Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

In today’s digital world marketers must find new ways to engage their audiences, and that even applies to more traditional forms of marketing such as direct mail.

By integrating new technologies such as “enhanced augmented reality” and “near-field communication” (NFC), direct mail can create an interactive experience for consumers.

Augmented reality generally requires users to download an app such as Blippar or Layar and then use their smartphones or tablets to hover over the mail piece as it appears to “come alive” with an animated image relating to the product or service, explains Nancy Harhut, a Boston-based digital and direct marketing expert.

With NFC technology, a small chip embedded in the direct mail piece can “speak” to a user’s phone or tablet, activating an offer, message or video, says Nicole Larrauri, president of EGC Group, a Melville marketing and digital services firm.

Incorporating such methods can increase the cost of a mailing by up to 20 percent, Larrauri says.

The U.S. Postal Service is encouraging marketers to try these new technologies by offering a discount on postage through its Emerging and Advanced Technology Promotion.

Larger businesses are most likely to be the ones using these technologies right now, says Gary Reblin, USPS vice president of product innovation. “A lot of these are emerging,” he says. While usage may start with the larger firms, “next year hopefully the next tier down uses it.” Without an incentive to try it, he adds, “nobody takes the first step.”

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To be sure, augmented reality is the furthest along. It’s estimated that 1.5 billion pieces of mail will come through USPS this year that incorporate augmented reality, Reblin says.

At the recent Content Marketing Conference in Boston, attendees were given a deck of cards that incorporated augmented reality. They were instructed to download the Blippar app, and when they placed their mobile phones over the cards, images of the conference speakers in superhero costumes came to life, appearing to fly, says Harhut, who spoke at the conference.

Some of these tactics may seem a bit advanced for smaller marketers, but Harhut said some of her clients have found success with a more basic approach: including in their direct mail pieces personalized URLs, or Web addresses, that lead recipients to a personalized landing page if they punch the address into their Web browser.

Personalized URLs “take away from that junk mail mentality,” says Eric Wiggins, vice president of client services at Didit, a Mineola digital marketing firm that owns its own direct mail company in Plainview called Didit DM. Such URLs can be used in multiple ways, for example leading a recipient to an application with pre-filled information, he says.

He’s also coupled direct mail for clients with geo-targeted banner ads based on a user’s Internet Protocol [computer] address. So the recipient would receive a direct mail piece and, while browsing the internet, see targeted banner ads for the same client, Wiggins says.

Marketers can leverage their customer management software to personalize direct mail with the recipient’s name or even personalized products they think that customer would like to see, says Larrauri of EGC Group.

Included in this year’s USPS promotion is a service that can automatically trigger and print a personalized mailing based on a digital interaction, she says. For example, it could send an automatic mailing to users on a website who abandoned their online shopping cart, Reblin says.

Despite the availability of these new options, Evan Bloom, co-owner of the Westbury, Hauppauge and Melville franchises of the Sir Speedy printing/marketing company, says he sees most marketers taking a traditional approach with mailings.

Ultimately, it still comes down to “creating a really good offer and a great call to action,” he says.