One hundred years ago, companies such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and J.C. Penny Co. used customer data to send out catalogs and mailers. Back then, the companies possessed small sets of data, mainly names and addresses of customers. Now, marketers have mountains of complex data and are faced with a modern conundrum: How much personal data is too much to incorporate into the content?

Here are a few tips to help businesses avoid sending email campaigns that qualify as “blasts.” In doing so, you’ll also realize other benefits, including fewer people who unsubscribe from your email lists, fewer emails caught in spam filters, delivery rates that improve, and better overall email performance results that dramatically drive up sales.
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Neil O’Keefe, senior vice president of marketing and content at the Data & Marketing Association, says that marketers began questioning direct mail’s endurance in 2007. That year, Statista reports that smartphone sales jumped 70% from the previous year to $8.7 billion. At the same time, the volume of mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service began to plummet: In 2006, people in the U.S. sent 213.1 billion pieces of mail, according to USPS; by 2017, they were sending 149.5 billion pieces each year, a 29.9% decline. By this point, smartphone sales had reached $55.6 billion. The price of postage and paper had skyrocketed, as did the number of internet users—everything seemed to hammer a nail into direct mail’s coffin.
Third-party companies also compile and sell contact information to companies and organizations. Customer surveys, public records, retail reports, and data software can all be used to collect demographic trends; other companies use only permission-based lists. These companies can usually narrow their mailing lists by demographic—for instance, to only working mothers who have children under three, with at least a bachelor’s degree, who own their own homes, have at least one credit card, a credit score of more than 560, and make $50,000 or more a year. Companies purchase these demographic lisst, and send their direct mail offers to this very targeted market.

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