What is direct mail marketing?

17 August 2020 / By Jeff Tarran
Reading time: 9 minutes

What is direct mail marketing?

Direct mail marketing is used by companies to promote products and services by sending postcards, letters, brochures, and catalogs directly to a customer or prospect through the U.S. Mail.

In some ways, direct mail resembles email marketing, the physical equivalent of sending a digital communication. And while digital marketing programs can be executed nearly instantly, direct mail marketing remains one of the most effective strategies for reaching specific target markets with a high return on investment.

It’s tempting to look at direct mail marketing as just another form of print advertising—which may seem to be too outdated to be effective. After all, many newspapers and magazines have either folded or moved entirely online.

But direct mail not only survives. It thrives.

Need proof? Just visit your mailbox. Plenty of advertisers are rediscovering how direct mail can be an exceptionally effective way to reach precise target markets. A well-designed and well-written mailing sent to the right list with the right offer can generate a high response rate and a steady flow of new business.

Ironically, it’s technology that has improved direct mail performance in recent years because it’s easier than ever to be far more precise in segmenting mailing lists. And new variable printing technologies offer the opportunity to customize messages to deliver even higher response rates.

Although sending direct mail can be more complex than simply running online ads or sending email, the reason why direct mail works is that it captures attention in a way far more engaging than any email or other digital communication.

 

Does direct mail marketing still work?

Absolutely—and the numbers prove it.

  • 54% of consumers say they want direct mail from brands that interest them.1
  • 41% of Americans of all ages look forward to checking their mail each day.2
  • 60% of catalog recipients visit the website of the company that mailed them the catalog.3
  • Up to 90% of direct mail gets opened, compared to only 20-30% of emails.4
  • Only 44% of people can recall a brand immediately after seeing a digital ad compared to 75% of people who receive direct mail.5

It’s numbers like these that explain why more advertisers are either discovering or rediscovering how to use direct mail to reach a wide range of marketing goals. Not only does direct mail offer the benefit of more precisely tracking performance and ROI, it also makes your marketing message stand out. Indeed, the impact of receiving a piece of direct mail in your mailbox captures far more attention than any online communication.

Call it “junk mail” if you like, but it’s only junk if your mailing isn’t relevant to the recipient. When it is, it’s certainly not junk at all—far from it. At Gunderson Direct we develop highly targeted campaigns that ensure our clients’ mailers are sent to those who are most likely to respond.

With direct mail you can finely tune list selections and your messaging approach and then refine your program over time so that it performs even better. And you can easily integrate direct mail with your other marketing programs to take advantage of all of your media options – whether based on overall strategy or specific tactical objectives.

Even if your mailing doesn’t directly interest a prospect who may not have an immediate need for your product or service, it’s uncanny how many people save direct mail— for weeks, even months. Who saves email that long? And online ads? They vanish with just one click.

But direct mail can get expensive. You could likely reach hundreds of people with email for the cost of just one piece of direct mail. Yet as the online marketing environment rapidly gets more and more crowed and noisier, it’s actually easier to gain attention with direct mail.

 

How to use direct mail to improve marketing ROI

Like any form of advertising, direct mail can be used in many ways across a variety of marketing campaigns, either as a primary form of communication or to boost the performance of other campaigns executed in other media.

Some companies focus on marketing to consumers—sending mailings to people at their homes. You can mail to specific households based on characteristics of a local neighborhood or send mail to specific people based on demographic data including age, marital status, income, and plenty of other criteria.

Other companies market to businesses—sending direct mail to businesses, usually directed toward people with specific roles in those businesses. For example, a mailing promoting operations software can be sent to technology or operations executives. Or if you’re marketing financial solutions, you can send your direct mail to chief financial officers or even to CEOs.

Whether you’re marketing to consumers or businesses, here are some ways that you can use direct mail:

  • Lead generation: The most efficient use of a sales executive’s time is talking to people already identified as having an interest in a specific product or service. Calling those who respond to a piece of direct mail is far more productive than random cold calling.
  • Customer acquisition: In some cases, a direct mail package can make a direct sale. Even better, a customer you acquire through direct mail may be far more likely to buy from you again.
  • Customer cross-sell: Once you have a customer, don’t stop sending mail. Those customers may not even know that you offer other products and services they need. Using direct mail in this way increases the overall lifetime value of a customer and your return on investment.
  • Triggered campaigns: Often direct mail is used when specific triggers are identified. These triggers can be based on a behavior (such as visiting your website, returning to your website, etc.) or based on some change in demographic status (such as a change in marital status, reaching retirement age, etc.).
  • Win-back: If a customer hasn’t made a repeat purchase for a period of time, direct mail is often an effective way to win back business you might otherwise lose to a competitor.

Can your company find success in the direct mail channel? Estimate your ROI and Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) with our calculator here.

