Direct-Mail Marketing Isn’t Dead — It’s Immortal

Some marketers consider direct mail a relic of the past. Advances in mobile technology, alongside digital-marketing strategies, mean we can reach customers anywhere across a variety of digital mediums in real time. With capabilities like that, why would you even consider boosting your direct-mailing efforts?

Well, for one thing, because direct mail still works. According to the 2015 Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Response Rate Report, direct mail continues to show effectiveness — even as new channels and forms of media grow.

What’s exciting is the way direct mail can be used alongside other channels, including digital channels, throughout the customer journey. Direct mail can fill gaps in a customer journey when a customer might not be engaged. Consumers may typically purchase online or in stores, but more often than not, they are motivated to do so because they receive meaningful direct-mail pieces (catalogs) that contain content that is reflective of their lifestyles, interests, locations, and previous purchases.

Personally, Patagonia comes to mind right away, their catalogs almost speaking right to me, making me want to surf, ski, or go fly-fishing. While I may not purchase directly from that catalog, I am influenced to then continue my journey online.

Below, I have listed three ways in which your brand can take its direct mail-marketing strategy to the next level. So, let’s get started!

Thinking About Direct-Mail Marketing? Think Digital.
Direct mail has a tendency to find itself in marketing conversations separate from its digital counterparts. This way of thinking only serves to widen the gap between marketing-department silos that prevent enterprises from developing the single view of the customer.

Instead of addressing direct mail as a channel completely separate from digital touchpoints, start thinking about ways you can use direct mail to engage customers in other channels. Direct mail may be considered the “onramp” for engagement or the moment of _re_engagement in the customer’s journey. This could be something as simple as emailing your customers a quick-response (QR) code that leads them back to your website or offering loyalty discounts for mail recipients who sign up for your email list.

Think about how you can leverage online behavioral data to influence direct mail. For example, if the data shows that I often browse surf attire in the summer, fly-fishing gear in the fall, and snow skiing gear in the winter, why not use those insights to drive content in direct mail?

Direct mail can also work to improve the overall cross-channel engagement of your customers. For example, 44 percent of marketers state that they use three or more marketing channels during campaigns. Why? Because, the more that customers interact with brands across multiple channels, the higher the likelihood that those interactions will lead to increased ROI.

Target Demographics Previously Ignored by Direct Mail.
One of the most revealing statistics cited by the DMA is the increased response rates of standard mail pieces by recipients, ages 18–21. A faulty perception exists that only older individuals respond to direct mail. Yet, the 2015 DMA Statistical Fact Book cites the direct mail-response rate among 18–21-year-olds actually rose from 4.1 percent in 2012 to a whopping 12.4 percent in 2013, making it the largest year-to-year increase among demographics measured in the study.

Ultimately, it comes down to knowing your audience. Match your content with your segment groups.

Make direct mail unique and compelling, providing consumers with reasons to engage — make a connection. For instance, with a millennial, you might need to provide content that is hyper-personalized: tailoring communications by first name, addressing specific interests, tying content to online behavioral data, and so forth — use simple, compelling content (not the traditional direct-mail catalog or flyer). Studies show that millennials like coupons as well — so don’t hold back!

When thinking of millennials, it’s easy to default to the digital mindset. However, leaving this important age group out of your direct-mail efforts is, essentially, giving up on a response rate ranging from 8.2 percent (ages 22–24) to 12.4 percent (ages 18–21) — no small potatoes! For comparison’s sake, all digital channels combined produced a response rate of less than one percent (0.62 to be exact), with telephone having the highest response rate (between 9 and 10 percent).

While I’m not advocating the abandonment of cost-effective digital-marketing strategies for direct mail, the value proposition of direct-mail marketing to millennials remains undeniable. Where should your brand start? By reevaluating your current direct-mail campaigns aimed at the 18–34 age group. Is your direct-mail campaign optimized for a younger audience, or are you sending millennials the exact same offers as baby boomers?

Targeting younger generations through direct mail also presents great opportunities for leveraging digital channels to enhance customer experiences. Younger direct-mail recipients are more likely to respond to those QR codes and email queries we talked about earlier, which in turn, increases the chances for future engagement. Tracking mail delivery before following up with an email a day or two later is another effective way to increase engagement while taking an offline marketing approach and continuing the conversation online.

Win Back Customers With Direct-Mail Marketing.
What about the customers you’ve lost along the way — can direct mail help you reconnect with people who were past customers?

Absolutely. According to the 2015 USPS Household Diary Study, organizations unknown to direct-mail advertising received response rates of 1.4 percent in 2014 — but it gets better. Organizations that were known to recipients almost doubled that rate, prompting 2.6 percent of direct-mail recipients to reply to their advertisements.

And, when it comes to previous customers, the numbers skyrocket. So, what’s the standard mail response rate to advertising from previous customers? An incredible 18.4 percent in 2014. Just to put things in perspective, the same 1987 response rate — long before digital-marketing channels added to the roster of marketing touchpoints — was at 21.6 percent.

What does this tell us? Direct mail worked then, and it can still work for you today. A good potential starting point is using direct mail to activate customers in other channels. For example, use direct mail to target customers who are active but have yet to opt in to receive emails or download your app.

Another consideration is to take a data-driven approach, using online behavioral data to personalize direct-mail content. For example, those who browse camping gear online should be targeted with applicable content in direct mail to drive engagement.

In Closing
While it is true that direct-mail volumes and catalog mailings have been on the decline for the better part of a decade, direct mail still owns a majority stake in mail volume, accounting for 57 percent of mail sent via the USPS. Digital channels may deliver rich experiences across a wide variety of screens and touchpoints, but nothing will ever replace the feeling of holding a postcard or tearing open an envelope to see what kinds of offers are waiting inside.

Direct mail is still relevant. Is your company engaging customers through this proven offline channel?