Remember in 1999 when the internet was “invented” and the advent of “you got mail” changed the world of print and direct mail forever? Advertising experts were convinced that the direct mail channel would quickly become extinct and email marketing would take its place. In their opinion, major companies would flee the mail channel and flock toward this less expensive means to drive revenue. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’m here to remind you: direct mail isn’t dead.
Direct Mail’s History in Advertising
Taking a look even further back, direct mail has long been an important way for marketers to reach consumers. According to an article by Andrew Case, in 1930, the Post Office handled 4.3 billion pieces of “third-class mail,” the equivalent of our marketing mail classification today. By 1950 third-class mail had grown to 10.3 billion pieces.
The 1950s became a turning point for marketers as mail order firms and publishers began to rely on the mail medium to sell products. This was because, as Henry Hoke notes in his 1954 book How to Think About Showmanship in Direct Mail, advertisers viewed the letter or catalog as “the closest thing to selling in person.”
In the 1970s, direct mail continued to expand due to the advent of technology that allowed marketers to capture information, which was stored on reels of analog tapes and then later saved on spinning discs in hard drives. Case’s article states that capturing consumer behavior and interests allowed the direct marketers to be more precise with their offerings so that by 1990, the USPS delivered 160 billion pieces of third-class mail.
Then came the advent of the internet, environmental concerns expressed by consumers, and the struggles of the USPS to keep postal costs under control, and the direct mail channel began to suffer from modern challenges.
Direct Mail Isn’t Dead—It Has Adapted with Technology and Data
But despite all these challenges, we have seen a 7–9% increase in the last 12 months with certain verticals that are using direct mail in a targeted fashion, according to Comperemedia. Insurance and financial services companies are taking advantage of the digital print workflow that allows a marketer to create highly personalized messaging, where each piece can be personalized in one pass, saving time and resources during the production process. These verticals are also utilizing the more cost-efficient walk sequence postal processing to obtain the lowest available postal costs.
This process fills in data in the order a mail carrier walks their route, just like the old days—but from household to household, the message is different, targeted to each recipient’s needs. For instance, you could create a catalog with only the items that specific recipient would be interested in (for me, that’s shoes, shoes, and more shoes, but I digress). That level of personalization takes big data. But let’s face it, big data isn’t going anywhere—it’s more about whether you want to be communicated with via phone, computer, or mail.
Testing Channel Frequency and Cadence Are Key
Smart marketers are also using direct mail with other tactics such as email, mobile, direct response television (DRTV) and social media overlays. For example, we recently launched a campaign for a healthcare company utilizing a personalized URL (pURL) in the mailpiece to capture the recipient’s attention and provide them an opportunity, once logged on to the pURL, to share how they want to be communicated with in the future.
Remarkably, 86% of the individuals who logged into the pURL provided personal feedback such as their phone number, email, or just said, “I still want mail.” This newly captured information was loaded into our client’s CRM tool and will be used to direct follow-up during the crucial Annual Enrollment Period. Most importantly, these potential customers have offered themselves up as a “warm lead,” giving our client’s sales team specific individuals to target and create sales versus relying solely on inbound calls.
There are other digital products to tap into to support direct mail, such as pixel retargeting, digital overlays, and email retargeting. All can advance a marketing department’s efforts to determine if consumers are responding more to mail, digital products, or a combination of both.
We often test sending an email and then following up with a direct mail piece (or vice versa) to determine the best approach for a broad market control strategy. We have also found that using ‘trigger mailings’ of a personalized mailing and tracking code to follow up web activity captured on a client’s website is a highly effective pairing of web and email to drive interest and ultimately revenue.
Managing Content Across Channels in a Seamless Fashion
Tools such as dynamic content management (DCM) make managing all this content much easier. At IWCO Direct, we can create the same content for a mail campaign, email, social, or mobile program—or simultaneously deploy all four segmented by customer type—in a dashboard environment, proofing and then deploying through the desired channel(s). This means omnichannel marketing tools at your fingertips without managing multiple vendors or agencies. It saves marketers time and money while connecting with customers on their terms.
So has direct mail been impacted by the internet, environmental concerns, and concerns over data? Yes, but the USPS still mailed 77.3 billion pieces of marketing mail in 2018, and mailed 4.8% more volume in the first quarter of 2019 than it did in Q1 2018.
Marketers are coming to the realization that it has to be a mix; that consumers are tired when they come home at the end of the day after staring at a computer monitor for many hours and are simply not interested in reading another email or hearing the beep of another text arriving. Maybe those consumers want to open the mailbox, touch some paper, and open a letter addressed directly to them and their needs, finding this more personal and engaging.
Want to talk about how to evolve your marketing mix to maximize response and customer experience? Contact me here.
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