Today’s programmatic tools enable marketers to create customer profiles that are in vivid HD compared to the stick-figure drawings of the past. If you want to create a mobile campaign targeting only 36-year-old left-handed women who enjoy chai tea with their tai chi, the technology exists to do it.

But for all the advantages of its data-driven approach, programmatic display retargeting has also, as Perry Simpson noted in Direct Marketing News, “brought many marketers into close contact with the seedier sides of the web. Many marketers have fallen victim to online traffic fraud driven by bots or, perhaps even worse, had their ads placed on woefully inappropriate pages.” With the rising issues with viewability and fraud, online ad impressions are no longer worth what marketers are paying to serve them.

With marketers searching for a better way to connect with their actual customers (and avoid wasting ad spend on bots), direct mail is seeing a resurgence as a major component of omnichannel marketing. Because just as no one has devised a better way to move massive amounts of freight over long distances than railroads, direct mail offers an advantage that simply can’t be duplicated in the digital realm: tangibility.

As David Wilson recently pointed out, direct mail “triggers stronger emotional responses” than digital ads, is more memorable, and is far less likely to be ignored. And these differentiators are particularly pronounced among tech-savvy Millennials.

So a better question would be: What would happen if you could, to quote a recent Forbes article, “marry the best of digital marketing with the impact of physical direct mail”?

The simple fact that marketers are now asking such questions represents a sea change. One early misconception of digital was that e-commerce would be a closed loop. Online ads would drive online consumers to make online purchases. And while some e-commerce occurs that way, a more complex picture of the overall digital experience has emerged in recent years.

A Retail Dive consumer survey found that 65% of consumers that made purchases in bricks-and-mortar stores researched their purchases online first. “Oftentimes,” the survey concluded, “the shopper journey means researching online and buying offline or vice versa.” (Emphasis added.)

The survey also noted that: “it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern where the shopping journey actually begins,” leading to the conclusion that “the urgency in which retailers must work to create a seamless omnichannel shopping experience is real.”

Programmatic direct mail solves these problems in an ingeniously simple way. Context is no longer an issue because, unlike display ads and popups, physical mail does not interrupt or alter the user’s experience. Collecting and sorting one’s mail is the experience.

And as for fraud — well, let’s just say we’ve never met a bot that owns a home.

In short, programmatic direct mail combines data parsing, behavior-based intent signals and automation in a way that matches the efficiency of digital, but with an effectiveness that is several orders of magnitude beyond display advertising’s paltry .9% response rate (as reported by the DMA). And there’s no pushy intrusion into the customer’s experience – they’re free to interact with advertising on their own time and terms.

So ultimately, what is programmatic direct mail? It’s the next evolutionary step for digital marketing.