Despite some national economic indicators showing signs of improvement, consumers today remain uneasy about their financial situations. The difficult economy has shoppers looking to save money, and some research indicates the majority of consumers have no intention of returning to pre-recession buying patterns and plan to make increased frugality a way of life, at least in the near future. An example of this has been the large number of consumers who have started using coupons.

A challenge today for marketers and those who do their mailing is how to vie for the attention of consumers who are being inundated with marketing messages touting value and offering traditional coupons. Imaginative and attention-getting promotions are in demand, and it just might be a good time to suggest a new twist on an old idea by taking the basic gift card and turning it into a "coupon by mail"ââ❠or discount card. The perceived added value of a gift card can translate well to a "gift for yourself,"ââ❠a reward for frequent buying or a significant savings on your next purchase. Acting as an incentive in the mail, it just might provide that extra nudge needed to get a consumer to act.

Mailed incentive cards are the same size as credit cards, and they can be included with virtually any direct mailpiece, either in an envelope or designed as a self-mailer. Recipients view this card as something a little different and more special than a typical coupon, and it can be used to enhance promotional capabilities and drive incremental sales. Incentive cards also can be personalized to reward loyal customers with special discounts or sales as well as make an attractive and appealing enhancement for outreach campaigns within a range of ZIP Codes or other demographic categories.

The perceived value is high because incentive cards give consumers a tangible reward that they can use the next time they're out shopping, when they're surfing the Internet or thinking about where to go for dinner. Mailers should be able to personalize a variety of paper and plastic card substrates and offer intelligent match-affixing to letters and other carriers. These sturdy cards can be kept safely in a shopper's purse or wallet and will act as a reminder to take advantage of an offer.

The applications for these incentive cards for marketers are limited only by the imagination. Fully customizable cards can highlight an offer based on purchasing history. They can be used to cross-sell with a partner retailer, or they can encourage customers to try other services, such as giving a discount when signing up for a gift registry. The common thread for any type of incentive card is that they provide measurability and are smart vehicles for increasing sales and driving profitability.

Although incentive cards carry imaginative offers presented in eye-catching graphics, they also are very practical for direct mail marketing campaigns. Here are the key benefits:

  • A trackable barcode - Scanning barcodes at the point of purchase provides real-time reporting to track everything from who is redeeming the promotion and at what locations to where the promotion is generating an increased response rate and lift in transaction sale amount.
  • A variety of formats in a wide range of price points - Personalized gift card mailers are fully customizable to meet a retailer's specific advertising campaign objectives, including folded self-mailers to control production costs without sacrificing privacy.
  • Eco-friendly alternatives - Environmentally friendly substrates are available to make sure you meet any corporate sustainability standards.
  • Minimized postage costs - Mailer formats are USPS-approved for automated Standard A and First Class, taking advantage of the lowest postal rates. Marketers also may track their campaign's in-home delivery window, ensuring that desired timeframes are met to maximize highest possible response rates.

In today's economic climate, cost-conscious shoppers need to be encouraged to act now. Personalized, promotional incentive cards are a customized, convenient and tangible vehicle for engaging customers.

David Henkel is President of Johnson and Quin, located in Niles, Illinois. Johnson & Quin is a national leader in targeted, full-service direct mail printing and production, offering the latest data and personalization technologies and multi-channel marketing capabilities. He can be reached at