Response Mechanisms

How COVID-19 Has Brought New Life to a Long-lost Tactic

We spend a lot of time thinking about the landscape of marketing, what the future holds and how we can be early adapters today. Perhaps one of the most interesting — and strangely divisive — ways our physical and digital worlds intersect is through the humble QR code.

The Creation of the QR code

A little history: QR (quick response) codes were invented by Japanese firm Densa Wave in the mid-nineties as a more functional alternative to barcodes. From there, the decision was made to make the technology public, recognizing their potential.

So, what happened?

The Flop

Initially, they were a victim of their time. Despite the obvious utility, the technology just wasn’t there when it came to the rudimentary smartphones of the 2010s (think about it – it wasn’t that long ago that we were terrified of accidently hitting the internet button on our phones). Slow mobile internet speeds and a lack of integrated software made their use difficult. So, like many other truly advanced technologies, QR codes went unappreciated (except in certain factory settings) and faded into obscurity despite all their potential.

A Pandemic and a Renewed Interest

Until recently, it seemed as if that’s where the story of the QR would end — a substitute for the barcode we use occasionally at Whole Foods. But as anyone who’s left their house in the last six months can confirm, something strange is happening to QR codes.

They’re suddenly everywhere.

From touchless payment to restaurant menus, the QR code (now with sufficient integrated technology in every smartphone to support it) has made a major resurgence in a time where we’re afraid to touch anything.

The Future of QR Codes

To paraphrase, a recent article from (you can read it here) aptly describes QR codes as “a solution in search of a problem” — and it’s probably safe to say that a pandemic certainly qualifies as a “problem”. But, just like the creator of the QR code all the way back in 1994, we’re finally seeing the full potential, particularly in the world of digital wallets and touchless payment.

One of the main ways QR codes will continue to be an integral part of our day-to-day going forward is through the “pay by app” model of business where many individual merchants and most major chains have their own apps allowing QR code-based payments.

If that’s not a glow-up for the QR code, we don’t know what is.

QR Codes in Marketing

The rebirth of the QR code comes with the promise of exciting new ways to continue using the technology. By now, most marketers recognize the renewed potential of QR codes, even in a post-COVID future.

For us at Strata, the use of QR codes is the continuation of a trend we’ve recognized for some time, only having been accelerated — not created — by the pandemic. We’ve been generating and incorporating QR codes into our marketing campaigns as we’ve kept a finger on the pulse of marketing technology. They’re a great way to merge print and digital, and we’ve used them in our direct and dimensional mailers, as well as other collateral like brochures and business cards. So, while it’s been a long-time coming, it’s finally safe to say that the possibilities for QR codes are truly endless.

Are you interested in working with a guiding hand that can help you incorporate QR codes into your marketing materials? Contact us to get started.

What’s Working, What’s Not, and How to Adapt

COVID-19 has been impacting us all, and it’s true what they say — we’re all in this together.

To put it positively, it’s been “interesting” to see the impacts this has had on business and marketing.

COVID-19’s General Impact

First and foremost, COVID-19 has impacted the ways consumers purchase — for the time being, they’ve shifted to a recession mentality. On a macro level, this means consumers are temporarily passing on the premium brands in favor of brands offering greater value.

That’s not to say premium brands are doomed in a COVID-19 world.

Premium brands will get through this by aggressively defining their audience and adjusting the ways they engage that audience. As the average customer’s channel mix shifts, brands need to reach the “at home” individual — for the next few months, ditch your OOH efforts and focus on getting to the consumer at home.

Focus on direct mail, email and addressable geofenced digital ads as the primary players in your channel mix.

Making Direct Mail Work for You

There’s a reason direct mail is a marketing standby — it’s effective. It’s also what many brands will lean on in the months ahead. Let’s look at two scenarios in which COVID-19 impacts this high-value channel — B2C and B2B campaigns

In a B2C campaign, COVID-19’s impact on direct mail is actually a boost in visibility. With limited distractions and an audience spending more time at home than ever, direct mail is front and center.

In a B2B campaign, the way COVID-19 impacts direct mail is a bit more complicated — with no one at the office, a standard B2B campaign can fail. Fortunately, with a little extra data prep, they don’t have to. You can contact decision makers directly at home by working with a data source to match your business dataset against a consumer database and send business communications to personal addresses.

And if you’re worried about reaching people at home, don’t be. People want business to continue — in fact, in a recent survey that we conducted, 90% of consumers said that they’d be comfortable receiving B2B solicitations at home.

