Does Direct Mail Still Matter?

Written By Cara Robb on November 15th, 2016

Fall of an election year is a big one for our mailboxes. Most of us received at least one postcard – if not 12 – from various political candidates throughout October and early November. Then, before we could even catch up with our recycling, the catalogs for Christmas gifts start rolling in. Yet in the pile of all this real, paper mail, we’re also receiving hundreds of emails. This begs the question of us marketers and business-owners – is all this communication working? And what gets the better results, an email or a direct mail piece? In the age of digital marketing as king, is direct mail still even worth it?

At A-LINE, we advise almost all of our clients to invest in email marketing. Email marketing has been shown over and over to have impressive rates of return – its low cost and high potential for revenue make it a “must do” for almost any marketing team. In fact, in 2015, 72% of consumers said that email is their most preferred way for companies to communicate with them, and 70% were influenced to buy products from a company’s email.

All that said, email isn’t a one-stop shop for effective communication. Direct mail still certainly has its place and purpose for many organizations. Here are four reasons direct mail still works:

  1. Mailbox vs. Inbox: For most of us, our mailboxes are a lot less cluttered than our email inboxes. On busy days, we will simply delete emails out of our inboxes without even opening them. Others have settings that directly move marketing emails to another box that we may (or may not) check another day. On the contrary, 98% of Americans check their mailboxes daily (according to the USPS), and the majority of us at least shift through mail before keeping or tossing pieces. This means that mailed advertisements are more likely to be seen than emails.
  2. You’ve got more to show. Due to the inbox issues, many users will judge the value of your email entirely by its subject line. Those few words (plus the user’s distraction level) determine whether or not your message ever gets opened. However, with a mailing, you can appeal to potential customers from a lot of angles – a gorgeous photo, a captivating headline, nice paper, an interesting shape, or even just their name on an envelope can make a customer stop and actually see your ad. A well designed mailer gets attention more than an email ever could.
  3. Mail is more reliable. Email lists are messy. Returns, un-sendables, out-of-office replies and even typos can send a large percentage of your client list right back to you. On the other hand, mailing lists are usually much more reliable, assuming you took the time to curate them in the beginning. Even if an address changes, your ad may still reach a new potential customer – unlike email, which disappears into the ether.
  4. Personalization makes all the difference. Whenever possible, make your mail pieces personalized, using either recipients’ names or company names/industries in your headlines, and you’ll see real results. If it’s a follow-up campaign, acknowledge the recipient’s loyalty/repeat business. With the advancement of printing techniques and customer-management software (CMS), personalization is easier and less expensive than ever. According to recent research on keeping direct marketing relevant, “The No. 1 benefit of personalized print – increased response rates – is to be expected. The typical response rate for static direct mail is 1% to 1.5%. Personalized direct mail can dramatically increase response rates of 8%, 12% or even higher for well designed campaigns. The actual lift will depend on the type of campaign. Loyalty programs typically achieve higher response rates than initial prospecting campaigns.”

Now, for the cons. Direct mail is more expensive than email—from design to printing to mailing, you have to pay for more steps. It’s also harder to track open rates and harder to make calls to action (email allows a simple click or open, while direct mail requires readers to actually go do something—a hard ask). And finally, it can be harder to follow up on postcards than emails, since you don’t know exactly what your customers need after reading that first ad.

To overcome the potential downsides of direct mail, A-LINE recommends these strategies for effective direct mail campaigns:

  • Make an offer you can track. To help you understand open rates, add a coupon or code to an advertisement that customers have to use or present in order to get the discount or offer. As you see customers walk through the door with your mailers in hand (or type in your code online), you’ll track the effectiveness of certain ads. Also, having an offer that customers can act on makes the entire piece feel more valuable than just an “FYI” ad that will easily get tossed in the trash.
  • Always add a dedicated landing page. Every direct mail piece needs to direct readers to a specific website landing page with a simple-to-type URL. This means making a new link that will send users directly to a page designed to match or build upon the mailed ad. You’ll be able to track users who typed in this specific URL and then see what they did once on your website. The webpage also makes calls-to-action easier and more immediate, so users can easily make the leap from reading about a product or discount to making an online purchase or completing an online form.
  • Use A/B testing. Just like with emails, we recommend having at least two versions of a postcard or ad. Each version should have its own dedicated URL. This will allow you to see which ads were most effective in sending users to your website or store. You can then build off this knowledge when designing future ads.
  • Never do just one thing. As with all communications efforts, you never want to put all your eggs in one basket. Try direct mail to initially announce a promotion or new product, but then follow it up with phone calls and/or emails. The next time, change the order: email, then call, then postcard. Then, adjust your customer-relations software to indicate how you were touching each client, and how they responded. Your communications and results will only get better with time.

The holidays are a key time for direct mail offers. If you’d like to try one, give the A-LINE team a call. Or if you want to discuss general email vs. direct mail options for your company, we’d be happy to analyze your marketing strategies and make some personalized recommendations.

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