Big Data for Small Businesses

Big data isn’t just for big companies. Small businesses can also harness it to their advantage. Mining the right data is important to businesses of every size—because it can help you connect with customers in more meaningful ways.

What exactly is big data?

Every moment, mountains of data are being created through customer transactions, social media interactions, texts, emails, photos, and a multitude of other connected sources. This is considered “big data.”

Big data isn’t a fad, it’s here to stay. In fact, it will get even more precise, personalized and predictive in the future. It’s the raw material that can be turned into insights to pave the way for more personalized, customized one-to-one relationships with prospects and customers— across demographics and mobile devices. According to a study by Experian Data Quality, “93% of companies think using some form of data is essential to marketing success.”1

“…small businesses shouldn’t be hesitant to use big data. It’s accessible and can help deliver the impact needed to drive growth.”

Analytics can be a game changer for small businesses.

Big data digs down past surface demographics to uncover more detailed and personal information than was available in the past. This information holds valuable insights that small business marketers can use to obtain a clearer picture of who their customers really are. When you know who your customers are, you can reach them on a deeper level to better meet their needs.

Direct mail and big data: better together

Thanks to big data, today’s direct mail is able to deliver targeted offers based not just on geography, but on more in-depth information like interests, recent online and offline shopping behavior, and product usage. These offers can be so precise that they feel truly personal.

The personal insights revealed by big data analytics play an important role in delivering greater impact and a stronger call to action—which can ultimately help increase conversion rates. For current or past customers, the message might focus on purchasing trends as a means to making recommendations for future product purchases, e.g., “If you liked that, you’re really going to want this.” In turn, the message that is used to attract new customers can be more directly tailored to their specific tastes and purchasing habits.

Staying on target

Precisely targeted mailings using big data help marketers get their messages to the right people, at the right time, with the most relevant content. Targeting helps create one-to-one relationships, now considered the “holy grail” of marketing success. For example, a postcard with a customer’s name, customized offer or nearby service location helps to build an individual relationship with that customer.

Here’s how big data is impacting the marketing world:

article_big-data_01“Big data and predictive analytics can produce great results for direct mail. In certain situations, we found a 100 percent improvement over random targeting and a 10 to 20 percent improvement over sophisticated targeting.”2

article_big-data_0262 percent of respondents to the CMO Council’s fourth annual “State of Marketing Report” claim they plan to focus on analyzing customer data to improve segmentation and targeting.”3

Goal-oriented data collection practices

Gathering the right type of data is a key step for small businesses just starting out with direct mail. Taking the time to analyze this information can pay off significantly as it empowers you to get the most bang for your buck. By analyzing who your customers are and who is buying the most, you can target customers based on real attributes.

How data collection can help you achieve the following goals:

Goal: Increase customer acquisition

  • Tap into your social media.
    Analyze which content is most liked, and why, on your Facebook page (and other social sites), so you can incorporate it into your direct mailpiece to connect with new customers.
  • Stay on top of product reviews.
    If customer reviews of your products/services are available on your website, check out what people are saying and, if possible, feature positive reviews in your direct mailpiece i.e. “Here’s what people are saying about us.”

Goal: build customer relationships

  • Analyze which messages are resonating.
    Take inventory of your marketing efforts to determine which marketing messages are most effective in getting customers to take action.
  • Segment your audience.
    Once you analyze your audience, segment them by specific demographics such as Millennials, Business Women, Geographic Location, etc. This allows you to create targeted messages that will appeal to them on a deeper level.

Goal: Increase lead generation

  • Track offer responses.
    Analyze which offers are generating the most response, so you can build on them in future pieces.

The bottom line is that small businesses shouldn’t be hesitant to use big data. It’s accessible and can help deliver the impact needed to drive growth. Moreover, direct mail powered by big data is a way for companies of all sizes and budgets to meet their ultimate goals—to connect with customers, get them to take action, and grow their relationships.

