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Changes in Direct Mail

The Internet and the mailing industry

By James R. Rosenfield

The Internet changes everything. That's been the buzz for a few years now, and you know what? I'm starting to believe it. That doesn't mean it's changing everything for the better, of course. Powerful new technologies crash through the world like an out-of-control lawn mower. The grass gets cut, but watch out for the flowers! It's the iron law of unintended consequences.

E-mail is irresistibly seductive. It puts us in touch, but also keeps us apart. Why phone when you can e-mail? However, I recently had a conversation with a guy I've only dealt with previously via e-mail, and we concluded long-protracted negotiations in just minutes instead of the continuous responses e-mail initiates.

On the other hand, I discovered while voting in the March California primary a writer I knew 30 years ago was running for president as a minor party candidate. I found the party's Web site, got to his page, clicked on his e-mail and was instantly in touch with someone who seconds before had been separated by a near infinitude of time and space.

How will the Internet change media? It seems clear that the Internet will be the most significant direct marketing medium ever. As a result, it's not unusual these days to hear people predicting direct mail's imminent demise. These predictions are based on a common fallacy that new technologies make old technologies obsolete. That's seldom true. What really happens is that a new technology will change the role of an old technology.

When television first came about, for example, folks predicted that movies and radio would die off. In reality, television became a prime distribution mode for movies, and there are new theaters springing up all the time. (The disappearance of drive-ins has more to do with the sexual revolution than with technology). And when was the last time you saw a newsreel in a movie theater?

Radio is bigger than ever, but it has changed into an interactive call-in medium, facilitated by the ubiquity of cell phones in cars. Apropos of that, Marshall McLuhan made the observation that when a new technology interpenetrates an old technology, important things happen. The Internet is already interpenetrating other media. What are the implications for direct mail?

Will the Internet Shrink Direct Mail Quantities?
The great copywriter Chris Stagg used to say that direct mail was a small medium. But that changed in the 1990s. Last decade, direct mail turned into a mass medium, with the vast, hugely competitive credit card and telecommunications industries leading the way. This, of course, was absolutely contrary to the predictions I (as well as my fellow prophets) made in the 1980s when we all figured that database marketing would shrink the quantity of the mail channel by giving marketers a laser-like precision. Au contraire! With companies such as Citibank, First USA and AT&T leading the way, it's been a game of enormous numbers for the past few years.

It's my feeling that the Internet will bring us back to the direct mail of the 1960s and 1970s, when it was a non-mass medium. ·

Will this put direct mail companies out of work? It will if you define yourself as a "direct mailer." If, on the other hand, you define yourself as a "direct marketer," you should be okay. The Internet, more than anything before, absolutely clarifies the frustratingly confused differences between both direct mail and direct marketing and between direct marketing and mail order. The Direct Marketing Association did not help to clarify the issue when one of the leaders a few years back defined direct marketing as shopping in the home. That's mail order, a distribution channel, not direct marketing, a methodology that exists independent of any specific channel or medium.

Will the Internet Shrink Direct Mail Packages?
When direct mail was a non-mass medium, packages were elaborate such as long letters, multi-panel brochures, etc. Production costs on a unit basis were a significant part of the budget.

Proportions changed in the 1990s, as direct mail became a mass medium. Packages became leaner, thinner, cheaper and production costs declined on a unit basis (aided by greater economies of scale). Production elegance was traded off for frequency and reach, qualities a mass medium has to have. These two approaches have been mutually exclusive in the past, save for the efforts of stubbornly naive direct mailers such as the automobile industry. It's been either non-mass/expensive packages (most appropriate for customer mailings) or mass/non-expensive packages (most appropriate for acquisition mailings, at least in mass industries). The Internet resolves this conflict. And the resolution is firmly in favor of the marketer, rather than the vendor or agency. With the Internet, you can chop direct mail down to maximum efficiency because all mailings will be cheap mailings.

Why? Because the purpose of direct mail will be to drive people to Web sites. I suspect this will be the only purpose of direct mail, with only a few exceptions, when broadband and non-computer Internet access become universal.

If the detail on offers, information and response mechanisms are housed on the Web site, all direct mail becomes two-step and follows the basic principles of lead-generating programs. Keep it cheap and sell the offer. By cheap, I mean a much larger proportion of self-mailers than we have at present and a greatly increased number of simple cards.

