call “task & utility” purchases, and physical retail still belonged almost entirely to established brick-and-mortar brands.
But what’s happened since then is that many digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) have gravitated toward physical retail (Warby Parker now has almost 100 stores), while many traditional retailers have beefed up the digital component of their marketing. In some cases, retailers have accomplished this through “captured brands,” such as Walmart’s acquisition of digital natives like Bonobos.
What’s even more intriguing, however, are what we call “act-alikes.” These are traditional retailers that have gone all-in on adopting and adapting the DNVB approach. Nike, for example, projects that by 2020 their DTC sales will have more than doubled over 2015 levels.
If the Shoe Fits…
It’s easy to see why Nike would gravitate toward the DNVB approach. Successful DNVBs have made personalization and customer experience priorities. That’s why popups and flashes work so well. They create opportunities for direct dialog between brands and consumers. An intimate kiosk is a perfect setup for selling shoes.
Contrast that to the consumer experience of buying shoes in big-box stores or large retail chains. Consumers are often left to fend for themselves, rifling through box after picked-over box stacked along the walls. In many cases it’s all they can do to find a member of the sales staff to try to track down the correct size.
Is that how you want the consumer to experience your brand?
A Hands-on Approach
What once might have seemed a strange-bedfellows pairing between digital and direct mail now makes perfect sense. Just look at it from a DNVB perspective. If your business originated online, the challenge would be to create tangible connections with consumers. Popups are one good avenue for accomplishing that.
Direct mail is another. It’s a way for a brand to create a physical experience for the consumer in the home, using a channel that has proven, year after year, to generate response rates that are among the highest in the industry.
Now imagine enhancing that response rate by leveraging the infrastructure inherent to DNVBs. Your customers, and prospective customers, have already expressed an interest in your product online. We harvest that intent data to provide a tangible connection between your brand and the consumer.
Think of it as offering a personalized popup — right in the home.
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