I have been scrutinizing my mail lately. You know… the kind delivered by the US Postal Service. We are living in an age of consumer empowerment where customers decide what they want to receive, when they want to receive it, and have the ability to weigh in on the value and experience associated with our marketing/products/services. Social media has had a lot to do with that. I’m curious how this expectation of personalization and empowerment has crossed over to more traditional marketing such as direct mail. Case in point, week before last I was chatting with a colleague while she opened her email. She came across an invitation to a seminar where Jack Welch was the keynote speaker. The cover letter was addressed to “Dear Sir/Madam”. Without reading further, my colleague promptly tore up the invite and tossed it. (Sorry Jack…). Seems there may be a personalization threshold that must be met in direct mail, at least. What are some of the ways that direct mail is changing to meet this expectation of personalization?Variable Data Printing – A while back I received a direct mail from the US Postal Service touting variable data printing. Those of you who know me, know that I am obsessed with learning anything new related to marketing. The initial mailer allowed me to go online and “order a custom deli sandwich” (you could do this from a business reply card too). So I submitted my “order”. A week later I received another mailer with a picture of my custom sandwich and a CD with variable data printing success stories from companies like Kodak. Pretty cool. Especially considering that a recent InfoTrends study noted that direct mail performance improved significantly with personalization — response rates increased by 20.5%, order size/value increased 20.7% and overall revenue/profit increased 23.4%. Integration with Twitter — Enthusem, a Florida-based company, has figured out how to integrate direct mail with your Twitter account. Although, it’s a manual process to get the physical addresses of the Twitter followers, this is a clever way to bring your online and offline world together. And not just clever. Effective too. Response rates across all users is more than 17%. Read the online interview with Steve Tingiris, CEO of Enthusem.Mixing Direct Mail and Social Networking – In an article for Deliver Magazine , Paul Gillin lists 10 ways to mix direct mail and social networking . My favorites are tips # 9 and #10.Here are some additional things for you to consider:• Traditional outbound marketing techniques can and should live side-by-side with inbound marketing efforts. Together, these two things are very powerful. Direct mail a staple of traditional marketing, can still be an essential tool in your awareness and demand generation arsenal.• Relevance has a huge impact on response. This is evidenced by the rise in importance of content marketing. Personalization is a form of relevance and it’s no longer just a salutation or name lasered onto a mail piece. It’s a dynamic way of relating to customers based on who they are, what they like, where they live, how they spend their money and more. This alludes to the importance of what you’re tracking in your customer databases.• If you’re going to make a connection with a prospect or customer, at some point, you have to take the relationship offline. Sales people know this best.