Direct mail: A trend that will never die

July 14, 2022
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Direct mail is as old as dirt.

Okay, maybe it’s not that old, but it’s been around for a long time. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of direct mail, but the Montgomery Ward catalog from 1872 is credited as the first public mail order catalog.

Image source

At first glance and in today’s highly digital age, it may seem like sending direct mail is akin to sending your customers a beat-up Montgomery Ward catalog. 

You may think that this old school approach simply can’t compete with modern digital marketing, right?

But, like Shakira’s hips, the numbers don’t lie. 

Even in today’s highly digital world, direct mail works. Here’s a closer look at the main reasons why direct mail is still—and will remain—successful.

1. Direct mail is personal

Personalization in marketing is crucial to every aspect of the customer journey. It’s also effective. Ninety-seven percent of marketers reported improved conversion and engagement because of personalization in advertising. 

And, direct mail stands out from other forms of advertising when it comes to feeling more personalized. Seventy percent of consumers say they view direct mail as more personal than online interactions.

Not only does direct mail feel more personal than online advertising, but studies show people respond extremely well to personalization in direct mail.

Here’s the landmark example. In 1999, Romano and Broudy sent nine different types of direct mail to test the response rate. Each type had a combination of color, personalization, and additional targeted information about the consumer.

Romano and Broudy’s control mailer, a black-and-white mailer with no name or targeted info, resulted in a 0.46% response rate.

Here’s where it gets good: when they added the recipient's name to the mailer, the response rate jumped to a staggering 44%.

To this day, the study is still cited as the primary case for personalization in direct mail, and this simple personalization strategy for direct mail still works today.

“People nowadays are used to receiving a slew of spam emails and impersonal social media ads, so receiving a letter in the mail with their names on it can be a refreshing change,” said Muskan Rai of Web Hosting Advices. 

2. Direct mail is targeted

The response rates in Romano and Broudy’s study for targeted mailers was also extremely high.

Compared to the control group, a similar black-and-white mailer with only the addition of a customized offer based on customer database information increased the response rate by 500%.

“One key benefit of direct mail is its ability to reach a targeted audience. Unlike other forms of advertising, businesses can use direct mail to target specific consumers based on their purchasing habits and demographics. This allows businesses to reach those who are more likely to be interested in what they have to offer,” said Lisa Dietrich, co-founder of RemoteCanteen.

What’s more, in today’s highly omnichannel world, brands can use the robust customer cata they capture online to personalize direct mailers. 

L’Amarue does this. It has an interactive quiz on its website to gather relevant information about its customers. Then, L’Amarue uses that data to send unique direct mailers to different customer segments.

3. Direct mail is memorable

Direct mail is also tangible. You can hold it in your hands. And you don’t have to look much further than the great Kindle-versus-book debate to see that tangibility makes a difference. Physical books still outsell Kindle versions.

Recent research showed that participants experienced better recall of chronological events when reading a 28-page story in a paperback book, versus a Kindle.

The study’s researchers surmised that the physical turning of a page, or the “kinesthetic feedback,” improved readers ability to recall the details in the story.

The point is you can’t hold a digital ad in your hands, and this makes it less memorable. There’s no gloss or cardstock to feel between your fingertips. You won’t go through the motions of opening an envelope and undoing a crisp tri-fold.

Collen Clark of Schmidt & Clark, LLP said it better, “Direct mail marketing is still alive and well in a heavily digital-dependent era because it meets a need that bits and bytes can't fulfill.”

“The sensory input provided by a well-executed print campaign creates a much more real experience, thereby increasing brand recall and ensuring customer retention. The sense of connection as in touching something with the hands generates a variance in current marketing practices,” says Clark.

4. Direct mail is omnichannel

Direct mail doesn’t do its best work in a silo. Approximately 68% of marketers reported an increase in website visits because of an omnichannel approach, while 60% indicated an increased ROI. Remember how 73% of households who receive direct mail actually read or, at the least, scan it? That’s why it’s crucial to meet customers everywhere they are, and that includes the mailbox.


“Each marketing effort supports the other, and each can achieve something unique that they cannot do with the others, making direct mail a more valuable channel than ever before,” said Tristan Harris, senior marketing manager at Thrive Agency.

Recently, the jewelry brand Mejuri adopted an omnichannel approach by working with PebblePost to send their customers a postcard. Their goal was to combat the volatility of online advertising costs and to stand out from the tsunami of digital channels and ads that inundate consumers every day.

