Direct Mail Still Rocks!

Over the last 20 years, a number of digital tools have exploded on the marketing landscape. From email newsletters to company websites to social media marketing, they have captured tons of buzz and countless adherents.

But none of them have been able to knock direct marketing from its perch. Direct mail remains a superstar of the marketing world. Direct mail still rocks.

And why? “The biggest reason is it works,” said Shelley Sweeney, VP and GM of Xerox's Data Processing Service Bureau and Direct Mail Segment within the firm's Graphic Communications Business. “It definitely delivers, compared to all media types.”

Sweeney noted that the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) recently reported that direct mail has a 4.4 percent response rate, compared to a 0.12 percent rate for email. That’s 10 to 30 times higher for direct mail as a marketing medium.

“The main reason is all of us are bombarded by marketing messages, an average of 3,000 times a day, the majority coming in through email,” Sweeney added. “Yet we only remember four. Direct mail is permanent, you get it out of your mailbox; it has physicality and longevity to it. Direct mail works because people use data and make direct mail relevant. It delivers business results.”

In complete agreement is Debbie Simpson, president of Newport, KY-based Multi-Craft, one of the largest, most respected marketing communications companies in the Greater Cincinnati area. Like Sweeney, Simpson is convinced direct mail still rocks for one overriding reason:  “It still works,” she said.

“That has a lot to do with mailboxes being empty," Simpson observed. "Marketers drifted away from direct mail for a while, resulting in empty mailboxes.  Now they’re returning because of the value of direct mail. The DMA did a study asking people how they preferred to receive business communication, and 69 percent preferred direct mail. Epsilon did a survey finding that direct mail was the top choice for U.S. and Canadian consumers for receipt of brand communications.”

Simpson also cited a Bangor University study on how brains process direct mail versus digital messaging. “The finding was direct mail generated a deeper processing than the digital messaging, because the brain sees the physical matter as more real than the digital messaging,” she explained.

What’s more, direct mail still rocks because recent technological innovations enabling highly targeted and personalized multichannel campaigns -- as distinct from old-school, non-personalized communications that produced poor quality leads -- are revolutionizing today’s direct mail industry.

So says Judy Berlin, marketing VP at XMPie, a Xerox subsidiary. “Advances in big-data acquisition and variable-data print have had a huge impact towards enabling this evolution,” she offered. “Direct mail still rocks because marketers can now also incorporate trackable digital technology, such as Quick Response (QR) codes, augmented reality software, or Near Field Communications (NFC) into their print campaigns. Marketers can monitor their campaigns, analyze results in real time, and modify strategy and tactics accordingly. This digital technology empowers the direct mail industry by transforming a one-sided announcement into a two-way conversation, building a relationship for the long term.”

Building business and promoting

Print service providers (PSPs) are ideally positioned to leverage the resurgence of direct mail and turn it into profits. Sweeney noted many PSPs work with small- to mid-size businesses, including doctors, lawyers, accountants, and restaurant owners.  And 76 percent of small- to medium-sized businesses report their ideal marketing strategy is to employ print and online marketing together.

The easiest way to get into direct mail is to create templates for the different industries you serve, Sweeney said. Have one template for lawyers, one for realtors, one for contractors, and one for restaurants. “Showcase a client, say a realtor, and move toward additional clients, using relevant data to demonstrate that the direct mail you produced improved sales,” she encouraged.

Like Berlin, Simpson says profiting from direct mail involves recognizing it works better with another marketing channel, such as email. 

“No channel should stand alone in my book,” Simpson noted.

“It can be very simple. One of the most effective ways to market is through a postcard campaign, combined with email. Provide a multi-touch campaign to tell [would-be clients] you can tighten their deadlines, cut costs, and reduce the number of vendors they have to work with.”