And these mailings, I believe, will be acquisition mailings. Customer communications will end up primarily done by e-mail, which of course is much cheaper than direct mail. Customer communications direct mail will be used to deliver physical "love letters," for example, like the coffee mugs sends its customers. Direct mail can also be used to communicate with customers who haven't given you their e-mail addresses.

This acquisition scenario is completely opposite of the predictions we made a few years ago - direct mail would end up primarily as a customer communications medium. Go figure.

The Internet and Direct Mail Design
What about the appearance of direct mail? Should letters begin looking like e-mail? Should graphics echo computer graphics? Right now, I'd proceed cautiously on this, unless you're addressing a high-tech marketplace. And even then I'd be careful. Perhaps at some point a direct mail letter will start "Hi, Mr. Rosenfield," and look like
e-mail, but not yet.

Contrary to popular belief (promulgated mostly by ad agencies), it's very difficult to translate the same messages across different media. "The medium is the message," to quote McLuhan again. Try including stills from your television commercial in a direct mail package. You'll probably suppress response and almost certainly will not increase it. Why? Television is a left-hemisphere medium, direct mail is right-hemisphere.

I suspect Internet imagery can be more successfully translated into direct mail than television, since the Internet, like direct mail, is left-hemisphere, tactile and interactive. But, again proceed cautiously. Pay attention to the mail you get. You're likely to start seeing some fundamental changes fairly soon.

James R. Rosenfield is in charge of the direct-marketing training and consulting for MasterCard International and he has authored the book, Financial Services Direct Marketing. He also serves on the Editorial Review Board of Northwestern University's Journal of Interactive Marketing. For more information, contact Rosenfield & Associates, 5355 Mira Sorrento Place, San Diego, California 92121 or e-mail

Answer the Phone: Your Identity is on the Line

Beverly Hills, CA -- (ArriveNet - May 06, 2005) -- There hasn't been much good news in the battle against identity theft lately, with fraudsters staying one step ahead of the game. But don't panic, our old friend the telephone has come to the rescue.

We're all aware of the problem of identity theft, but did you know that your local pizza chain has had a solution for years? You recognize it as the system that prevents little Johnny from having twenty pizzas delivered to your door at midnight: the pizza chain calls you immediately after the order is placed to verify the validity of the order. Because little Johnny is afraid to be caught, he'll think twice about causing this pizza-related havoc.

TeleSign's patent-pending verification system has transferred this pizza concept to the high-tech world. It works like this: after filling out a form on a website, the user is prompted to enter his phone number. A robotic system then places a call to that number and speaks aloud a unique three digit code. Once that code is entered into the website, the authentication is complete. This system can be implemented at any point on a website: at registration, purchase, a specific time interval, or at the request of a user.

Email verification is the current standard for user authentication, but email may end up filtered, junked, bulked, or trashed. Because of spam, viruses, and phishing, email filtering has become so aggressive that even legitimate emails don't reach the inbox. But a telephone call cannot be stopped, making this the perfect time for the introduction of TeleSign’s solution.

The future of ecommerce is threatened by rampant fraud and lack of trust. TeleSign will force anonymous users to expose their faces by revealing their working phone numbers.

To try an interactive demo, visit ( and have your phone ready.

For more information about TeleSign’s products and services, visit ( or email

About TeleSign Corp.
TeleSign is a leader in innovative internet security solutions and provider of intelligent telephone-based verification solutions for any entity conducting business online where trust is essential and where fraud is a concern. TeleSign’s patent-pending Verification System provides a critical layer of security for the e-commerce world and is a proven deterrent against ill-intentioned web users. The company’s first product, the TeleSign Verification System, blends the latest internet, security and telephony technologies into a powerful new tool to combat fraud and enhance trust in e-business.

TeleSign Corp. seeks to provide simplified solutions for any company conducting business online where trust is essential and where fraud is a concern. TeleSign’s patent-pending Verification System provides a critical layer of security for the e-commerce world and is a proven deterrent against ill-intentioned web users. TeleSign’s Verification System is able to legitimize a web user’s claimed identification at a miniscule cost and with little inconvenience to all parties involved.

TeleSign’s Verification System is based upon the premise that ill-intentioned web users hesitate to disclose their working phone numbers. By placing a computer-generated telephone call coupled with a unique security code, we insist that a web user provide a legitimate telephone number or be rooted out. The company’s first product, the TeleSign Verification System, blends the latest internet, security and telephony technologies into a powerful new tool to combat fraud in e-commerce.

Visit or call 310-276-5900 for more information.

TeleSign Corporation
Contact: Sam Gonen
Telephone: (310) 276-7843


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