Mike Porter, President, Print/Mail Consultants
A lot of the direct marketing pieces that are generated today seem to be stuck in time. Even though sophisticated software, printing technology, and data is now more available than ever, many marketers continue to rely upon decades-old methods to crank out the mail. At the same time, communication experiences from web and mobile platforms have introduced customers to a new level of familiarity, relevance, and immediacy. If direct mail is to remain effective it must begin to exhibit similar characteristics.
Creating mail pieces that are personal, relevant, and are delivered as part of a multi-channel marketing strategy to the right audience can result in greater response rates and more revenue per customer than “spray and pray” could ever achieve. Additionally, using information about past transactions and customer preferences to craft appropriate offers (and suppress the irrelevant ones) can build customer loyalty.
The ultimate objective of personalized customer communications is to treat each outbound document as if it were a portion of a conversation. When we talk with each other – whether we speak, text, tweet, or email – we accept the response from the other party and use this information as we formulate our next message. 
In communications with customers conducted through normal direct mail however, we generally don’t do those things!

The Typical Direct Marketing Strategy
Some marketing material creators behave as if they are hearing impaired. They may respond to what the crowd is loudly roaring, but they do not hear the soft murmurs from individuals. For the most part, communications that are “targeted to the individual customer” are segmented mailings at best. They may feature the customer’s name or other bits of data, but they don’t really utilize customer-supplied information or specific experiences to influence the offer, the copy, or the presentation.
Most of those mail jobs are split according to demographic, psychographic, or geographic groups. Identifying group characteristics in the data is a vital aspect of personalized direct mail, to be sure. But it is only one step towards truly personalized communication.
There seem to be very few applications today that actually use specific customer feedback to affect subsequent messages. We seem to start from scratch every time, never looking at a customer’s historical behavior patterns or preferences. 
It requires extra effort to collect individual customer information and then put it to use. The skill sets required to accomplish these things are radically different from traditional print services occupations. And the depth of the print provider’s relationship with their customers must change from a commodity vendor to a consultative business partner. These are all challenges faced by print services providers today.
Those that find ways to create more personal and effective direct mail will be successful. Those that cannot make that transition may find it tough going.
Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. He welcomes your comments. Visit www.printmailconsultants.com or email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com