Finally, a parting thought on direct mail: use it as an anchor in line with other cost-effective strategies, like digital and email marketing. While effective as a standalone, the performance of direct mail is exponentially increased by including it in your omnichannel strategy.

Utilizing Digital Ads and Email Marketing

Speaking of omnichannel strategy, another place where advertising is thriving is within the digital realm. Things like ad space on social media, commercial spots with streaming services, etc. continue to burn hot. The reason for this is pretty obvious — more people are relying exclusively on screens for news and entertainment.

Digital advertisers are also looking at this crisis as an opportunity to assess effectiveness, clean house and reflect on their digital brands. In short, metrics are talking, underperforming strategies are going out the window, and most of the content smart businesses are putting out is routed in engagement and messaging, not new acquisition.

Email marketing, particularly in retail, is still a go despite COVID-19. In fact, some research points to negatives like unsubscribe rates going down while positives like click rates are going up or at least roughly maintaining pre-COVID levels. With that in mind, now is an excellent time to develop and execute your email marketing campaigns either in house of with a trusted vendor.

Tailoring Your Messaging

In the early days of the outbreak and subsequent lockdown, it seemed utterly bizarre to see the marketing world carrying on as usual, running commercials featuring large groups of friends out in public places, while viewers cringed at home, counting the times the actors touched their faces.

Then, almost all at once, there was a major shift.

Marketers began taking on tones similar to PSA’s, reminding people to wash their hands and stay at home while focusing on aspects of their products that aligned with sentiments like “togetherness” or “looking towards the future.” Messaging also began to focus on the ways that purchases helped support the economy and maintain jobs during a time of economic hardship.

At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that people are bored, anxious and looking for comfort and your messaging, engagement and branding should align with that.

Let’s Face it, COVID-19 is Weird

A grocery store full of face masks is weird. Cleaning products being hoarded is weird. COVID-19 as a whole is weird.

It’s tough to navigate such a strange new landscape, particularly in the business world. Of course, we’ll make it through this — we always do — but it’s going to require adaptivity, confidence and reflection.

At Strata, we’re here to help you with that. If you’re looking for ways to put your brand’s best foot forward, whether that be with direct mail, digital outreach or anything in between, contact us to see what our solutions can do for you.

How to Adjust from Marketing to the Masses to the Individuals that Make Up the Masses

Over the last several decades, we have made great shifts in the way we market to our customers.

One of the most prominent of these shifts is the way in which we’ve adjusted from marketing to the masses to marketing to the individuals that make up the masses. That fundamental adjustment is what separates many successful companies — and their competition — today.

Perhaps the best way this shift manifests itself is in some of our strategic tools, and of these, one strategy stands out — using personas to map the buyer journey. Put simply, mapping the buyer journey with personas is about plotting out each stage of an eventual purchase, from recognizing a need to securing whatever service or good fulfills it from the perspective of the personas.

Let’s take a look at how we can use personas to map and enhance a buyer journey.

Create Personas

We’ve touched on personas frequently in our StrataBytes blog series, and there’s a good reason for that — personas are a valuable resource. As a refresher (or for those of us who are not familiar), personas are lifelike, highly specific representations of customers. For instance, a basic persona may look something like this:

Jillian is 32 and assists in buying MarTech systems for her company. She values being able to do her research independently. Being tech-savvy, Jillian appreciates high-level content detailing the functions of the MarTech she’s looking into. Although she’s a thoughtful and independent buyer, she likes open lines of communication should she have questions, particularly when that comes in the form of a consistent sales representative.

Of course, this is just a basic example — most companies create significantly more specific personas by using their own data and research while also making personas representing different subsets of target demographics.

Plan Outreach

Now that we’ve created our personas, we can begin using them to map our buyer’s journey, and one of the first things we’ll do is plan our outreach.

Knowing that Jillian is tech-savvy, wants to do her own research, yet still values the ability to interface with a sales representative, we might choose to send her something that is both personally inviting and incorporates digital elements.

This could be a dimensional mailer from a sales representative with a short video displayed on a touch screen. After the video ends, Jillian can explore the pre-loaded content to get a better idea of what capabilities the MarTech system has to offer, including a QR code to download a more technical eBook outlining the finer points of the MarTech.