Guide to Marketing Automation

No matter how big or how small your business is, it can often seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Inventory, sales, shipping, payroll, marketing, customer service… the wheel of time never stops turning. Time doesn’t have to be your enemy, however. It can be tamed and managed. You just have to be smart about it, and that starts with knowing what tasks should be delegated and how. In the old days – before computers, the internet and the cloud – the delegation of secondary tasks was mostly a human-to-human practice but nowadays, business-critical tasks can easily be delegated to specialized and easy-to-use software. Because the outcome of doing so can be faster and more efficient, businesses of all sizes may consider delegating marketing tasks to specialized software.

“…nowadays, business-critical tasks can easily be delegated to specialized and easy-to-use software.”

Enter marketing automation: software and technology platforms that allow businesses to effectively market to potential customers across a broad spectrum of channels (direct mail, email, the web, social media, mobile, etc.), while automating repetitive tasks that don’t require a human touch. Once the principality of the enterprise, marketing automation has, in recent years, become accessible to small businesses, both in terms of cost and ease of use. As intimidating as some of this may seem, the campaign management systems designed for small businesses to leverage these technologies are now built to be easy to use. Read on for a simple explanation of how marketing automation works.

Business functions that marketing automation systems can assist you with:


By automating segmentation and targeting, small business owners can let software quickly connect the right audience with the right campaign. Less guesswork, and fewer endless hours agonizing over demographic charts.

Functionality and scale

With embedded marketing automation small business owners can now let software activate interconnected discovery, capture, engagement and conversion systems that work entirely on their own, leaving them free to concentrate on the day-to-day needs of their business.

Data, Insights, Reporting, and ROI

Marketing automation software can track the effectiveness of marketing campaigns in real time and can equip business owners with accurate and actionable marketing insights with real value. Depending on the marketing automation system being used, automated reports and/or performance dashboards might show business owners what aspects of a campaign performed well (or not so well), which in turn may allow them an opportunity to improve marketing decisions and the ROI of their next campaign.

how does marketing automation work

Getting Started with Marketing Automation

How could a small business start using marketing automation? The best place to start may not be to dive into technology right away. First, it is important to understand the business objectives (or pain points) that marketing automation will be tasked with driving (or eradicating). In short, start by asking the right business questions:

  • What am I trying to do?
  • What do I wish my marketing could do better?
  • What do I wish my marketing would do that it doesn’t do now?
  • What do I wish my marketing would do if I had more time to devote to it?

The answer to the first question (what am I trying to do?) might be to acquire more customers. It might also be to let more current customers know about a new product or service, an upcoming special sale, or even a new grand opening. Once these business questions have been articulated, only then can one move to the next phase: How can marketing automation help improve these outcomes?

Segmentation and Targeting

One easy place to start marketing automation is segmentation and targeting. Marketing automation software can help organize your customers (potential or existing) based on key characteristics like age, gender, income, interests, and even purchasing history. Doing this helps identify those prospects in your market that are most susceptible to respond positively to a campaign – as opposed to marketing to tens of thousands of poorly targeted prospects that may have no interest in becoming your customers.

Note that by improving segmentation and targeting, the secondary questions listed above (what do I wish my marketing could do better; would do that it doesn’t now; and would do if I had more time to devote to it?) are also addressed. Improved segmentation and targeting also tend to increase campaign ROI in a variety of ways, from boosting discovery and response rates to driving visitors to a website or brick-and-mortar store (all precursors for net new sales).

Once the targeting and segmentation are complete, the data may be converted into a format that the right marketing automation software can then use to either help create a campaign from scratch or improve the effectiveness of a direct mail campaign. One way to maximize a direct mail campaign ROI is to directly connect a direct mail campaign to digital technologies and key digital marketing assets – like a website, video channel or social media account. How is this done? Below is a short list of some of the marketing automation technologies in use today that a small business can leverage to do just that.

