The role of Big Data in printed direct mail

Why GDPR may be a blessing in disguise for marketers

Philippe Baecke presenting at Future Promotion Forum 2017

GDPR's hidden benefits

For practitioners of data analytics the world changed on 25th May 2018, when the EU implemented the General Data Protection Regulation. With GDPR impacting the way consumers’ personal data is collected, managed and used across multiple sectors, CIOs and CMOs were understandably concerned that the regulation might weaken their ability to address customers with personalised messages.

Their trepidation was not unfounded. Research by Accenture in 2018 has revealed that 91% of people are more likely to shop with brands that recognise them, remember them, and give them relevant offers. So it’s no surprise that 42% of marketers regard personalisation as their top priority, enthused by the fact it can cause revenues to rise by up to 10%1.

As it turns out, GDPR did impact data analytics, but not in the way some feared. Instead of scattering customer information across various databases, the new regulations have actually encouraged companies to take a more organised approach to data management. The result is that companies that are GDPR compliant now have what we call a ‘single customer view’, with customer data gathered by their CRM systems held in one place.

Equally importantly, GDPR is also changing consumer attitudes towards their personal data. The email bombardment that preceded 25th May, in which companies asked for consent to stay in touch, had two effects. It made consumers think about which companies they really wanted to hear from, and reminded them just how valuable their personal data is to marketers.

(1) - Accenture, Personalization Pulse Check, 2018

Creativity alone used to be the key driver in shaping marketing communications, but today it must be married to valuable data on customer behaviour

Turning insight into action

These new circumstances mean businesses now have to do two things: look after their customer data, because the legal repercussions for corporate mishandling can be severe; and consistently deliver relevant content tailored to individual profiles. Customers may have chosen to receive your marketing communications, but unsubscribing is always just one click away!

In this environment, we can divide businesses into those that have ‘high data maturity’ and those with ‘low data maturity’. The distinction is not based on how much customer data their CRM systems have gathered, or how deep they ‘mine’ it, but on how effectively they turn insights into actions, using the data to refine campaign messages and create engaging personalised content.

Note that word ‘create’ in the preceding sentence. Creativity alone used to be the key driver in shaping marketing communications, but today it must be married to valuable data on customer behaviour. Data provides customer insights that are an input for creative, relevant and hyper-personalised propositions, targeted in a data-driven way to the right customer through the right touchpoints.

A business with high digital maturity also recognises that these propositions should not be confined to one channel, but created for an omni-channel world. This is where print comes in, and in particular the concept of programmatic print.

Elemental direct mail on desk

Applying a digital mindset to a print medium

Programmatic print is an extension of the programmatic marketing approach now popular with brand owners, in which insights about customers are used to tailor a specific message or creative approach to the right person, at the right time, and in the right context. This greater precision and personalisation results in more effective digital campaigns.

This concept enables digital and direct mail to work seamlessly together, combining online and physical channels. It means that a customer’s behaviour at a particular touchpoint triggers a targeted piece of direct mail instead of the usual email, video or pop-up. For maximum impact, the mail has to reach the consumer within 48 hours — or ideally, 24 — which is where programmatic print comes in.

Programmatic print applies the algorithmic innovations that are transforming digital marketing to create, print and distribute personalised, printed marketing communications, virtually in real time. Sophisticated automated workflows generate print files using accurate-to-the-second variable data, before routing them to automated digital production presses.

But what does this mean for marketers? It means that everything that can be personalised online can be replicated in print. Research shows that print appeals to people on a deeper emotional level than digital media, which in turn stimulates memory and, importantly for brands, strengthens “intent to purchase”. So why not capitalise on print’s power to engage and boost direct marketing campaigns?

Three colleagues looking at data, a woman touching a touch screen display

The opportunities ahead

By centralising data, GDPR made it easier to use it across multiple channels, including print.

With 24-hour delivery of targeted, high-quality direct mail, programmatic print proves that data-driven campaigns that combine the best of the digital and print can make a big impact on consumers.

Using digital printing solutions, marketers can add all-important emotional appeal to their proposition, knowing that customers value physical communication just as much as online interaction. But successful implementation of data-driven campaigns hinges on a brand’s ability to successfully collect and handle consumer data in a responsible manner.

And while the opportunities ahead are exciting, they may be daunting for some companies. My advice is “Think Big, Start Small”. Create a dedicated team to work on a limited number of projects, to prove the value of data-driven processes. And don’t be afraid of data — it’s your friend!

Written by Philippe Baecke
Associate Professor of Marketing, Vlerick Business School (Ghent) and Trinity Business School (Dublin)

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