Identify Obstacles, Friction and Bias

We can also use personas to familiarize ourselves with the obstacle customers regularly face. It’s crucial to use personas in this way to gain a better understanding of our customers by putting ourselves in their shoes. 

Identify the pain points they may encounter in their buyer’s journey. For our Jillian persona, that would include things like limited availability of information surrounding the product, difficulty conducting independent research, or trouble contacting a representative with questions.

Our job becomes about removing these pain points and ensuring our fictional company has sufficient information available for those looking to research our products independently, providing varying depth of available content ranging from introductory to technical, and creating an environment where sales representatives are easily accessible through phone, email or online chat.

Update and Maintain Your Personas

People and companies change and this change necessitates the updating of personas to match. Constantly going back to your data and research — figuring out what works and what doesn’t — will fine tune your personas into more potent tools as you continue to use them.

Remember, it’s crucial to make unique personas representing different people going through different buyer journeys.

These tactics — using personas to enhance buyer journeys — can make a huge difference in how small and large companies approach marketing. A better understanding of your customer leads to better marketing, and an enhanced experience for them means enhanced sales for you.

Interested in learning how our services can improve you buyer journey? Contact us to learn more about what Strata can do for you.

Common Misconceptions and Opportunities to Consider

The New Year has arrived and it’s time for a familiar conversation.

With all the new tech being debuted in 2020, we begin to wonder where marketing is going and which tactics are still relevant going forward. Inevitably, this leads us to the same direct mail conversation we always have: Is direct mail dead?

We’ll offer you the same answer we always have: It’s evolving.

Direct mail is constantly improving — marketers are abandoning and embracing certain aspects of direct mail, like trading the “casting a wide net” approach of junk mail for an approach focused on a highly targeted audience.

Let’s take a look at the misconceptions and opportunities surrounding direct mail, the many ways its evolving, and why it’s still an important part of most marketing campaigns.


Misconception 1: Direct Mail is Too Expensive

Of course, it costs more to create a physical piece of marketing material, send it through the mail and deliver it at a consumer’s door, than to blast an email out to your audience. Perhaps, counterintuitively, this is where its strength lies.

Direct mail is considered a high-value marketing tool, which means that in the long run, the cost per acquisition is comparable to an email campaign yielding a lower return.

Misconception 2: Good Direct Mail Takes Too Long to Produce

Again, it’s easy to see where this line of thinking comes from. It’s not a huge jump to link ultra-personalized direct mail offerings with longer turnaround time in production.

Variable data printing, however, streamlines the process, making production go much faster and more smoothly than ever before. This digital printing method allows printers to make large runs of personalized collateral on a similar timeframe as their standard counterparts at no significant bump in cost.

Misconception 3: People Don’t Like Receiving Mail

Direct mail conveys positive attributes like investment and value, and that message resonates with consumers. People like receiving mail. What they don’t like receiving is junk mail. Make sure that your direct mail campaigns focus heavily on what you offer the consumer rather than simply soliciting their business.

Interestingly enough, there is one demographic with a particularly strong response to direct mail marketing efforts — Millennials. Considering that the market is currently turning over and Millennials will continue to be a major driving demographic for the foreseeable future, direct mail will continue to be a powerful way to appeal to that audience.

The Opportunities of Modern Direct Mail

Direct mail has undergone some major changes in the last few years, particularly when we consider the rise of variable data printing and our ever-increasing abilities to incorporate digital elements into our traditional direct mail offerings.

Opportunity 1: Hyper-Personalization

Hyper-personalization allows the marketer to close the gap between themselves and the consumer.

We’ve touched on this countless times in our blog series, so let it suffice to say that one-to-one direct marketing — or as close as we can get to one-to-one direct marketing — is the ultimate goal of every marketer. Hyper-personalization gets you about as close as you can get.

Opportunity 2: Experiential Direct Mail

The desire to build relationships is reciprocal between you and your audience. You want to build a relationship to understand the consumer and offer them useful products. They, on the other hand, want to build a relationship with brands they trust to offer them those products.

The best way to do that is through communication, and when you communicate with your audience via direct mail offerings, you should focus on the user experience those offerings provide.

Giveaways and promotional items are great, but when you offer your audience interactive, user experience focused content, you offer them something truly special. Tools like augmented reality and navigable video content are two excellent resources we’re able to send through the mail.

Incorporate them into your UX toolbox.

Opportunity 3: Omni-Channel Response Options

Omni-channel response options give your audience options, and when you give your audience options, they feel empowered.

