Direct Mail Packs a Big Punch

With a nod to Mark Twain, rumors of the demise of direct mail have been greatly exaggerated. It has not been e-bulldozed out of existence nor has it become ineffective or passé. In fact, according to the USPS, half of all printed material still is distributed through the mail. And according to several industry surveys, it remains an important part of most comprehensive marketing campaigns.

In a study by marketing research firm Epsilon Targeting, despite its undeserved reputation as being old school, direct mail “is the top choice of US and Canadian consumers for the receipt of brand communications in almost every category, ranging from health to household products, to household services, insurance and financial services, including credit card offers. The preference for direct mail also extends to the 18-34 year old demographic.”

In fact, the study found that about half of US and Canadian consumers say they pay more attention to postal mail than email and some 60 percent say they enjoy checking the mailbox. Significant minorities also found direct mail more trustworthy than email. That said, direct mail works best when combined with other communications channels, according the Epsilon survey. “Our study suggests that brands should use a variety of media to build relationships, starting with trusted channels like direct mail, then layering the message to reinforce it through other channels.”


Alive and Well

Any thought that direct mail has faded into the background was certainly erased at Graph Expo 2012, which sported a major mailing services pavilion. It also listed some 400 exhibitors with equipment, products, software, or other services when I searched the exhibitor list under the mailing and fulfillment services heading. Their offerings included addressing equipment and software, barcode and sorting equipment and software, inserting equipment, postage meters, mailing systems, and much more.

The educational program at Graph Expo also was heavy on direct mail subjects. Sessions covered the USPS, including proposed legislation that will affect the print, mail, and fulfillment industries, and the technical, operational, and business challenges printers will face in implementing Full Service Intelligent Mail—a topic which QP columnist Nancy DeDiemar has explored in her Priority Mail columns.

Other direct mail related topics included getting economic value out of direct mail strategies, using personalization in direct mail, pricing fulfillment services, tracking marketing metrics, and designing direct mail for automation. One three-session workshop by FoldFactory’s Trish Witkowski covered the basics one needs to consider before starting a direct mail marketing campaign—the audience, the message, the offer, the format, technology integration, and any creative techniques one might use to engage the recipient. She also covered direct mail formats in detail and discussed the importance of testing, tracking, and measuring direct mail campaigns.


Crunching Numbers

According to the USPS, there were 83.5 billion pieces of advertising mail sent in 2010. Also that year, more than 48 percent of all standard mail addressed to specific household members was read immediately, compared to 39 percent of mail addressed to “occupant/resident.” Finally, the share of ad spending devoted to direct mail has remained near 12 percent for much of the past 20 years, despite the introduction of so many new mediums.

According to the latest channel preference survey from ExactTarget, 65 percent of people who receive direct mail have made a purchase or engaged in a different marketing channel as instigated by the sender, placing it second behind email (66 percent). Also, the Direct Marketing Association finds that catalogs are one of the most cost effective marketing tools, based on cost per order.

In the latest NAPL survey of quick and small commercial printers, 23.8 percent of printers picked mailing and fulfillment as the fastest growth area, placing it fourth behind digital color static (65 percent), wide-format color (47.6 percent), and digital color variable (38.1 percent). The same survey found that 27.6 percent of printers had made capital investments in mailing capabilities in the past three years, and 35 percent expect to do so in the next three years.

Of course, getting into direct mail is not just a matter of digging up a mailing list and some mailing software. Anything that goes into the mail stream is subject to a slew of requirements and regulations. That’s why years ago we instituted the Priority Mail column and, later, Mail Room: Ask Sandra in order to provide more detailed information to those readers using or planning to use direct mail. However, the USPS recently has instituted a program that could be an attractive entry point into direct mail.


Every Door Direct Mail

Every Door Direct Mail was introduced in 2011 and is gaining traction with small businesses because it lets mail be sent to a designated area—Zip code, neighborhood, or even a single carrier route. Small businesses serving a specific area can quickly put together an offer or communication without the cost of buying names and addresses or creating a media plan. With the lower costs, these small businesses can experiment to find what works best with their customers or potential customers in their area. This is an ideal opportunity for quick or small commercial printers to get into direct mail or to attract new customers for existing direct mail operations.


In the Mix

A recent survey by Pitney Bowes found that 76 percent of small businesses agreed that the ideal marketing mix features a combination of digital and physical communications. It also found that 58 percent used multichannel marketing. The survey also found that both direct mail (44 percent) and social media (50 percent) were popular marketing options.

There is no doubt that the marketing landscape is changing and will continue to change, but there is also no doubt that direct mail will continue to be an important component. According to Charles Prescott of the Global Address Data Association: “I cannot see a time when there won’t be direct mail marketing. It’s the single most effective way of making a sale.”