Direct mail today remains one of the most critical components of many marketers' campaigns, even with the buzz over Facebook, Twitter and other digital platforms. Why? Because smart marketers are remaking direct mail into an even more influential channel while at the same time embracing social media. Using today's interactive technologies, direct mail is more intelligent and more targeted than ever. Linking the power of traditional direct mail with interactive capabilities like personalized URLs, customized microsites and mobile and email messaging can help marketers achieve a higher return on investment with every campaign. Additionally, the intelligence that today's direct mail can provide allows for better tracking and measurement of campaigns, leading to more relevant and effective communications.

Get personal with PURLs
Marketers have long known the power of personalization, and now the web itself can be personalized. A personalized URL (PURL) provides a web address for an individual so that the content at the address can be unique for that visitor. PURLs used on direct mail can address an individual recipient by name, creating a personal touch unavailable with traditional techniques. Mailpieces utilizing PURLs can offer a personal web experience that draws each recipient in and offers content that can be targeted to their individual interests and preferences. PURLs provide the ability to cut through the clutter of generic mass-marketing.

Once on a PURL microsite, a visitor may be invited to sign up for monthly newsletters, view an embedded video or request a mailed fulfillment package. They can share as much or as little contact information as they desire. Additionally, the online interaction can be tracked, making it easier to measure in terms of campaign ROI.

Go mobile with QR codes
With consumers increasingly integrating mobile devices into their daily lives, marketers are looking to tap into this personal channel. One of the emerging techniques for doing this is through Quick Response (QR) codes, two-dimensional barcodes featuring URLs that drive users from printed material to the web via mobile devices. QR codes can turn a printed direct mail piece into an interactive response, allowing static messages to become a hyperlink to just about anything online.
The process of using a QR code is simple: A consumer with a pre-loaded QR code reader on their smartphone can quickly scan the barcode on the direct mail piece and be immediately taken to online content without having to type in a web address. This technology is commonplace in Asia and has picked up a lot of momentum in the United States this year. QR codes are appearing in magazines, on billboards, on product packages and store shelves - and direct mail.

Integrating Email and Text Messaging
Email and SMS mobile text messaging can also be integrated into the multi-touch marketing campaign. Here is an example: A consumer receives a direct mail piece via traditional mail that contains a PURL or a QR Code. She scans the QR code with her smartphone and is immediately linked to a microsite that offers information she is interested in. Once on this microsite, she may find anything from an invitation to sign up for a monthly e-newsletter to an embedded video to downloadable coupons. Then, shortly after she visits the microsite, she receives an email or SMS text response thanking her for visiting the site. Based on information she chose to share while at the microsite, she may receive an additional direct mail piece, text or social media notification as a follow-up to the product or service she expressed interest in.

Intelligent Mail Tracking
Integrating new technologies into traditional direct mail campaigns, such as the USPS Intelligent Mail Barcode, QR Codes and mobile and email messaging, allows marketers to receive demographic information and data on consumer behavior in real time. Additionally, marketers utilizing intelligent mail tracking available through CONFIRM enables them to electronically determine the progress of their mailing through the USPS system. Delivery alerts then make it possible for a marketer to notify customers via email or a mobile text message to expect a personalized package in the mail, sparking curiosity.

Integrating interactive technologies with direct mail allows customers to choose how involved they want to become in a campaign. Providing the option to opt in or out of communications creates a stronger database of engaged customers for future campaigns. Permission-based marketing can also be seen as a source for referrals. Customers may forward links to videos and articles on their personalized websites to their family and friends, expanding a campaign's reach and effectiveness.

Combining direct mail and interactive strategies can also save time and money. Rather than having to pay for business reply mail and waiting for the post office to return the information, marketers can direct customers to respond online, through social media outlets or traditional mail, depending on the preference of the customer. By giving customers choices to efficiently communicate and participate in a campaign, the more likely they are to say yes' to an offer.

Don't Miss an Opportunity
We know that the interests of Baby Boomers are frequently different than the interests of Millennials. When marketing to a wide range of demographics, it is best to engage them with information that is relevant, timely, meaningful and delivered through the channel of their choice. Incorporating standard mail practices with digital interactive communications based on your customer's profile eliminates missed opportunities to convey marketing messages.

Smart, intelligent direct mail campaigns can be very customized, localized and targeted, and at the same time very efficient from a production standpoint. By giving printed direct mail programs mobility and Internet access that triggers two-way interaction and dialogue - coupled with real-time campaign tracking to leverage results - marketers can gain a true return on investment, build brands and drive sales.

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