Charles Darwin understood marketing. When he first published “On the Origin of Species,” Darwin used the phrase “natural selection” to summarize his new theory of evolution.

That wasn’t much of a tagline. So when an economist suggested the phrase “survival of the fittest” instead, Darwin was all over it. He said the new phrase better captured how evolution actually played out in “an immediate, local environment.”

At PebblePost, we feel the same way about how Programmatic Direct Mail® plays out in an immediate, local environment —  the home. And instead of “survival of the fittest,” we call it “surviving the sort.” It will be the key to marketing success this holiday season.

The Evolution of Direct Mail

“Surviving the sort,” like “Survival of the fittest,” expresses a truth people understand instinctively even if they’ve never put it into words. I realized this when I was a panelist at the 2019 National Postal Forum in Indianapolis. I said that the goal of every direct mailer should be to Survive The Sort™ and make it into “The Short Stack.” I then explained how we employ precision targeting to accomplish that, using real-time intent signals to ensure that our collateral is relevant to the consumer. That has pushed Programmatic Direct Mail to a level of effectiveness beyond anything the industry has previously known. Basically, the more relevant a piece of marketing collateral is to the consumer, the more likely that consumer is to add it to their short stack. 

A woman raised her hand. “Can you repeat those phrases?” she said.

That’s when I knew I was really onto something. Here I was, in a room full of people who had spent their entire careers in the direct mail industry, and apparently, no one had ever established a ‘persona’ scenario in which they imagined the perspective of the person receiving a piece of mail in the home, and the actions they take. 

But that experience is the bedrock on which the success of direct mail is built — and it’s universal. Everyone must sort their mail. You can’t just discard it. Well, you could — but you would risk going to jail by missing that notification from the IRS, or losing out on a financial windfall by tossing an unexpected check. And the only way to tell which mail is worth keeping and which mail can be safely thrown away is to sort it.

Nothing of the Sort

More than anything else, ‘surviving the sort’ is what differentiates marketing collateral delivered as physical mail from digital ads. Physical mail is presented in a situation where the recipient is predisposed to pay attention to it and perhaps take the action the marketer wants.

Digital ads are presented in an environment that is the diametric opposite. You receive them only when you’re online at places that are not about that product or service. If you’re targeted with an ad for socks while reading an important news story, what are the odds that you will actually leave the news site to go buy those socks? 

Not only are you not in a situation where you’re predisposed to take the action required, but the ad itself is disrupting your experience as a consumer. The marketer has no chance to survive the sort in that case because there is no sort. You’re there to read the news, period.

Hitting Home

With COVID-19 keeping so many shoppers home this holiday season, that distinction will matter more than ever. Yes, digital ads will still play a role, especially with Remind Me Rhondas.

But physical mail could be more effective than ever before. For one thing, people are always more aware of their mail at this time of year because they get more mail at this time of year, in the form of holiday cards. Those cards will carry special resonance in a time of social distancing. (At least the personal cards will resonate more; you might still give the perfunctory card from your local bank a quick look before tossing it.) Cards from close friends and relatives will go in the short stack for you to display. It might be the closest you’ll come to a family gathering this year.

Holiday marketing collateral will get the same treatment. Traditional direct mail blasted to an entire ZIP code might still go in the recycle bin (where it will join that mass-mailed holiday card from the bank). If it’s not relevant to the consumer, no amount of bright colors, oversized envelopes, or other visual gimmicks will change that. 

But Programmatic Direct Mail that speaks directly to the consumer’s needs will hit home with greater impact than ever. During a holiday held in the shadow of a pandemic, anything that allows the consumer to reach a gift-buying decision with maximum efficiency and minimal exposure (more decisions at home = fewer decisions at the store) will be a welcome addition to the short stack. And a process that empowers you to act on those decisions how, when, and where you want — as opposed to digital, where the only option is to click-to-buy right now, even if you’re not ready — will provide much-needed peace of mind. 

Season’s Greetings

I’ll sign off this series of posts by wishing you and yours the best in this challenging holiday. And here’s hoping we all survive the sort in 2021.

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