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Technology Is Making it Easy to Put the Personal Touch Into Digital Marketing Ironically, you can automate sending the personal note or thoughtful gift that seals a relationsip the way no email can.

By Michael Sharkey Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The way marketers communicate with people hasn't changed much in the last 10 years. While we've become more sophisticated in the way we use Internet and cloud-based technologies to identify users and automate our digital marketing efforts, we still generally default to sending emails when it comes to communicating with our audience.

While email isn't bowing out anytime soon, a fundamental shift in communication is emerging as marketers are gaining access to new ways of engaging with customers using Physical APIs.

Related: How to Write an Unforgettable Thank-You Note

What are Physical APIs? Put simply, a Physical API is a set of instructions that allows computers or automated systems to perform tasks that people traditionally do manually. These might include writing and mailing letters by hand, sending gift cards, or ordering and shipping merchandise.

Physical APIs are big-- and are fueling the growth of companies like Lob. Instead of thinking about sending print and mail as a complicated and manual process, Lob lets anyone send targeted and personalized print messages, like a postcard, the same way they might send email.

Up until now, Physical APIs have been somewhat relegated to the technology world. But in 2015, don't be surprised to see the emergence of Physical APIs in the marketing space. And the result will be transformative: by combining Physical APIs with the automation software that many marketers use today, businesses will have the ability to seamlessly connect and automate online and offline touch points in their marketing programs.

Related: 3 Steps to Happier Customers

Here's a quick example: when today's customers take the time to sit through a webinar, we as marketers typically send a thank you email. With a Physical API, we could look up the business address of every webinar attendee, generate a handwritten thank you note (written by a real person), package up a box of chocolates or a gift bag and ship, all using the same amount of effort it otherwise would take to schedule an email blast.

Not only does this type of unexpected communication get noticed, it helps companies build lasting relationships with the people that matter most to their business. Studies even show that a personalized note alone can increase response to a marketing campaign by 30-50 percent.

So why do we care so much about personalization? Chances are you know at least one person who still has a shoebox full of handwritten notes and mementos from the past. That's because there is something powerful about handwritten, personalized communication that gets lost in the shuffle of email. Companies that take the time to learn what makes their customers tick are going to be more successful in executing their marketing strategies and developing true brand loyalty.

A 2013 study shows that three-quarters of US senior-level marketers and agency decision-makers agreed that "personalized one-to-one marketing is the future." Not only that, agency respondents reported better response rates and increased sales as the top results of personalized media programs. Not only are consumers more likely to interact with personalized messages, they're also more likely to spend money with brands that implement targeted programs. As the data shows, custom marketing communication helping companies forge real, engaging relationships with their customers.

Recent advances in technology and the emergence of physical APIs means customized communication is more available to marketers than ever before. Physical APIs specifically excite marketers as they think about the transformative communication they could deliver to their audience. This closes the gap between the digital and physical world of highly targeted and personalized communication.

It's not about the rebirth of print or delivery; it's about humanizing marketing communications to build better relationships. Next year we can expect Physical APIs to manifest new ways of connecting with the right customers and delivering value offline.

Related: Make a New Year's Resolution to Humanize Your Marketing for 2015

Michael Sharkey

Co-founder and CEO of Autopilot

Michael is co-founder and CEO of Autopilot, a lead nurturing platform for marketers. Michael has been featured on Reuters, StartUpSmart, The Australian, ABC radio, Sydney Morning Herald, and frequently contributes to Flying Solo, ShoeStringStartups and small business events.

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