The omnichannel campaign was successful because the brand’s look and voice were consistent from digital to print, creating a seamless brand presentation for the consumer. The approach paid off as Mejuri has 9xed their retargeting return on advertising spend (ROAS).

“Direct mail may be offline, but current marketing strategies can still incorporate direct mail with digital marketing campaigns and online analytics, enhancing marketing implementation both offline and online,” said Cayla Thurman, a business reputation consultant for Rize Reviews Online Reputation Management.

5. Direct mail has a clear next step 

Like all forms of marketing, a clear CTA is the number one goal. Customers who receive direct mailers typically know exactly what they’re supposed to do next.

Here’s an example from Mosquito Joe.

Image Source: City Publications Houston



Mosquito Joe’s CTA is pretty clear from the start: Call Mosquito Joe to have your yard sprayed. How? By flipping over the card to find the number. Why? So “Outside is fun again.”

The message is direct: Pick up the phone to transform your buggy yard full of little pests to a fun, bug-free outdoor space.

Direct mailers are known for providing a clear call to action—call now, join now, scan the QR code, take a certain percentage off, visit this URL—you name it. 

6. Direct mail still yields impressive, effective results 

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Direct mail still works. 

“Direct mail is still as relevant today as it was over the last century. One reason for this is its impressive affordability coupled with above-average ROI. Direct mail made its way into the 21st century—it's just taken on new forms. But no matter what form it takes, direct mail is still going strong as an effective marketing tool that delivers results every time,” said Ryan Stewart of Webris.

Direct mail can have a response rate of upwards of 13 times that of email marketing. And, according to the USPS, an omnichannel approach that includes both direct mail and digital advertising boasts some incredible stats. Out of the total marketers surveyed, 39% reported increased traffic to a physical store or business location, 63% reported an increased response rate, and 53% of marketers had an increase in leads.

The Digital Age will not eradicate direct mail. Instead, it has, and will continue, to create an environment for it to flourish in its own right.

Direct mail isn’t a trend, and it will not die

If mail exists, consumers will continue responding to it. And direct mail, when properly executed as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy, will continue driving revenue and impact for businesses.

Share

Direct mail: A trend that will never die

Direct mail is as old as dirt.

Okay, maybe it’s not that old, but it’s been around for a long time. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of direct mail, but the Montgomery Ward catalog from 1872 is credited as the first public mail order catalog.

Image source

At first glance and in today’s highly digital age, it may seem like sending direct mail is akin to sending your customers a beat-up Montgomery Ward catalog. 

You may think that this old school approach simply can’t compete with modern digital marketing, right?

But, like Shakira’s hips, the numbers don’t lie. 

Even in today’s highly digital world, direct mail works. Here’s a closer look at the main reasons why direct mail is still—and will remain—successful.

1. Direct mail is personal

Personalization in marketing is crucial to every aspect of the customer journey. It’s also effective. Ninety-seven percent of marketers reported improved conversion and engagement because of personalization in advertising. 

And, direct mail stands out from other forms of advertising when it comes to feeling more personalized. Seventy percent of consumers say they view direct mail as more personal than online interactions.

Not only does direct mail feel more personal than online advertising, but studies show people respond extremely well to personalization in direct mail.

Here’s the landmark example. In 1999, Romano and Broudy sent nine different types of direct mail to test the response rate. Each type had a combination of color, personalization, and additional targeted information about the consumer.

Romano and Broudy’s control mailer, a black-and-white mailer with no name or targeted info, resulted in a 0.46% response rate.

Here’s where it gets good: when they added the recipient's name to the mailer, the response rate jumped to a staggering 44%.

To this day, the study is still cited as the primary case for personalization in direct mail, and this simple personalization strategy for direct mail still works today.

“People nowadays are used to receiving a slew of spam emails and impersonal social media ads, so receiving a letter in the mail with their names on it can be a refreshing change,” said Muskan Rai of Web Hosting Advices. 

2. Direct mail is targeted

The response rates in Romano and Broudy’s study for targeted mailers was also extremely high.

Compared to the control group, a similar black-and-white mailer with only the addition of a customized offer based on customer database information increased the response rate by 500%.

“One key benefit of direct mail is its ability to reach a targeted audience. Unlike other forms of advertising, businesses can use direct mail to target specific consumers based on their purchasing habits and demographics. This allows businesses to reach those who are more likely to be interested in what they have to offer,” said Lisa Dietrich, co-founder of RemoteCanteen.