 

Using technology to make the most of direct mail

While marketers have used direct mail for decades, today’s technologies offer more precise ways to target specific audiences with specific messages. You can also take advantage of various response channels your customers prefer to use.

For example, you can integrate a direct mail program into your online marketing campaign—sending direct mail to those who visit your website and indicate a specific need by completing a form on your site.

Technology makes it possible to deliver more personalized direct mail. With variable printing and imaging technologies, you can customize the copy in each mailing. More personalization creates a more engaging and compelling message that generates higher response.

And you can add more choices in ways customers and prospects respond. Most direct mail marketers include a website URL or phone number, but some print QR codes on their mailings. You can include a respond-by-voice option, allowing response through smart speakers by using a specific phrase.

 

Dos and don’ts of direct mail: 5 key tips

Direct mail may be a new communication channel to many marketing teams, and new technology offers more flexibility. But successful direct marketers know there are some time-tested tactics you can’t afford to ignore—and apply to all types of campaigns across all industries and markets.
Here are the five tips to keep in mind:

 

  1. Keep testing. Don’t be caught unprepared.

Direct mail offers the perfect laboratory to test offers, lists, copy, design, and formats. Always be testing new approaches against what you know already works. If you don’t, you’ll never know if there’s a combination of lists, offers, and formats that could work even better.

What’s more, even high-performing direct mail packages can slowly but surely generate less response over time. After all, once millions of people have seen a mailing over and over again, it gets less attention and response rates fall. Don’t be unprepared. Retiring that mailing for a period of time can help it become a winner again.

But what do you mail in the meantime? By continually running tests, you’re more likely to have other promising options if this “mail fatigue” issue surfaces.

 

  1. Focus on your offer. Don’t merely make an impression.

If your mailing doesn’t have an appealing offer, you’re not likely to see high response rates. While other forms of advertising can be used to build overall brand awareness, direct mail is way too expensive to simply make an impression.

Your offer must be relevant and provide a compelling reason to respond. And that reason must be a reason to respond now, not later.

 

  1. Pay close attention to mailing formats. Don’t waste postage.

To keep postage rates as low as possible, the USPS makes it more expensive to send out mail that’s not easily automated.

Although it may seem tempting to try a format (such as a square envelope) that may seem like it would stand out, these “non-standard” cost more to mail—or may not be mailable at all. You have plenty of creative options within the guidelines for mailing at the lowest possible rates, so take advantage of them.

 

  1. Integrate all media to your advantage. Don’t rely on one form of communication alone.

In the old days, direct mail marketers wouldn’t pay much attention to other advertising media. Integrating one campaign with another was nearly impossible to manage.

Today, however, you can use direct mail to boost results of your online campaigns and vice versa. If you use a specific URL in your direct mail package (customized to each mailing), you offer more convenience and you can more accurately track results. And if someone you’ve already mailed to visits your website again, you can use that information to customize future mailings.

 

  1. Rely on professionals with experience. Don’t do it all alone.

Direct mail can get complicated. You can’t expect to understand all the unique nuances of design, copywriting, production, mail processing, list selection, and strategic analysis so essential to success.

For example, some printing and production companies may say they can produce your direct mail package, but it pays to find someone with plenty of specific experience. There are thousands of resources to purchase or rent data and lists, but many won’t have direct mail expertise.

And while some advertising agencies have some limited experience with direct mail, you’re likely to get better advice on strategies and tactics from agencies that specializes in this unique form of communication—especially an agency that does nothing but direct mail, like Gunderson Direct.

 

Put direct mail to the test

Now you know a lot more about what direct mail marketing is and how to use it. But you won’t see results for yourself until you give it a try.

Discover how direct mail offers a unique way to target precise audiences with the right message at the right time. When you do, you’ll see why so many marketing professionals have fallen in love (or back in love) with direct mail.

 

 

1 https://www.triadexservices.com/direct-mail-marketing/direct-mail-is-an-effective-tool-for-businesses/

2 https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/direct-mail-statistics/#gref

3 https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/direct-mail-statistics/#gref

4 https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/direct-mail-statistics/#gref

5 https://www.smallbizgenius.net/by-the-numbers/direct-mail-statistics/#gref

One Final Note

If you’re interested in trying out direct mail and adding it to your marketing mix, then drop us a line. We’re standing by to answer any questions you might have, and most importantly, to help you get your mail opened.

Jeff Tarran
About The Author

Jeff Tarran

As VP of Account Services, Jeff works with our clients to analyze business problems and develop direct marketing strategies that achieve their goals. A 20-year veteran and strategic thought leader in direct marketing, Jeff has headed two independent direct response agencies in the Bay Area after starting his career at Foote Cone and Belding. He earned a Dual BS in management and communications at Syracuse University and his MBA in marketing at Columbia University in New York.