The digital revolution means that we're seeing a massive shift towards short term thinking in marketing. Instead of evaluations taking place over a year or more, which used to be the norm, people are increasingly looking back over weeks, days, perhaps even minutes.

That is extremely damaging to effectiveness. We know (particularly when it comes to real-time evaluation) that it is leading brands to produce campaigns that maximise short-term effects. This, in turn, completely negates long-term success.

What actually drives growth in the long-term is sustained commitment behind some kind of emotional association or message - or something that gets brands talked about. These are, in the vast majority of cases, not to do with timely offers or indeed new product functionality, but emotional platforms. And that is what will be sacrificed in the future

- really powerful long-term branding.

The power of mail

We know from research that good mail pieces live in the home for a long period of time. The nature of the message delivered, I would argue, has to be at least in part brand driven. It should engage. These words are commonly used, but to really engage and enthuse the consumer with the brand and give them something they actually want to hold on to is so important.

This brings me to another aspect that is often overlooked in direct mail, which is the play value - the physical, tactile nature of a mail piece.

Perhaps it's a three-dimensional mailer, perhaps it just has some fun built into it, but whatever it is, it means that your direct mail becomes more than just an information piece.

There are individual case studies of where this has been done very well. EE produced a great example of effective direct mail - it involved a piece of cloth with a printed message on it, the idea being that when you're with EE you make so much use of your phone and need to be able to clean the screen. Or Compare the Market, which has those collectable meerkat toys. It's about playfulness, they warm us to the brand and make us feel they are on our side.

"These more playful, engaging mail pieces often end up being dramatically more effective."

It goes to show that if you invest in production values, you have the ability to transform campaigns. Yes, it costs more. Most companies that use direct mail are driven by value per delivery run. But what they may have forgotten is that if you just drive down the cost you also drive down the value.

These more playful, engaging mail pieces, the ones that took time and money and creative juice to develop, often end up being dramatically more effective.

Learning lessons from other channels

One of the biggest challenges that digital marketing faces is ad blocking. I personally think it's been a very healthy development for the industry. I think that ad blocking may ultimately revolutionise the way people use online services.

"Good mail pieces live in the home for a long period of time. The nature of that message, therefore, has to be in part brand driven."

Too many brands are obsessed with in-your-face sales messages, which are of course very short-term and widely disliked. If you are going to intrude on someone's private grounds, you'd better earn the right to do so. And the way brands will earn that right is by developing advertising that is in some way rewarding and engaging. That's the big lesson that's being overlooked.

Agencies will do well if they learn directly from the TV industry, the lesson being to encourage the production of more entertaining advertising. I think this is what brands need to, and will, start to revisit. You've got to engage your consumers if you want to be effective. It's so obvious. Nobody watches TV breaks that are exclusively full of irritating ads. We learnt that many years ago and the message is going to undoubtedly re-emerge.

The future of advertising will be more creative; more engaging. We know this works. This is not some kind of vanity call, it's about commercial good sense. You engage consumers, you entertain consumers, you sell to consumers and you keep them locked in to your brand.

If we can do this, if we can engage and enthuse our potential customers, all kinds of communication - from digital to mail - will have an incredibly bright future in the marketing world.

"Something that is often overlooked in direct mail is the play value - the physical, tactile nature of a mail piece."

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Peter Field
Author & Marketing Consultant