What’s more, in today’s highly omnichannel world, brands can use the robust customer cata they capture online to personalize direct mailers. 

L’Amarue does this. It has an interactive quiz on its website to gather relevant information about its customers. Then, L’Amarue uses that data to send unique direct mailers to different customer segments.

3. Direct mail is memorable

Direct mail is also tangible. You can hold it in your hands. And you don’t have to look much further than the great Kindle-versus-book debate to see that tangibility makes a difference. Physical books still outsell Kindle versions.

Recent research showed that participants experienced better recall of chronological events when reading a 28-page story in a paperback book, versus a Kindle.

The study’s researchers surmised that the physical turning of a page, or the “kinesthetic feedback,” improved readers ability to recall the details in the story.

The point is you can’t hold a digital ad in your hands, and this makes it less memorable. There’s no gloss or cardstock to feel between your fingertips. You won’t go through the motions of opening an envelope and undoing a crisp tri-fold.

Collen Clark of Schmidt & Clark, LLP said it better, “Direct mail marketing is still alive and well in a heavily digital-dependent era because it meets a need that bits and bytes can't fulfill.”

“The sensory input provided by a well-executed print campaign creates a much more real experience, thereby increasing brand recall and ensuring customer retention. The sense of connection as in touching something with the hands generates a variance in current marketing practices,” says Clark.

4. Direct mail is omnichannel

Direct mail doesn’t do its best work in a silo. Approximately 68% of marketers reported an increase in website visits because of an omnichannel approach, while 60% indicated an increased ROI. Remember how 73% of households who receive direct mail actually read or, at the least, scan it? That’s why it’s crucial to meet customers everywhere they are, and that includes the mailbox.


“Each marketing effort supports the other, and each can achieve something unique that they cannot do with the others, making direct mail a more valuable channel than ever before,” said Tristan Harris, senior marketing manager at Thrive Agency.

Recently, the jewelry brand Mejuri adopted an omnichannel approach by working with PebblePost to send their customers a postcard. Their goal was to combat the volatility of online advertising costs and to stand out from the tsunami of digital channels and ads that inundate consumers every day.

The omnichannel campaign was successful because the brand’s look and voice were consistent from digital to print, creating a seamless brand presentation for the consumer. The approach paid off as Mejuri has 9xed their retargeting return on advertising spend (ROAS).

“Direct mail may be offline, but current marketing strategies can still incorporate direct mail with digital marketing campaigns and online analytics, enhancing marketing implementation both offline and online,” said Cayla Thurman, a business reputation consultant for Rize Reviews Online Reputation Management.

5. Direct mail has a clear next step 

Like all forms of marketing, a clear CTA is the number one goal. Customers who receive direct mailers typically know exactly what they’re supposed to do next.

Here’s an example from Mosquito Joe.

Image Source: City Publications Houston



Mosquito Joe’s CTA is pretty clear from the start: Call Mosquito Joe to have your yard sprayed. How? By flipping over the card to find the number. Why? So “Outside is fun again.”

The message is direct: Pick up the phone to transform your buggy yard full of little pests to a fun, bug-free outdoor space.

Direct mailers are known for providing a clear call to action—call now, join now, scan the QR code, take a certain percentage off, visit this URL—you name it. 

6. Direct mail still yields impressive, effective results 

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Direct mail still works. 

“Direct mail is still as relevant today as it was over the last century. One reason for this is its impressive affordability coupled with above-average ROI. Direct mail made its way into the 21st century—it's just taken on new forms. But no matter what form it takes, direct mail is still going strong as an effective marketing tool that delivers results every time,” said Ryan Stewart of Webris.

Direct mail can have a response rate of upwards of 13 times that of email marketing. And, according to the USPS, an omnichannel approach that includes both direct mail and digital advertising boasts some incredible stats. Out of the total marketers surveyed, 39% reported increased traffic to a physical store or business location, 63% reported an increased response rate, and 53% of marketers had an increase in leads.

The Digital Age will not eradicate direct mail. Instead, it has, and will continue, to create an environment for it to flourish in its own right.

Direct mail isn’t a trend, and it will not die

If mail exists, consumers will continue responding to it. And direct mail, when properly executed as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy, will continue driving revenue and impact for businesses.