Eight reasons why direct mail still works

Feb 01, 2010 10:30 PM  By

Multichannel marketers today tend to get caught up in the frenzy of the next greatest trend. What about Web 3.0? What’s the hot social networking application? How do we make our e-mails more effective?

Sexy online strategies are and should be a big part of direct marketing. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore some of the old-school tactics, like direct mail.

That’s right, direct mail.

Sure, it may be true that mail pieces are much more expensive than e-mails, thanks to rising postal and paper costs. And many marketers and consumers alike often perceive direct mail to be old-fashioned and downscale.

But when used wisely and analyzed carefully, direct mail outperforms many tactics, particularly with prospects and certainly with many customer segments.

Newer technologies may excite and preoccupy the marketing team, but direct mail works.

Still not convinced direct mail should be a part of your overall contact strategy? Here are eight points that illustrate how and why direct mail remains alive and well in the 21st century.

  1. Intrusive

    Unlike your Website, direct mail is an “active” format. Customers may find their way to your site, but a catalog or a direct mail piece in their mailbox is an intrusive tap on the shoulder that online-only activities don’t allow.

    While e-mail shares the intrusive nature of direct mail, e-mails can get overlooked in a crowded inbox. Plus, consumers are conditioned not to open e-mails from unknown senders for fear of viruses or other technical catastrophes. And direct mail won’t get caught in a spam filter.

    When done properly, a good direct mail piece will stand out even in a crowded mailbox, grab customers’ attention and incite them to act. That’s the intrusive nature of direct mail that no other marketing tactic can emulate.

  2. Tactile

    There’s something to be said for appealing to the senses. Direct mail delivers a tactile sensation that online activity can’t.

    You can feel a mail piece in your hands. You can hear an envelope or tab tear open. You can see the images and key messages on the printed page. You might even be able to smell it! Websites and e-mail cannot compare to this experience.

    The physical nature of direct mail forces customers to take note. And if we do our jobs effectively, the piece will pique their interest and encourage them to spend more time with it.

    In bricks-and-mortar retail, the ability to touch and experience the product increases the likelihood of a sale. It’s the same with direct: Even though it’s not the actual product in the recipient’s hands, a mail piece still activates the tactile senses.

  3. Targeted

    At its best, direct mail is targeted to the customers most likely to respond. Whether you are speaking to prospects or customers, the best way to reach a specific audience is through direct mail.

    But many marketers do not take full advantage of print’s ability to target — not only with lists, but with customized messages. With simple black plate ink changes, you can tailor your direct mail creative to different lists — best customers, lapsed customers, even prospects. You can target customers based on specific activities and microsegment prospects.

    The more targeted the message and the list, the better the response. In fact, if you’re not customizing your print products, you may be wasting your efforts and creating “junk mail” that won’t get noticed.

  4. Varied

    While the cost of some direct mail, particularly catalogs, continues to rise because of postal increases, direct mail offers a wealth of other format options. Depending on the segment and on what you are asking the recipient to do, a postcard, self-mailer or three-dimensional package can get results much like a catalog — sometimes even greater.

    But few mailers think out of the box with format and function. Direct mail doesn’t have to be solely about getting a sale.

    For instance, how are you thanking customers? One marketer sent a 3-D “thank you” mailing to its best customer segment, adding significant incremental sales without overtly promoting a sale.

    Explore the direct mail formats available to you. Work with your creative team and printer to see how you can find an innovative yet effective format. The more distinctive the format, the more it will stand out in the mail.

  5. Measurable

    One of the key reasons direct mail remains a viable channel is that you can test hypotheses and measure results. While metrics are getting better for online efforts, direct mail still reigns supreme on testing, measurement and analytics.

    Even for companies that have difficulty tracking source codes, the use of matchbacks can still help you gauge a mailing’s success and analyze overall results. But with the multiple online hits and touches added to the mix, how you measure must change. The question becomes, which of those online efforts are adding incremental sales to your direct efforts? You can’t measure your mail efforts in a void!

  6. Personalized

    There’s no question that online technology has made amazing advances in personalization that print can’t touch. But there is something magical about seeing your name in print.

    And when a name is cleverly incorporated into a mail piece, the result can be increased sales. Personalization techniques can include working the recipient’s name into a headline, or calling attention to products he or she has previously purchased.

    There was a time when personalization was so expensive that it could cripple your ROI. But today’s technology has made print personalization easier and more affordable.

    Check with your printer to see what new options are available. Think of personalization not just in terms of “your name here,” but also in terms of relevant and variable data.

    At a macro level you can “personalize” a cover of a catalog or an offer on an envelope, based on how a particular customer segment responds.

    Even better, integrating the online and offline world can really boost overall response. Consider those marketers who include a personal URL (PURL) printed within the piece. Not only can it increase response, it can also facilitate tracking!

  7. Integrated

    Direct mail should not be the only piece of your contact strategy. You should build your mail plan with direct mail as a component, a cog in a larger machine.

    Use e-mail to pre-announce mailings or to remind customers of an expiring offer. Push traffic to your Website for convenient ordering. Tie in social media, using your catalog to promote the online presence.

    Get creative with integration by producing an offer requiring a tweet response or that asks recipients to sign up for an offer online — anything that pushes a response, not just a purchase. Don’t think of it as a “circulation” strategy but as a “contact” strategy.

    Several channels working together is powerful, and there are remarkable advantages. One channel should never replace the other — all should work together to form a unified campaign.

  8. Effective

    Direct mail works — period. A recent ExactTarget study conducted by Ball State University revealed that while e-mail plays a vital role in marketing communications, direct mail is still a dominant, prominent purchase driver for different types of customers.

    In some cases, 70% to 90% of survey respondents made a purchase based on receiving direct mail — for all age groups.

Direct mail may seem old timey, quaint or even irrelevant. But it’s still an effective way to tap customers on the shoulder and push them into an activity. And while it may eventually be replaced by some newfangled technological innovation, rest assured it’s not going away anytime soon.

But as the cost to produce and deliver mail increases, you can’t continue mailing as usual expecting the same results. That’s not going to work any more: You have to mail highly efficient, targeted and relevant messages that offer customers a true value.

Lois Brayfield (loisb@jschmid.com) is president of J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog consultancy based in Mission, KS.