Janet M. Kennedy, Director Market Development, Market Vue Partners

"The report of my death is an exaggeration." Mark Twain, June 2, 1897

Mark Twain, one of America’s foremost novelists and noted satirist was twice reported as dead during his lifetime, to which he countered with the now famous saying "The report of my death is an exaggeration." The same might be said for the state of direct mail. The increasing focus on online advertising and “free” social media as an inexpensive alternative to traditional media has created false perceptions that direct mail is not an effective marketing medium. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Any media, when used without a plan for testing, tracking and measuring can be expensive and ineffective. Direct mail’s black eye is a result of decades of junk mail when budgets were fat and printing and postage were not as dear as they are today. Direct mail marketers and printing companies have learned many lessons over the years and that accumulated knowledge should not be underestimated. List managers have become savvier in targeting the “right” customer, not just any customer. Designers and printers have risen to the challenge of creating eye opening mail pieces that get noticed. Marketers have found ways to integrate online media like QR codes and PURLs (personalized urls) that motivate customers to action. Even the US Post Office has developed ways of creating saturation bulk mail rates that make postage costs manageable.

Consider these reasons to include direct mail in your over-all marketing plan:

  1. You have a customer’s undivided attention – Before a customer can throw away your mail piece, they have to look at it and make a conscious decision to keep or toss. It may be 3 to 7 seconds of their attention but that is more that most media can offer.
  2. Where’s everyone else? Fewer companies are mailing so you are more likely to stand out in the mailbox, increasing your customer’s attention.
  3. You are addressing the "right" customer. There is a lot of customer data available. A lot. Mailing to the "right" zip code or the "right" neighborhood is not good enough. Now you can model your best customer and find more prospects that best match your customer profile. So you could be mailing to only 3 of 10 houses on a given street, but those customers have a higher likelihood of responding.
  4. You save on printing. Because you have modeled the “right” customer your printing quantities are lessened. While your cost per piece may be higher, your overall cost is lower. Or you have the budget available to go after more customers with a higher redemption potential. A win either way.
  5. Tracking has become integrated. POS system advancement means you can track a customer more effectively than ever before with more information available to get an in-depth look at who they are and what they purchased. Tracking can be done in “real time” and the campaign can run for weeks, not hours, giving your campaign some legs.

For these reasons and more, direct mail has earned a position of respect and validity in any marketing mix. The excitement of online media revolves around the real-time customer reactions and results reporting. It is great to get almost instantaneous results, if you are selling something simple like a food coupon or a product previously purchased by a customer. Reaching a new customer with your message or selling a product that needs a little more persuasion may call for a message delivery system that the customers can come back to later – and hold in their hands.