How AR is Breathing New Life into Direct Mail Marketing Campaigns

How AR is Breathing New Life into Direct Mail Marketing Campaigns


Direct mail marketing campaigns are the tired old warhorse of marketing. They’ve been around since time immemorial, yet still, they continue in the digital marketing era. And direct mail is thriving: according to last year’s DMA response report, direct mail campaigns have a response rate greater than email, paid search, online display, and social media combined.

Perhaps that’s even why this channel continues to exist – it’s actually a novelty to get things through the post.

UPS found that nearly half of younger consumers check their physical mailbox daily, and InfoTrends reports that they prefer direct mail to email. Spend on direct mail rose last year and it remains the third biggest channel in the UK. In the US where couponing is a popular DM-enabled activity, ROI can be well over 1000% for direct mail campaigns – that’s according to Forbes.

Although direct mail campaigns typically enjoy a solid response rate, with 4.4% being pretty typical, its hybrid campaigns that tend to be the most effective.

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Broadly speaking, that is any direct mail campaign that’s hooked up to a digital offering whether it’s by QR code (still extremely popular in China), scannable coupon, or discount code for online shopping. Personalised URLs can help offer a tailored experience to your recipient.

The next level of integration

Augmented reality technology is offering to take hybrid direct mail to the next level by adding a digital layer to real-world direct mail campaign artefacts.

In case you weren’t already aware, augmented reality (AR) technology superimposes computer-generated imagery onto real-world objects such as a piece of direct mail or a poster on a bus stop, enabling the viewer to see both together. It’s usually enabled by an app on a smartphone or tablet device.

AR can have a practical function – Ikea’s augmented reality catalogue allows customers to visually place an item of furniture in their living space using an AR tool.

Ikea's storefront logo

IKEA utilized augmented reality (AR) technology to engage their customers with their products, creating a unique and helpful experience. Editorial credit: Birgit Reitz-Hofmann / Shutterstock.com

It’s done using an app that adds AR features to Ikea’s existing print catalogue. Customers flicking through the paper catalogue will see icons that indicate there are AR features available for that page or product.

But AR is also a way to delight your customers using creative displays, particularly because it’s still such a new concept for many people.

Monarch Airlines ran a fully-integrated campaign that started with an email promising customers that they were sending something exciting in the post. The direct mail that followed allowed customers to take a virtual tour of Monarch’s ski resorts; a 360 degree tour complete with falling snow. Monarch chose to avoid making customers download an app to access the enhancement, making it possible to view the VR display with just one click. That’s not always the best choice for a campaign but probably helped drive engagement.

Achievable effect

If it all sounds very technical and difficult to achieve, you might be surprised. Providers are now offering CMS platforms that make it fairly easy to create AR-integrated experiences on top of direct mail campaigns. That’s pretty important to the adoption of this technology by smaller brands who aren’t able to hire specialist technical talent.

In recent years AR Christmas cards have been a popular choice for brands looking to delight their customers.

It’s a common choice for creative digital agencies. In fact, Cyber-duck wrote an interesting blog article detailing how they created their own Christmas card in 2016. It’s a way to stand out from the crowd at a time of year when peoples’ post boxes are already pretty full.

US direct mail agency United Mail used their 2016 Christmas card campaign to demonstrate some of the possibilities AR could offer their client base. Each card they sent contained a personalized URL which took the recipient to a page where they could select a gift. Although clients needed to download an app to view the campaign, there was a high engagement rate which persisted for an extended period as recipients shared the campaign with others.

It’s not uncommon for novelties to perform strongly when they are initially trialled. When new technologies or ad formats become more familiar, the engagement rate can be expected to drop.

AR is still a novelty for many people and that’s something brands can still capitalize on. But it’s worth noting that the United Mail campaign also included an offer of real value to a carefully-curated list of high-value clients, taking them to select a physical gift.

woman holding shopping bags and scrolling on mobile phone

Consumers will always respond well to novelty ad formats and great creative but they are also savvy at figuring out whether an offer provides real value for them.

Deloitte figures suggest that many brands are either currently using AR or intend to do so very soon. And no wonder. AR enhancement can boost engagement figures tenfold and it’s a good option for brands seeking to unite online and offline channels.

With this marketing approach offering serious returns for brands looking to bring their digital and traditional channels together, the only thing holding you back is your creativity.

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