As part of the HP PageWide Web Press Pioneer Series by collaborative digital print and design community Dscoop, Design Distributors President Adam Avrick presented a webinar sharing insights from his decades of experience in direct mail. Titled “Direct Mail Tips & Success Strategies With Adam Avrick,” the discussion covered lessons from the last year, predictions for the future, strategies for 2021, and so much more.
Key takeaways include the following:
What Design Distributors Does
Design Distributors, Inc. (DDI) started as an envelope printer in 1966 and has grown into a full-service direct mail printing and mailing operation. Avrick calls it a “lick ‘em, stick ‘em, stuff ‘em, and mail ‘em” company that offers both digital and conventional printing. DDI expanded into the HP PageWide world a few years ago, and has been thrilled with the results.
How COVID-19 Impacted DDI
Early in the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, communicating with clients, partners, and employees was critical. Blogs, emails, social media, and physical discussions kept the lines of communication open. Since DDI was defined as an essential company, it never closed. However, the business adopted a survival mentality, as it quickly enhanced cleaning procedures, searched for PPE, and prepared for the eventuality of someone getting sick—all while navigating constantly changing government guidelines.
Many projects were canceled or put on hold, but new opportunities also emerged. Printers with wide format and die-cutting equipment crafted masks and made signage for companies that remained open. This simultaneously helped keep printing businesses afloat, while also meeting critical needs.
Lessons Learned in 2020
While 2020 was fraught with setbacks, it also taught valuable lessons. Some sectors stopped mailing entirely, but others grew. B2B mailing fell, since it was unclear where to send information. However, B2C mailing increased to drive traffic to online retailers. Healthcare and insurance companies also increased mailings, to keep customers informed.
DDI succeeded in this changing landscape by focusing on diversification rather than specialization. This enabled it to seamlessly shift gears to accommodate clients’ needs. Avrick views diversification as the key to success.
How the Industry & DDI Are Evolving
Conventional work is migrating to digital or hybrid to be more economical for clients, which is facilitating smaller orders and greater micro-messaging. As long as there is a relevant database, offers can be based on geography, economics, lifestyle and other factors, leading to a more targeted approach. This increased use of personalization has proven to lift response rates significantly.
The focus has also started to shift to so-called “trigger programs” over the last several years. These are incidents, such as birthdays, purchases, or other actions, which initiate a response. With digital printing, programmatic mailings are possible, enabling rapid responses.
DDI’s relationship with its clients is also evolving. The company is prioritizing leveraging relationships with existing clients. It likes to get involved with agency clients farther upstream to consult with design and marketing. Today, clients often inquire about speed to market, which influences DDI’s approach. Digital printing enables faster deployment, which is often critical, given rapidly changing COVID-19-related rules.
Challenges, Opportunities & Strategies for 2021
Challenges and opportunities will abound during 2021. Right now, B2C response rates are up. People are at home, looking at mail.
Avrick shares the following predictions and strategic advice:
- Less Political Mail: With the 2020 elections complete, printers and direct mail companies can expect less business from political campaigns.
- Uncertainty: It’s difficult to predict what shape the industry will take if the pandemic ends, leading to uncertainty about the so-called “new normal.”
- Reopenings: As restrictions ease and businesses reopen, they will need to reach out to customers and invite them back.
- Migrate more clients from conventional to digital.
- Work with clients to change strategies and buying behaviors.
- Create new trigger programs for companies with underutilized data.
Attracting Young Talent to the Print Industry
According to Avrick, the printing industry is not necessarily sexy, but digital printing is much more so than conventional. He explains that although the two require different skill sets and there is a learning curve, it’s possible to leverage workers’ existing expertise in other areas and successfully transition them into the printing industry.
Best Advice He’s Received
“It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon” is the best career advice Avrick has ever gotten. When he decided to move into continuous inkjet technology, his team conducted a year-long evaluation process. However, Avrick views big moves as worth the time investment.
“Take your time,” he says. “Make good decisions.”