Not new and snazzy like its digital brethren, direct mail gets little respect. But while some marketers deride the old-school tool, others find it vital to their omnichannel approach. Indeed, 38% of marketers used three channels and 29% used four to integrate their 2014 campaigns, Experian Marketing Services reports.
Don’t knock direct mail: Its response rate among existing customers is 3.4%—more than 28 times the 0.12% for email, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Catalogs alone—a sliver of the total volume of direct mail—bring in $2 for every prospective customer they reach and $10 for every returning customer, the American Catalog Mailers Association reports.
“Direct mail refuses to go away because it works,” says Bruce Biegel, senior managing director at Winterberry Group, a management consultancy specializing in advertising and marketing.
Here are six reasons why marketers should continue to invest in direct mail and weave it into their omnichannel marketing efforts:
1: Consumers still relish mail
Rarely do we linger on billboard, banner, radio, or TV ads—except, perhaps, during the Super Bowl—yet many of us open our mail with hopeful anticipation.
“You don’t become ‘blind’ to direct mail as you do with banner marketing,” Biegel says.
Indeed, 70% to 80% of consumers polled say they open most of their mail, including what they label “junk,” according to data in the DMA’s 2014 statistical fact book. And 38.4% to 62.8% of household heads—a median of 45.4%—report “immediately” reading direct mail, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
2: Recipients respond
People not only skim, but also heed direct mail’s call-to-action—and not just when a prepaid envelope or QR code is included. In fact, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, JCPenney is bringing back its print catalog because data showed that much of the retailer’s online sales were driven by the catalog.
“You’re not as likely to respond [to a call-to-action] while viewing TV or other passive advertising,” says Wes Sparling, VP marketing strategy at IWCO Direct, a provider of direct marketing services. Direct mail replies average more than 13%, the DMA reports.
3: Calls-to-action can be digital
Marketers can boost direct mail response rates by including an SMS or QR code call-to-action; for example, to request or view more information, to receive coupons or discounts, or to opt in to a contest or sweepstakes.
“Mobile integration makes direct mail come to life—and you can reduce your mailer’s size,” says Laura Marriott, CEO of NeoMedia, a mobile marketing firm.
When a local landscaper’s pitch piqued Marriott’s interest, she used the enclosed QR code to explore more details and visuals than a mail piece could contain, she says. “I hired them, and now I have a beautiful garden.”
4: Personalized pitches in print can carry through to digital
Using prospects’ names spikes their interest. Adding other relevant details to a direct mailer based on customers’ gender, age, preferences, past purchases, and the like ensures engagement. “The more personal, the more likely mailings will be read through,” IWCO Direct’s Sparling says.
In fact, consumers today expect tailor-made content: 54% say they’d consider ending a brand relationship without it, the CMO Council reports.
Latcham Direct, a customer-communications solutions firm, emblazoned the front of its 2014 holiday cards with client names and their interior with a personalized URL—which generated enough opens and clicks to yield a 53% response to a set of unique landing pages that enabled recipients to choose small gifts and designate charities to which the firm would donate. “The direct mailing was an engaging experience,” says Judy Berlin, marketing VP at XMPie, the marketing software provider Latcham used to run the campaign.
5: Flexibility is inherent
Direct mail delivers in so many ways, from postcards and letters to brochures and catalogs. And that’s just form factors. The ability to customize content and add multiple elements of personalization within direct mailers is nearly infinite.
“Each element serves as a salesperson,” Sparling says. “An envelope can tease someone into opening the piece, and then you can present your biggest benefit in the Johnson box to the upper right.” Other copy and inserts can reinforce your missive with facts, features, and testimonials.
But don’t stick to a formula. Instead, vary content and images based on customer data or intersperse mailing types, says Keith Goodman, VP of corporate solutions at Modern Postcard, a direct mail marketing firm. “You don’t want to make mailings so different they lose their relationship to each other,” he says. “Your first piece may have resonated, the customer just didn’t need your product or service at that time.”
6: Being highly targeted gets highly measurable results
Direct mail allows marketers to segment recipients by behaviors, demographics, geography (which further indicates income and interests), and more, so they know precisely whom they’re reaching, Sparling says.
“Unlike other marketing, direct mail is measurable and controllable. You can make assumptions on how the targeted audience will use products and test various offers,” he says. “Then you take the winning copy, send it out to a broader market, and have a good idea of your return. That’s why direct mail is the backbone of lead generation.”
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