When to Consider Direct Mail

Sending messages to a mailbox instead of an inbox is a personalized way to make a statement to customers.
Photo Credit: ATA

Author: Jackie Holbrook

People are bombarded with messaging everywhere they look. From social media to email and even traditional mail, customers get it from every angle. With so much information saturating the market, what’s the best way to reach customers? As more of everyday life moves online, some businesses wonder if traditional methods like direct mail are becoming obsolete. But marketing experts say that’s far from the case.

“Inherently, direct mail is a bit more impactful and harder to ignore than email,” said Nick Newlin, vice president, digital director and senior marketing strategist at Shine United. “People get a lot more email solicitations than physical mail solicitations these days, so right away you stand out.”

Direct mail can be a great way to send your customers' promotional material. Photo Credit: / Getty Images

Direct mail is a marketing term for a physical piece of promotional material sent through the mail. This could be a letter, postcard, brochure or catalog. The physical nature of direct mail makes it stand out and feel more personal. According to one study, customers keep mail on average for 17 days.

“It’s a bit more ‘sticky’ than email,” Newlin said. “If you are at all interested and save it to refer back to, the piece will sit on your desk or other table and is more visible than an email you read and save for later.”

Today, it’s relatively easy to create a digital marketing campaign. Although it’s not free, an entire email campaign is often cheaper than a single direct mail campaign. Email campaigns include expenses like copywriting, graphic design, an email list and a service provider. Consumers know, whether consciously or subconsciously, that digital is inexpensive, so they take notice when a company invests in direct mail.

“Something like direct mail requires a higher investment from the advertiser and inherently carries more credibility with your audience that you are an established business and not just some fly-by-night spammer,” Newlin said.

Customers receive less physical mail, so it will make more of an impact. Photo Credit: Digital Doughnut / Practice Marketing

Digital Doughnut, an advertising agency that focuses on digital marketing, says the average life span of an email is about two seconds and brand recall for a digital ad or email is just 44%, compared with direct mail which has an average brand recall of 75%, according to a study.

According to the Digital Marketing Association, direct mail outperforms digital mail. Digital Doughnut reports direct mail is more effective at acquiring new customers. Prospective customers are 10% to 20% more likely to convert on a direct mail offer versus an email offer.

The cost of direct mail varies greatly, but in addition to copywriting and design, major expenses include postage and printing. A black-and-white postcard will be much cheaper than a full-color catalog. Due to its higher price tag, businesses should carefully consider when direct mail is appropriate to use.

Best times to use direct mail:

  • brochures and catalogs
  • loyalty rewards
  • in-store coupons

Best times to use email:

  • news and updates
  • follow-up messages

There are a few basic rules for using direct mail effectively.

1. Every piece of direct mail should have a call to action. This allows you to track your return on investment and ensures that there’s a reason behind the piece. A call to action can involve a sale, holiday or event. One of the easiest ways to follow up is to include a coupon code or require customers to bring the mail to the store to present for a discount.

2. Direct mail should be used in conjunction with a complete marketing plan. Be sure to include digital assets like website and social handles.

3. Time your mailing just right to avoid it getting lost in the clutter. It’s poor planning to mail in December, for example, as direct mailers can get mixed up with holiday cards and holiday sales. If possible, have the mail delivered between Tuesday and Thursday. Trends show that people pay more attention during the middle of the week.

4. If you’re going to invest money in direct mail, there are ways to make sure you’re not spending unnecessarily.

a. Growing your marketing list ensures that you don’t have to rent one. It also ensures you’re only mailing pieces to good leads.

b. Make sure the addresses are good. If the addresses are bad, your postage and piece go to waste. Run your addresses through an address verification website or software.

c. The USPS provides discounts when mailings qualify for automation rates. Printing in bulk will make each piece cheaper.

When thinking in terms of “should my business use direct mail or email?” most experts would advise that the correct answer is “both.” Email and direct mail each offer unique benefits. The best marketing campaigns use both in support of each other.

If you’re looking to stand out and make your mark, direct mail is an effective way to reach customers. If you have questions about how to execute a campaign effectively or are looking for a starting point, check out the MyATA Service Provider Program, which includes a list of marketing companies that offer ATA member support and services.

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