When Marty McFly skateboarded onto the silver screen in 1985 to the echoes of ‘The Power of Love’ he set the bar when it came to time travel, skateboarding and Johnny B Goode.

The ability to travel back and forth in time has always excited scientists from the very early scientific thinkers to the modern day.
As business people and marketers we are dealing with a struggle everyday of how to change our future.  How we can win that new piece of business, or keep the customers we’ve worked so hard to get?

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away (wrong film reference I know) marketers would have turned straight to their trusty leaflets and got printing and delivering.  This utopia has long since hit the manure truck, and with good reason.

Four major factors have impacted directly on this form of marketing within the last 5 years.  The first is the obviously and seemingly unstoppable rise in the prices of mail.  Last years rise in the basic price of 1st and 2nd class prices, allied to the redevelopment of the mail weight and dimensions has undoubtedly had an effect.

Second, and linked directly to the first factor is the large squeeze on marketing budgets across the board.  As the credit crunch has hit businesses, the marketing budget has taken the brunt of the cost cutting.  Return on Investment has (finally) become the buzz word from the boardroom across the country.  Expensive large mailings are out unless you can prove where every penny has benefited the business.

Third is the large backlash against ‘direct mail’ that saw huge public campaigns backed by programmes like Watchdog very vocally turning ‘direct mail’ into public enemy number one.

Now those of us within the marketing industry, and particularly those of us who class ourselves as direct marketing specialists all know that the direct mail referred to in these campaigns was really not that.  The direct mail that caused so much outrage (quite rightly) is the unsolicited mass marketing machine gun approach based on simple numbers.  With mass mailings like those, the more you sent, the bigger the number of new customers/orders/sign ups.  This was purely down to using one measure…conversion %.  Not a bad measure, but when this is the only factor you are considering you will always come back to the conclusion that the more you send the bigger your return.  For us direct mail aficionados though, unsolicited mass mailings will always remain the preserve of lazy thinkers or huge marketing budgets.

The fourth and final factor has been the rise of digital marketing, particularly the (relatively) new kids on the block email marketing and social media.  These have undoubtedly changed the landscape and if used correctly can dramatically enhance any marketing mix.  As a huge advocate of these I could go on, but what these new kids have done is create a marketing DeLorean.
The real star of the Back to the Future franchise, the DeLorean, was the vehicle that paved the way for Marty McFly to travel across the fabric of time.  In the same way, the massive leap in digital marketing over such a short period of time has allowed direct marketing to re-define its place as an exciting hoverboard of marketing opportunity.

Let me explain.  For many people, digital and email marketing in particular has replaced many of the functions that some of the larger direct mailings used to do, with added brilliance.  Through correctly executed email marketing campaigns you can see return rates, click rates, create a ‘warm’ sales database, cleanse a huge list of contact emails.

An unfortunate consequence of the rise and rise of email/digital has been to create a certain amount of ‘white noise’.  Remember when your post box was full of direct mail, some of it unsolicited and it all used to get filed…in the ‘special’ draw (ie. bin) without being read.  It is already the same for many emails/tweets/updates.  White noise filed away in the recycle bin without even being opened.

It is these factors that have opened up the 88 miles an hour required for the direct mail DeLorean to come screeching back into the future.

Well crafted, developed direct mail has always played an important role in acquisition or retention strategies, and thanks to digital marketing, its part is now becoming ever more crucial.  Well developed direct mail can have a disruptive effect, essentially breaking the ‘white noise’ created by all manner of other techniques.  After all some marketing lessons remain constant whatever the techniques employed, getting your message seen being THE most crucial step.

Getting through the gatekeeper is the big challenge for many businesses, and it is increasingly a niche that direct mail can fill.  After all, when did you last receive and email?  Minutes ago, seconds ago?  Do you remember what it was?  When was the last time you received a hand-written letter?  Or even a package?  If you’d sent that last sales email in a box in the post (with a nicely developed message) do you think it would at least have been read (rather than auto filed into the recycle bin)?  Probably!!
Obviously once you’ve got your message seen, you need to be able to create all those other psychological factors associated with any great selling tool, as well as representing your brand in the best way.  And it is these factors that distinguish great disruptive direct mail from the average leaflet.

Some ‘flashy’ talkers will talk about distruptive marketing, acquisition and retention strategies being driven by a direct mail piece.  But any direct mail piece must be crafted from a position of understanding, about what you are trying to achieve and where its place is within your branding and overall strategic plan.

Allied to the digital media that are now available to direct marketers, it turns as direct mail piece into a central pillar in any acquisition or retention campaign.  Measurement, click-throughs and most importantly ROI (return on investment) become even easier to track through the use of emails, microsites and links.  Instant sales returns are no longer dependant on timing your follow up sales calls correctly.  The new kid on the block has turned the 1985 hero into a legend in 2013, and it is why the call to go Back to the Future are rising.

But, the most thrilling thing is that according to the Back to the Future franchise we are now only 2 years away from hoverboards.  Now that is exciting!!!

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Simon Brooke is a Director at Happy Creative, a strategic marketing and creative branding agency based in Blackpool, Lancashire. To learn more or contact us please go to www.happy-creative.co.uk or @Happy_Creative