Direct Mail Marketing Technologies

QR Codes

QR codes are high-tech boxy-looking bar codes that can be printed directly onto print ads and direct mail pieces. Via a scan by a customer’s phone, a direct mail campaign can connect potential customers to digital content or a digital platform – either of which can be designed to drive the next phase of their customer journey. Below are two of QR code’s most exciting direct mail uses:

  • Brand discovery experiences: Not ready to push a sale right away? A QR code scan can allow potential customers to instantly access an array of digital experiences that may get them excited about your latest product, service or location. The code can take them to a video, for instance, or a specially-designed interactive web page designed to drive a first round of sales-free engagement. From there, you can engage them to sign up for news and special offers, or RSVP to your next event.
  • Instant purchases: Ready to push a sale? No problem. You probably already know how important to business social media platforms can be. But did you know that social media platforms can also be shopping carts now? Why not help potential customers become followers and let them purchase products from your social media feed at the same time? The genius of adding QR codes to mailers is that they can help do just that: With just one scan, you can acquire thousands of new followers who can instantly purchase your products directly from your social media accounts.

NFC / Near Field Communication

A fancy term for what is basically a mailer-embedded wireless chip that interacts directly with a potential customer’s smartphone when gently tapped or hovered over, and can be used to connect them directly with customized digital content.

VEP / video-enhanced print

Yes, you guessed right, these are paper-thin video screens.

AR / Augmented Reality

Turn your mailers into mind-blowing virtual 3D pop-ups and animations on your potential customers’ phones and tablets.

Variable Data Printing (VDP)

Integrates customer databases with high-volume mass printing to customize text, images and promotions at specific times to provide recipients with personalized content.

direct mail marketing technology

The most difficult aspect of almost every small business’s journey of discovery into the world of marketing automation may be taking that very first step. To learn more about whether marketing automation is right for your business explore our white paper below.

16 Case Studies to Inspire Your Next Direct Mail Campaign

Tasked with implementing your company’s direct mail strategy? No matter the size of your business, opportunity is at your fingertips. New technology and design practices are revolutionizing the marketing industry. Finding that perfect balance of creativity and strategic edge takes time. Research is as crucial as experience, so we did the hard work for you. Below you’ll find a curated list of case studies featuring technology innovations that can transform your marketing efforts, build brand equity and increase market share.


Quick Response Codes

qr code marketing
This interactive bar code has found its way onto coffee cups, subway station posters and mailers. With one snap and the right app, the code launches a rich digital experience.

Case Study #1: Organized Sports

Event managers were looking for a way to create a single unifying experience for their attendees. QR codes provided a seamless solution. Over 50 unique codes were created and added to signage, publications, e-tickets and more. QR codes provided important information, allowed sports fans to share their experiences through social media, brought people to the mobile store and guided them to official apps. In the end, QR-code users scanned event material an average of 1.6 times.1 Although attendees of all ages responded, the largest group of scanners were ages 55 and up. Ultimately, the codes helped increase downloads of the official app to a total of 15 million, while simultaneously enabling the collection of detailed data on location and demographics.2

Case Study #2: Telecommunications

One company sought a way to integrate QR codes into its newest ad campaign. This omni-channel effort advertised the wide variety of smartphone apps available to its users. QR codes were added to print ads, in-store displays, direct mail, websites and iPad ads. In three months, the campaign saw 150,000 scans, with users ages 18–24 racking up the most scans.3


Augmented Reality

augmented reality advertising
Put simply, Augmented Reality (AR) takes static images found on print ads and brochures and translates them into dynamic digital experiences. With a special app, users scan photos that allow them to view videos, shop at mobile stores or even try on makeup virtually.