Often, quick printing pros and other PSPs will find themselves in situations in which their potential customers have no prior knowledge or experience with cross-media marketing, Berlin said.  And in order to sell such personalized direct mail services, it’s crucial for PSPs to demonstrate direct mail’s benefits in advance.  “LithExcel, a PSP/MSP based in New Mexico, proactively secured a new client -- a Native American casino and vacation resort -- by educating the client and implementing a holistic personalized marketing campaign,” she said, adding these initiatives were key factors in the incredible success of an ongoing campaign that boosted hotel occupancy from 33 percent to 89 percent in just two years.

Sweeney concurs with the notion that education is essential. The best way to build confidence and trust with prospects is to show the success you have had with the direct mail campaign promoting your own company. “If you do a direct mail campaign to your prospective customers, integrating in other channels such as digital, that’s a very effective way to market and grow your business,” she said. She cites Pittsburgh-area AlphaGraphics shops, which produced a multi-wave self-promotion campaign featuring both digital and direct mail.

Entitled “Use Your Coconut,” it concluded with a direct mail package containing . . . a coconut. The campaign garnered a 46 percent response rate.

“What they were trying to do is get executives to come in and attend an executive marketing session to show how these campaigns work, and [see] the powerful business results they can generate,” Sweeney says.

Best practices

Those successful building direct mail business gain a thorough grasp of how to collect, mine, and use robust data in campaigns, Berlin said. Only by targeting the correct prospects, learning their preferred communications channels and brand relationships, and offering them something that is personally relevant to them can a campaign succeed.  “As marketers learn more about their customers and prospects, and are able to utilize that information effectively throughout each communication cycle and across a variety of media channels, they can transform customer relationships into loyal, long-term relationships,” she reported.

Sweeney is another expert who stresses the primacy of data, asserting that correct data is essential to making sure mail is sent to the right parties. “If you’re sending a postcard to new homeowners, it may be selling furniture, lawn mowers, or lawn care services,” she said.  “But if sending it to renters, you wouldn’t want to include pitches for mowers or lawn care because renters don’t need those things. Data is king, but data can cause problems if used incorrectly.”

Understanding postal requirements also is key. The U.S. Postal Service does a terrific job of education in ways to successfully deploy direct mail, and its promotions are a great way to leverage that education, Sweeney added. 

She said a USPS promotion running August 1 through September 30, for example, called “Emerging Technology” features a 2 percent postal discount to participants if mail programs include augmented reality or Near Field Communications.

“There is abundance about direct mail both on the USPS.com website and in information provided by equipment manufacturers like Xerox,” she said.

Knowledge of postal regulations and recommendations can be turned to a PSP’s advantage. “We brought in clients for a seminar on postal regulations and how to design an effective mail piece that saves mailing costs,” Simpson related. “That positioned us as experts in the mailing field.”

Sweeney believes PSPs should not wait to parlay direct mail into profits. Their rivals won’t. “The window of opportunity is now,” she urged. “More and more businesses and marketing executives are challenged to deliver results. Direct mail works; it’s not a question of technology. The technology is all there. It’s a matter of proving yourself and marketing your services.” 

There is one final consideration that skeptical PSPs should remember before all else, Simpson concluded.  “If direct mail didn’t work, why are eBay, Yahoo! and Google using it?” she asked.  “They all are!”

Technology update

On June 10, Kodak launched its Prosper 6000C model, an inkjet web press targeted to high-volume commercial printers and capable of running speeds up to 1,000 feet per minute (fpm) -- 656 fpm on glossy stock. At 90 feet long and featuring some 20 patent-pending innovations, the new Prosper has been intentionally designed to look like a high-speed, web-offset perfecting press.

With a media range from 42 gsm to 270 gsm (including 12-pt. card stock), the new digital press will "expand the reach and applications of commercial inkjet" into more journals, manuals, catalogs, inserts and, of course, direct mail, said Will Mansfield, worldwide marketing director of Kodak Inkjet Printing Solutions. Presently in beta-test mode, the Prosper 6000C will become commercially available some time this summer, according to Mansfield. The 6000C price point starts at $3.6 million.

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