Including elements like PURLs and QR Codes leading them to landing pages, instead of just dropping an email or phone number, can be excellent ways to initiate a dialogue between you and your audience at their absolute convenience.

Don’t guess what they would prefer, give them options.


Evolving your marketing and embracing best practices does not mean abandoning trusted resources. Direct mail is one of the most trustworthy tools marketers have at their disposal.

By incorporating exciting new elements, like experiential mail and digital updates into your direct mail campaigns, you can have the best of both worlds and reach your audience on a level previously unachievable with digital or direct correspondence alone.

Could your next direct mail campaign benefit from cutting edge best practices like these? Contact us to see what we can do for you.

Four Trust-Building Truths to Print and Digital Integration

It seems as if some forms of marketing have always been at war, or at least a crossroads.

Whether we’re talking about radio and television, magazine and blog, or billboard and banner ad, the ways we reach out to our audiences are constantly and consistently evolving. In sweeping terms, perhaps the most obvious war/crossroads we’ve seen has been print to digital.

Or at least it appeared that way.

Today, we understand a new truth about the relationship between print and digital: there is no war between print and digital.

More and more, we’re seeing how print can become a vehicle for digital in clever and intuitive ways. Combining print and digital can also work to build trust, relationships, and make your content more accessible for a range of consumers.

Here’s why:

User Friendly

When it comes to jumping from print to digital, one of the biggest hurdles has always been the inherent complexity of navigating the jump — what may be simple for one person may be incredibly difficult for another.

Lately, we’re opening up new doors for people to use complex technology with limited technological understanding, making this hurdle easier to jump than ever before. The ease of scanning a QR code with your phone’s camera or using applications like Apple Pay are two great examples of this.

Trust Issues: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

The early days of the internet were a little bit of a Wild West, and even today, there is no shortage of scammers, cons, and grifters waiting to take advantage of the unassuming user surfing the web.

Given this reality, it’s unsurprising that many people (particularly those belonging to older demographics) generally distrust information they get from the internet. So how do you target demographics that demand complex information, yet don’t respond to advertising via the internet?

By merging traditional and digital, we can approach wary consumers with a medium they trust — print — and incorporate a bridge to digital marketing by way of near-field communication or a PURL, for example.

Let the print earn their trust and let digital seal the deal.

A Google Maps for Your Consumer

One of the obvious hang-ups in the early days of digital via traditional marketing was user error.

Sure, you could include a URL to your website printed clearly smack in the middle of your marketing material, but this leaves you open to two problems:

The first problem is that it leaves the door open for user error. For example, misspelling a URL in their own browser can easily result in frustration and a loss of interest, which leads to consumers abandoning their search.

The second problem comes even when a consumer gets to your site: it isn’t easily navigable, allowing the consumer to effortlessly find exactly what they were looking for, again resulting in frustration and loss of interest.

By employing effective, guaranteed transitions between print and digital, the consumer will be taken to exactly the right place, every time — as quickly as possible.

In an economy where the most valuable asset is an audience’s attention, capitalizing on the ability to instantaneously direct your consumer precisely where they want to go is invaluable.

The Power of Personalization

They say one of the most powerful ways to gain someone’s confidence is using their name. This idea also applies to marketing and it’s what makes personalization such a powerful tool.

Although marketers have been using personalization for decades before digital advertising even existed, the problem was that it only was able to go so far — maybe a personalized letterhead or the insertion of a name within generic content.

Eventually, this started to become a hollow gesture. Why? Because everyone was doing it. Personalization became very impersonal.

By working together, print and digital marketing take personalization to wildly effective new heights. In personalizing direct mail by attaching a QR code that navigates the user to a PURL, we have an incredibly efficient and impactful tool that says, “we’re not just trying to flatter you by using your name, we’ve put in the effort to truly understand your needs — here’s the proof.”

Try doing that with print alone.

Marketers running edgy, futurist blogs, the media, and industry talking heads sure do love to put print and digital at odds, and the appeal of that war is obvious.

While it makes for interesting blog fodder, it remains untrue.

The fact is, print and digital not only co-exist, but when working in harmony, can become the most effective tool in your marketing arsenal. In merging print and digital, you can convey complex information, build trust, and establish better connections in user-friendly, intuitive ways.

There are no wars between print and digital — only allies.

Are you ready to move forward with merging print with digital for higher impact marketing? Contact us to see what Strata can do for you.