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June 27, 2016

What Is Automated Direct Mail—and How Can It Help You?

Imagine a world in which paper mail is as easy to send at scale as email. Instead of managing back and forth communication with printers, dealing with complicated techniques to personalize content, making guesses on layout decisions, manually tracking deliveries, and overpaying on printing, you could simplify your workflows to a few pre-defined processes and automations.

Until recently, this vision was a distant dream. Technology was either too expensive or required internal development resources to perfect. Given the complexities of developing this type of system, risks were too high: if you’re sending millions of HIPAA compliant communications or postcards to verify your database’s addresses, you can’t afford to let any details fall through the cracks.

Hence, automated direct mail. From use cases as diverse as marketing to HR and operations, Lob is creating technologies that make it easy for companies to send postcards, letters, and checks at scale. The idea is to streamline processes using an Application Programming Interface (API), which is a set of programming routines and protocols that make it easier for software applications to process and exchange data. Engineering terms aside, the core idea is simple: you can use tech to automate all the messy logistics and challenges associated with sending direct mail.

It’s unavoidable: when you are sending mail to upwards of hundreds of thousands of people every month, there are many contingencies, redundant processes, and opportunities for human error. Here’s what physical mail processes look like at many companies, along with the risks, uncertainties, and contingencies that they introduce.

The Old Way

  • Too much room for error. Let’s say that you’re part of a large telecommunications company that sends direct mail to millions of customers. You may have invested in segmentation and personalization, building triggers and workflows to reach your audiences with the right messaging. Assume you don’t have automated direct mail. You’re consequently managing this process through vendor and printer relationships. How do you ensure that the right teams are handling your mailings? And how confident are you that your mailings are error-free? Without the right technology, your best answer is to conduct a thorough due diligence process that would likely take your company years.
  • Redundant processes. Many companies manage mailings manually and will rely on spreadsheets to share information across teams. But spreadsheets are not designed to handle data in transit. One potential challenge involves document versioning. Let’s say that you’re sharing a spreadsheet across teams, and someone edits it. How can you make sure that you’re dealing with the right file version? The truth is, you can’t. To verify accuracy and ensure smooth operations, you need to put in a lot of work. And details are likely slipping through the cracks too.
  • No room for optimization. Let’s say that you’re on the marketing team of an e-commerce brand, and you’re thinking of using direct mail to promote a new product. Think about the checklist you’ll need to get up and running. You’ll likely spend the bulk of your time on logistics. As a result, you won’t have time to do what your marketing mind does best–analyze and optimize.
  • Inefficient resource allocation. Printers’ pricing models typically follow a standard rate card. But automated direct mail can help ensure that you are only purchasing supplies and postage that you need. Using technology, you can communicate up to date information about your mailings in real-time so that your costs adapt to your constraints.

The New Way

Happily, APIs tackle the challenges listed above and more. Instead of transmitting information manually using spreadsheets, you can make sure that systems are regularly talking to each other using simple lines of code. After establishing your company’s goals, you can develop strategic workflows to save your company time. Here are some examples.

  • Instead of sending CSV files with information about your recipients, store your information in databases that connect to automation systems. Manage your direct mail from a centralized digital command center.
  • Rather than managing communication with fellow teams over email, transmit data programmatically. Free up your inboxes.
  • Instead of copying and pasting records between systems, create integrations so that your software operates as an ecosystem. Rest assured that your tools are talking to one another.
  • Customize your content with very little effort. Use dynamic content to personalize your mailings and increase response rates. Automate this entire process so that it requires zero effort on your part.
  • Create-trigger based mailings so that you can print and send mail to individuals based on events or actions with a few lines of code.
  • Measure and optimize the outcomes of your mailings. A/B test layouts and messaging on a consistent basis. Monitor your mail as it makes its way to your destination.
  • Optimize processes. Print jobs often require a lot of management, hands on effort, and logistical communications back and forth with printers. Lob’s API makes sending direct mail effortless.

You can spend less time chasing loose ends and managing logistics and more time analyzing results and improving the results of your outreach.

First Steps to Take

Companies tend to have a few options when it comes to managing direct mail programmatically. Some choose to ultimately build their own technologies in-house. If you’re looking to create your own technology, be sure to treat carefully: the decision to build a direct mail API from the ground-up is a significant investment that requires continuous R&D. That’s why many companies chose to use Lob’s API. You have an entire team building an API for you, and you only pay for what you consume.

When choosing your partner make sure to find a team that understands your unique constraints of your business and always invests in constant improvement.  See whether Lob is the right fit for you.

Automating Direct Mail

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