Will direct mail remain a top channel?

With postal and production costs rising and more consumers looking to online, some say that direct mail may be nearing its end as an effective marketing tool — but others disagree.

Peter Meyers
VP of marketing, ICOM
More than 15 years experience in market­ing and sales

Direct mail is very much alive and has proved resilient, despite the indus­try’s grim predictions when younger generations flocked to adopt everything digital. Industry studies have tracked a steady increase in the amount of direct mail over recent years — with billions of pieces still mailed each year. Despite high-tech advancements, marketers should continue to devote efforts to communicate via the channel.

As new media proliferate, knowing your customer’s communication prefer­ences will become vital. An emphasis on targeting not only the right con­sumer group, but also on the preferred channel of that group will boost returns for direct marketers. A recent study by ICOM showed that 18- to 34-year-olds communicated a nearly two-to-one preference for receiving product infor­mation in the mail vs. other electronic options such as online or through e-mail. Respondents 65 years and older also overwhelmingly prefer direct mail for product communications

The large number of young US con­sumers will account for a sizable chunk of the spending economy in the coming decades, so insightful marketers should take note. The key to knowing your consumer is figuring out the best way to engage him or her. A targeted and creative mailing must be highly person­alized and relational.

Marketers should take note of the future implications of a youth move­ment toward direct mail.

Dave Lewis
CMO, Message Systems
25-year direct mar­keting veteran, both offline and online

Direct mail has been the workhorse for generations of direct marketers. But it’s time to put that workhorse out to pasture, and recognize that digital messaging – e-mail for today – is the one for our future.

Direct mail can be impactful, par­ticularly with some audiences and for some products or promotions, and will always have tactile advantages that a digital medium can never replicate. But in terms of marketing priorities, it’s time to make the shift to e-mail. This is especially true in tough times when those dollars are scarce.

Paper, printing and postage costs have escalated while consumer prefer­ences have shifted from postal to digital communications. Today, e-mail is the preferred medium for consumers, with a majority now finding it more useful than postal mail and phone.

Given its higher cost and lower prefer­ence, it’s no wonder that the ROI on direct mail has slipped in comparison to e-mail marketing. E-mail offers other unique benefits — ease of use, imme­diacy, intimacy and intrusiveness — that should be equally compelling to direct marketers in delivering the right mes­sage to the right person at the right time.

Yet in switching from one workhorse to another, we can’t put proven direct marketing principles out to pasture, too. Good targeting, creative, offers and analytics are just as important in e-mail. Undisciplined use of e-mail is a sure way to damage your brand.


Meyers argues that recent polling suggests direct mail remains the pre­ferred choice among young consumers — a key component of the spend­ing economy, especially going into the future. The key, he says, is creating a highly personalized mailing to engage that consumer. Lewis contends that marketing priorities should focus on shifting to targeted e-mail.

Have your say: E-mail your view to nancy.k[email protected] 

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