Include Direct Mail in Your Marketing Mix for Best Results

Yesterday, I took a little time out to visit a friend of mine at home. His wife made coffee and we all sat around the kitchen table, while their baby boy napped in the bassinet. When she opened the refrigerator to get the milk, I noticed that among the photos that were taped to the door were several postcards.

They weren’t picture postcards from exotic destinations though. They were marketing pieces mailed to her from companies that cater to new parents: diaper laundering service, nursery furnishings and the like.

I asked her about them. She said she kept them as reminders for things she was likely to need and purchase in the future. Did she keep each one that came in the mail? “Oh, no,” she chuckled. “Some go right in the dustbin.” But some, she said “intrigued her” or seemed sincere or “legitimate.”

A Little History

It’s called “direct mail,” both because it markets directly to individuals of a specific audience and because those individual respond directly back to the sender.

Long before the World Wide Web, people communicated in large degree by postal mail. This is especially true of advertising and sales communications. Since the late 1800s, when Montgomery Ward and Sears mailed their first catalogs, this form of marketing has helped to sell trillions of dollars worth of products and services.

With 16 million Internet users in 1993, businesses began to see the potential of advertising online. Twenty years later, businesses were spending more than $1.8 billion annually for online advertising—more than was being spent on television ads.

Some marketing “experts” have been saying for years that direct mail is dead—killed by the Internet. Certainly, the Internet grabbed a lot of action away from direct mail but it didn’t come close to killing it.

A Resurgence Noted

In its report, The Private Life of Mail, the UK Royal Mail presents the findings of an 18-month, in-depth study that isolated the factors for the resurgence of direct mail and why it still works:

“What digital media hasn’t changed is people,” it states. “Giving, receiving and handling tangible objects remain deep and intuitive parts of the human experience.” More specifically, it found that:

  • 57% of the study’s respondents said that mail creates a more genuine relationship and makes them feel more valued.
  • 38% of respondents said that the physical properties of action mail piece influenced how they felt about the sender; it had the potential to reinforce a brand.
  • 60% said that the best examples of mail advertising helped keep a sender’s brand top of mind, creating a lasting effect and easier recall later on.
  • Marketing campaigns that included mail were 27% more likely to result in top sales and 40% more likely to result in top acquisition levels, compared to campaigns without mail.

Similar Findings in the U.S.

A 2014 study carried out at Temple University in Philadelphia (sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service) concluded that postcards have a more substantial and longer-lasting effect than digital ads on creating desire for products and services.

The study, Enhancing the Value of Mail: The Human Response, found specifically that postcards:

  • Receive a significantly better response rate than email marketing: 79% of recipients take immediate action, compared with 45 for email recipients.
  • Generate a higher rate of new customers than email: 34% compared to 24% for email.
  • Are superior to email ads in four of nine area measured: engagement time, emotional response, recall, and creating desire for a product or service. (Cards tied with email in three other areas.)

And that’s why so many companies are still using it. According to the Direct Marketing Association, in the U.S. alone, spending for direct marketing has climbed steadily since 2009, up to $44.5 billion in 2014. Forecasters see it hitting $45.7 in 2015.

That sure doesn’t sound like “dead” to me.

Not Either/Or

Because it’s been around for 130+ years with good results, what you have with direct mail is a proven method of reaching people, causing an emotional response and instilling desire for products and services.

Obviously, plenty of companies are using online marketing to create customer relationships. Maybe your company is one of them. And no surprise: it works. But you may be missing out on bigger results because you’re not also using direct mail.

With this article, I am not suggesting that anybody switch wholesale from online advertising to direct mail but to add postal direct mail to whatever online marketing strategies you’re using.

Direct mail also provides the opportunity to repeat your brand message on separate channel.

Final Thought

Action is preceded by emotion. That applies to the impulse to make a purchase as much as it applies to saving someone from a burning building. The best marketing efforts in the world, in any format, are those that elicit an emotional reaction from the prospect or customer. Because direct mail has built-in emotional value (per U.S. and UK studies), it should be an indispensable part of any company’s marketing campaign.

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