First and foremost, let’s get one thing clear: Direct mail is far from dead as an effective tool for campaigns. In fact, there’s increasing evidence that it’s more alive than ever.
Political mail revenue for 2018, according to the United States Postal Service (USPS), was a staggering $563 million. The mailbox of the average U.S. registered voter was hit with some 24 pieces from campaigns last midterm cycle. That’s a total of 2.7 billion pieces.
A wise man once told me that the golden rule of political advertising boiled down to this:
“You know that thing we’re doing that’s working? Yeah, do more of that.” That’s right, folks, direct mail is working and that’s why we’re all doing more of it.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not changing and evolving.
Advances in and accessibility of micro-targeted data and the advent of text messaging in campaigns present exciting new opportunities for direct mail consultants to marry traditional direct mail with new tactics and technologies to more effectively message voters.
In New Jersey this past cycle, we effectively synchronized micro-targeting of niche audiences, matched those audiences to cell phones, and then bracketed the delivery of mail pieces and candidate meet ups with text messages.
In doing so, we were able to drill down on very small groups with issues they cared about virtually under the radar in a low turnout election, while our Democratic opponents were bombarding us with negative broadcast and cable television.
An encouraging development throughout this process was hearing how much higher the direct mail recall was after the text contact has been successfully made, which is ultimately the goal of any kind of voter contact.
Additionally, emerging technologies are helping consultants better plan and manage mail programs. Chief among them is tracking. As anyone who does mail knows, the No.1 complaint mail consultants get every cycle is, “When is my mail going to hit?”
While far from perfect, USPS is starting to take steps in the right direction with better promotion of existing tools, like its Informed Delivery program.
Currently, only about 13 million people have already signed up to participate in the free program, but those people are now able to digitally preview their mail through email notification, online dashboard or mobile app. In short, it’s a way for voters to see a single piece of mail on their email in the morning, and then in their mailbox later.
Another advance that direct mailers are getting is through augmented reality (AR). Like a QR code, an AR code on a mailer can invite, say, the recipient to view a speech that the candidate gave by using their phone to scan the mail piece.
While AR technology is several years old, it’s potential for use in campaigns hasn’t even scratched the surface.
With smartphones and tablets literally within arms-reach of their owner at almost all times, AR can bring candidates and campaign messages to life through direct mail, while also driving a likely earned media hit for use of “new” technology.
Chris Russell is the co-founder of Checkmate Strategies, a GOP direct mail firm