Priority Mail: Direct Mail Marketing is Back!

Here is good news for quick printers who are also mailers: after years of decline, direct mail is gaining in popularity as a marketing tool. Better yet, there is a growing body of research that proves the effectiveness of direct mail when compared to other forms of advertising. This means that when making a sales call on a prospect, you can cite statistics to make your point.

Here is an example: according to Pingdom, a website and performance monitoring company in Sweden, in 2012 total worldwide email traffic per day reached 144.8 billion. Almost 69 percent of all these messages were spam, though filters caught most of it. Of the 3.3 billion email accounts worldwide, 75 percent were registered to consumers and 25 percent to businesses.

Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at the University of California, Irvine, says one of the main problems with email is that there isn’t an off switch. Email piles up, waiting for your attention. This glut of email messages increases the likelihood that the recipient will delete the email without opening it. In fact, according to HubSpot, email open rates in 2012 were only 25.6 percent.

Contrast this with response rates for a tangible direct mail piece. According to the most recently published results of the USPS Household Diary Study, 85 percent of direct mail is at least skimmed over before being discarded or saved.


Direct Mail Grabs Attention

One possible explanation for the greater open rates of direct mail may be related to sheer volume. Yory Wurmser, director of marketing and media insights at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), hypothesizes that consumers are receiving too many digital messages they don’t want. “Because of the proliferation of emails and the onslaught of display ads everywhere, there is an advantage of going through direct mail,” says Wurmser. “Direct mail, in a way, has become less cluttered.”

According to the statistics available from the Magna Advertising Group, advertising mail spending dropped by 5.5 percent in 2008, then another 15.6 percent in 2009. Measured by pieces, the business dipped from 84 billion in 2011 to 80 billion in 2012. Because the amount of direct mail has decreased, there is less competition in the mailbox, making it more likely that someone will notice, read, and respond to a direct mail piece. Indeed, the Household Diary Study indicates that about 35 percent of people say they will respond to a direct mail piece at some point.


Numbers Don’t Lie

According to the DMA 2010 Response Rate Trend Report, 79 percent of households either read or skim advertising mail sent to their home. This finding is consistent with a study conducted by International Communications Research (ICR) for Pitney Bowes. That survey found that despite the widespread use and popularity of digital media overall, 73 percent of consumers prefer mail for receiving new product announcements, compared to 18 percent who prefer email. The survey also found that 31 percent of consumers are less likely to discard unopened mail than they are to delete spam (53.2 percent).

To compare unsolicited mail to unsolicited email, the ICR study asked consumers what specific advantages they saw in unsolicited mail. The results are:

  • • 45.3 percent of respondents found mail to be less intrusive than email
  • • 40.2 percent found mail to be more convenient (to be saved and considered at leisure)
  • • 30.2 percent found mail to be less high pressure (let them consider their decision)
  • • 22.7 percent found mail to be more descriptive (easier to picture the offer)
  • • 12 percent found mail to be more persuasive

Other differences include:

  • • Email can be designated by the intended recipient as spam and blocked from the inbox. A direct mail piece does get into the mail box. And because it is tangible, some part of the mail piece will be seen, even if it is quickly discarded.
  • • Mail that arrives regularly may be more welcome than email. Prospects unsubscribe from email faster than they request to be removed from mailing lists.
  • • If someone turns in change-of-address orders to the USPS, that information is made available to mailers. Email service providers do not provide similar update services for email addresses.
  • • Prospects may be skeptical of email messages. By contrast, mail is a familiar medium whose contents are likely to be seen as reliable.

When dealing with a customer or prospect that has been having success with email marketing, it may help to explain that the best response rates are the result of integrating direct mail with other marketing channels. Using email and direct mail together produces the greatest overall impact because the direct mail piece can drive traffic to a website, and email reminders of an offer or an impending deadline for action can extend the life of a direct mail piece.


Nancy DeDiemar is a former chairman of NAQP and Printer of the Year. She is the co-publisher of Printips (, a newsletter subscription service for printers. Contact her at