Case Study #3: Cosmetics

One beauty company was looking for an original way to reach and interact with customers, hoping to drive digital try-ons for their nail polish and prevent product returns as a result. Working with an AR company, they created full-page magazine advertisements with hidden capabilities. At the side of each ad, consumers were instructed to download a special app. By scanning the ad with their smartphones or tablets, readers could try on 40 different nail polish colors by taking a picture of their hand. Users could save the images and post them to social media. Over 10 percent of users did just that. On average, each user spent four minutes on the application. After studying the consumer behavior data collected by the app, the company was able to make informed stock-replenishment decisions and color choices for future advertisements.4

Case Study #4: Retail

One furniture company added AR capabilities to its yearly catalog, hoping to inspire customers and facilitate a better shopping experience. Using the brand’s app, consumers could superimpose pieces of furniture onto a real-time 360°/180° view of their home. In the end, the company was able to drive even more customers to their app and website.5 Another retail company, used AR in conjunction with outdoor art installations. Cities around the world featured these branded billboards, sculptures, projected media and kiosks. Using a special AR app, consumers could take photos of each piece and pull up extended content about the campaign.6


Near Field Communication

nfc marketing
This technology allows a chip, typically a sticker placed onto a billboard or print ad, to communicate with a compatible smartphone. Through radio waves, the NFC tag drives the user to digital content, mobile stores, sign-up offers and more.

Case Study #5: Film

As a big movie premiere approached, one studio wanted to grow viewer interest and engagement with a futuristic campaign. Working with an NFC company, they created NFC-enabled posters that encouraged users to tap the image with their smartphones. Once the posters were tapped, users instantly accessed behind-the-scenes footage and additional content without having to download an app.

Case Study #6: Uber

The mobile ride-hail company put NFC technology to work as it expanded its reach in northern England, primarily Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. For four weeks, Uber provided the cities’ pubs with NFC-enabled coasters. The logic: coasters shared the same table space as smartphones — the only device capable of accessing NFC content. To drive conversion, Uber gave an incentive: consumers who tapped the tag were offered £15 off their first ride.7

Case Study #7: Nokia

To promote its N9 smartphone in Dubai, the company added NFC tags to advertising stands and posters. N9 users who tapped the content accessed free vouchers for movie tickets or popcorn. The addition of NFC not only brought value to the user, it also enhanced the brand’s omni-channel strategy. As a result, Nokia won the Best Marketing Campaign using Contactless/NFC Technology Award at the Contactless Intelligence Awards in 2012.8

Ideas Worth Implementing: Quick response codes can be added to any print material, whether a brochure or mailer. They can offer additional product information, a promotional coupon or send customers directly to your mobile store. AR apps and NFC tags can give your customers access to product demos and manuals, customer testimonials and more.



video brochure marketing
This type of content merges print and digital by adding video devices to print media in magazines, mailers and more.

Case Study #8: Broadcast Television

Looking to build excitement around its fall TV lineup, one network decided to place a VIP piece within the pages of a popular magazine. Select subscribers in New York and Los Angeles received the enhanced issue. As users opened the card-like insert, a high-resolution video played a special clip from the stars of the show. Although the piece was released in select markets, the innovation of this VIP promotion won free publicity for the network. Multiple online publications picked up the story.9

Case Study #9: Automobiles10

Gearing up to launch its newest truck, one company sought a fresh way to hit its target demographic. Working with a publishing and VIP company, they created an insert for two magazines that included a 4.3″ LCD screen. Using the publisher’s consumer data, the company found 20,000 readers who fit the profile of the truck’s owner. Video content was then tailored to this all-male demographic. Ultimately, ten thousand subscribers per magazine were sent copies with the VIP insert.11



mobile in print
This technology adds mobile capabilities, like call or text features, to print media like direct mail, making mailers literal calling cards.

Case Study #10: Technology

A multinational company was searching for a marketing idea that could boost brand awareness and grab consumer attention around the world. Combining VIP and mobile-in-print, the company created a mailer that shared the CEO’s vision on a small LCD screen. Customers were then encouraged to call a representative to learn more. The card, embedded with a microphone and speaker, allowed users to make up to 50 calls. After seeing success in the first mailing, the company reordered copies 30 days after launch.12

Case Study #11: Insurance

After hearing multiple complaints about their help line, one multinational insurance company took action. Instead of making customers call in and wait for an agent, the company simplified the experience. Mobile-in-print mailers were sent out, prompting customers to use the keypad embedded on the page to enter their mobile telephone number and license plate information. Once the information was submitted, customers received instant insurance quotes on their mobile devices.


