Direct mail gains new potency as online marketing evolves

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In the early days of Web marketing, the promise of the new channel's potential was over-the-top. In fact, many optimists argued that, in the future, the Web and e-mail were going to make direct mail obsolete.  

A funny thing happened on the way to the Web. Not surprisingly, the reality did not live up to the hype. When it was time to measure campaign successes, these marketing pioneers' lack of online direct marketing experience added up to some pretty disappointing results. How were they to know it would be better to target their messages? 

If this idea is news to any online marketers today, beware, history has shown that sending generalized mass e-mails is not the approach for maximum results. Marketers have also discovered that traditional direct mail is still a viable tool. 

No doubt, the rush to the Web has had a significant effect on direct mail: volumes have dropped dramatically over the last decade. This has been painful for those of us on the service side of the business − not to mention for the US  Postal Service − but it has created an opportunity for our clients. Because each mail piece is not competing with as many other pieces in the mailbox, response rates are climbing. At the same time, e-mail response rates are declining due to overuse.

A retail client of ours just finished analyzing marketing performance of direct mail, e-mail and in-store promotions. Direct mail is the best performer: up 150% vs. last year with no significant changes in strategy. So the so-called obsolete channel is now outperforming the cheaper, digital channels, including social media.

Direct mail continues to be a very viable channel, but only if the direct marketing fundamentals are applied. Improving the levels of both personalization and relevance is the only way to increase response rates. Targeting needs to be at the core of each effort. The technology exists, and it is up to marketers to use their know-how, and the technology tools available, to their advantage. It would be a mistake for marketers to give up on direct mail. Instead, they should analyze data to learn how and when to use direct mail in combination with digital. Those who keep it in the mix and ramp up the relevancy will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

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