Direct mail's Lazarus act

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Don't sleep on direct mail. That was my surprising takeaway from last week's Direct Marketing Association 2011 Conference & Exhibition. I heard from two industry experts on Wednesday that overflowing inboxes plus flooded Facebook and Twitter feeds has created a direct marketing opportunity out of increasingly empty mailboxes.

Lisa Henrikson, VP of retention and customer experience at 1-800-Flowers, said that the florist had shrunk its direct-mail program over the years but is beginning to revisit the channel after noticing the lack of competition for consumers' attention. Not an hour after I heard that from Henrikson did I sit down with Dan Smith, SVP of marketing at email and database marketing firm Clicksquared, who damn-near quoted Henrikson.
 
I'm no fan of direct mail--shocker, I know. I don't trust sending out mail, and I'm no fan of the mail I receive. A bag full of credit card offers broke my brand-new paper shredder a couple weeks ago, and as much as I love my family and friends, I'd rather receive cards digitally. That way I can store them on Dropbox rather than let their physical versions pile up until I have to determine which relatives' birthday cards don't make the storage cut.

But then I looked at my Friday and Saturday mail collection from a marketer's perspective. Over two days the mailbox featured two pieces of marketing including one that was previously opted into. Henrikson and Smith are on to something.

Not that marketers can just start stuffing envelopes. Instead they should adopt the approach employed across their digital channels: less marketing with better targeting. I imagine most direct-mail born-agains would need to rebuild their subscriber databases from scratch (or at least they should). This presents the chance to establish an efficient foundation, but to do so depends on the customer acquisition avenues.

Last week after Henrikson mentioned that 1-800-Flowers features an email opt-in on its Facebook page, I asked her how emails to consumers who subscribe via Facebook perform compared to the company's average emails. Better, she said, adding that they return higher open and clickthrough rates.

It may seem a bit backward to add a direct-mail opt-in to a Facebook page, but I can't imagine it being a costly experiment, particularly for marketers whose customer bases may skew older--read: less digital savvy--such as specialty retailer Golfsmith (in a piece to post later today I talked with Golfsmith's Internet marketing specialist Scott Magee who mentioned that older consumers had joined Facebook just to engage with the retailer).

The digital-to-direct-mail approach may not wholly revitalize an aging channel, but hey, it's a start.
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