Conductive Inks

conductive ink mailers
This up-and-coming technology mixes ink with carbon, copper or silver, which then serves as a wire for an electronic device. Although its applications are still in research and development, conductive ink can generate noise, pull up an app and light a bulb.

Case Study #12: Beck’s

This beer company created innovative outdoor media to coincide with New Zealand’s Music Month. The ads were designed to look like audio equipment with a number of functioning buttons for users to press. When touched, these “Playable Posters” became 80-watt speakers with 20 touch points and over 12 minutes of new music and audio.1314

Ideas Worth Implementing: A business can solve customer service issues by sending mobile-in-print mailers with a simplified dial-in process. Video-in-print brochures can showcase a new campaign or a new line of products, while conductive inks can create never-before-seen interactive content to advertise your company at a conference or event.


Interesting Inks

interesting ink
These specialized inks make colors disappear or reappear in reaction to heat, cold, light or moisture, making them perfect for a popular direct mail tactic: the secret message. There are four kinds being used today: leuco dyes, photochromics, hydrochromics and flasher.

Case Study #13: Knorr

This company, known for its soups, was in need of a campaign for its new line of frozen products. Knorr wanted to do more than build product awareness. Working with an advertising agency, they set out to change perception of frozen food as a whole. The company sent out a mailer with the line “unlike any F****N dinner you’ve ever tried” printed in leuco dye. Consumers were prompted to put the piece into their freezer. In response to the temperature change, the paper revealed a whole new message: “FROZEN meals can be this delicious.” The campaign was so successful, half of the mailing was postponed so stores could manage the demand. In total, it prompted 17,000 purchases, thanks to an average response rate of 10.2 percent.15

Case Study #14: Food & Beverage

To generate excitement around a new water-enhancing product, one company created a magazine ad with hydrochromic ink. At first look, the all-white page featured a full glass of H2O with text that prompted consumers to cover the page in water. When wet, the print ad revealed a secret message highlighting the thrilling applications of water and made sure to remind readers that the new product could make a boring drink awesome again.16


Customized MarketMail®

shaped mail
This category is technically known as shaped mail, because of the creative shapes these mailers take on. These print pieces come in many different physical forms and can be tailored to the needs of a business.

Case Study #15: Telecommunications

One telecom company wanted to see which type of mailer would drive more customers to their high-speed internet business. To test their theory, they sent out four different types of cards — a pop-up mailer, Customized MarketMail®, a plastic mailer and simple cardstock. In the end, Customized MarketMail had the highest average response rate of 2.1 percent.17


One clothing company sent out two types of mailers — a simple card and a Customized MarketMail piece. After targeting the top 30 percent of their client base, the company found the shaped mailer had a response rate 1.75–3 times higher than the one made of simple cardstock.18


3d Mail

3d direct mail
These lightweight mailers transform into three-dimensional designs that instantly stand out from the pack.

Case Study #16: Broadcast Television

Looking to promote its fall TV lineup in an original way, one network found their answer in 3D mail and video-in-print. The result was a VIP screen mounted in a 3D mailer. When consumers received and opened their mailer, the screen began playing branded content.19 In another instance, a television show decided to take a more innovative approach to promoting itself during awards season. Voters were sent mailers that, at first glance, appeared perfectly ordinary. When opened, they transformed into a memorable 3D pop-up.20

Ideas Worth Implementing: Interesting inks can reveal promotional offers or even help consumers rethink your products, while Customized MarketMail and 3D mail can help launch your products in original, memorable ways that are sure to separate you from your competition.

Marketing Strategies That Will Modernize Your Mail Campaigns

The next big thing in marketing may be sitting in your mailbox.

Year after year, companies seek out the freshest ideas to build brand awareness, launch products and convert new customers. To choose the right one, they need the facts. Get a big-picture view of the newest innovations in direct mail—from AR to QR and everything in between.