On September 11, I was honored to present in a “Discussion Lab” at the Canada Post Marketing Summit, “Think Inside the Box.” My discussion topic was “The Creative Compound, Creative Elements to Electrify Your Direct Mail.” I brought to the table ideas of using direct mail with QR codes, augmented reality, near-field communications chips and Google Glass. I figured the audience had heard of all of these technology solutions and was already experimenting with them. You know what you say about what happens when you assume…

By no means do I mean to deride any of the attendees’ efforts or portray them as behind the times, but more so, I aim to reinforce the point that for an average size business, there can be a hesitation to adopt some of the flashier technologies, or to know how to do so effectively once you’re ready. Perhaps there is a slight adoption lag between the US and Canada, but I’d wager to say that mailing tendencies between the two countries have more in common than different. Here are some of the more interesting observations from my session:

QR Codes and Adoption

Much of my presentation revolved around QR codes, as they have been around the longest of the direct mail technology I covered, and I guessed that the audience had used them in past campaigns. Many of the audience members were still hesitant to use QR codes, from concerns that the QR codes had not really caught steam in Canada yet, that worries about end-users and smartphone data usage, and that people were producing fraudulent QR codes, mailing them, and when users went to redeem them, they weren’t legit. Some concerns were a little far-fetched, but overall, marketers still weren’t quite sure the best ways to use QR. According to the eMarketer’s research, overall QR code use across countries is only hovering in the 15-20% range.

So what can be done for QR codes? The main discussion points revolved around personalization in QR codes and making sure the offer fits the device. Another best practicediscussed was using variable-data printing to make individual QR codes with PURL landing pages or unique offer codes. Mobile-friendly websites are crucial in using QR codes, and the lack of a native QR scanner with most smartphones is a hurdle to overcome. Most importantly, there was an overwhelming sentiment that if this technology isn’t adopted properly, it will fail.

Near-Field Communication (NFC), Augmented Reality and Direct Mail

Based on the initial conversations with the group surrounding QR codes, it wasn’t overwhelmingly surprising that very few to none of the marketers had yet adopted NFC chips (for instant recognition of a microchip by a smartphone) or augmented reality in their mailings. One audience member had experienced using an augmented reality application with his IKEA catalog.

Most all of the marketers in the room saw the potential for NFC, and augmented reality, but none had any plans in the works to implement these tools yet. A good example shared was using augmented reality with a hardware catalog, in postcard pieces, in catalogs, and adding a video component to emails.The potential of Google’s Glass product has far-reaching implications with mail, and pretty much with any advertisement that the user can interact with using Glass. This and wearable technologies like Smartwatches make the use of NFC chips more plausible for the widespread market.

Overall Impression of the Direction of Direct Mail Technology

This session on Creative Direct Mail was one of the most popular of all of the breakout sessions, and there wasn’t a free seat in the room. However, when it came time to talk about ways that technology is actually being used, there weren’t many examples to be had. It seemed as if marketers know they have to develop innovative ways to use technology, but are still unsure how to do so. This reminds me of the rush to get involved in social media as an imperative from 2-3 years ago. Marketers WANT to be using these new channels and methods, but need guidance and assistance in doing so.

So my overall takeaway is this – Traditional direct marketing is still alive and well, and is bringing in great results. The attendees clearly felt more comfortable with traditional, tried and true methodology. It is extremely important to note, though, that your consumers are already using emerging technologies, whether marketers choose to relate to them on these avenues or not. The time is now to start considering how to relate to customers on their smartphones. These devices aren’t going away, and other wearable technologies (Google Glass and Smartwatches) are gaining steam by the day. Smart marketers will continue to rely on what works in direct mail, but need to slowly integrate these new technologies to reach a generation that grew up using them as part of their daily routine.