Direct mail meets Web 2.0

Hearing a lot these days about Web 2.0? Wondering what the implications are for direct marketing and direct mail?

Let’s start with Web 1.0. That was the era, not so long ago, in which you created a “web presence” simply by putting your company brochure online. Perhaps you added basic e-commerce and an email contact feature to your site, and developed or rented email lists. The offers you sent out via email or the postal service were pretty much the same as always, just adding your web address for those pioneering customers who wanted to make a purchase online instead of calling or placing a mail order.

Then came Web 1.5 — the space most commercial websites exist in today. Web 1.5 companies have added bells and whistles to their websites. Metadata and keywords are employed to push a site to the top of Internet searches, and tracking has been added to most sites. Customers are asked to accept “cookies” so they can be recognized on future visits, and their preferences are used to generate customized shopping experiences (wish lists, recommendations). Online purchasing is streamlined and more and more consumers are comfortable with using it. Customers are given the opportunity to “opt-in” to receive email from certain companies, or certain types of companies. (You’ll hear this called “permission marketing,” or what the recent “Invisible Marketing” white paper from Marqui calls “marketing the known to the known.”)

Just as direct marketing is getting very savvy about Web 1.5, Web. 2.0 has appeared on the horizon, and it’s coming at us fast. Searching is at the the core of Web 2.0, but it’s taking consumers well beyond passively searching for content (your marketing message, your website) to actively creating and sharing it. Meet your new marketing staff, and take a look at their powerful tools: Online consumers use blogs and photo- and video-sharing sites, and increasingly they are using them to respond to your message, amplify your message — and even to attack your message. In the online world, the consumers’ voices are loud, and their customized interpretation of your marketing message can move extremely rapidly.

It’s not to soon to begin shaping your direct marketing and direct mail strategies to harness the power and the potential of Web 2.0 — and to avoid the pitfalls. The Marqui white paper has some thought-provoking examples of how companies such as General Motors are stepping up to the challenges. Another excellent resource is the analysis “What Does Web 2.0 Mean for Your Business.”

Over the next few days we’ll be examining some approaches to direct mail marketing in the Web 2.0 environment.

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