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  • March 26, 2020
  • By Linda Pophal, business journalist and content marketer

Get Back to Basics with Direct Mail

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Research supports what many marketers already believe—traditional direct mail is making a comeback.

Not only that, more than half (51 percent) of all marketers using direct mail campaigns are actually getting good or very good returns from them, according to research from PFL, an automated direct mail marketing services and solutions provider. More striking, though, is that this number rises to 83 percent for those who have integrated direct mail into their multichannel campaigns. Nearly eight in 10 respondents (78 percent) ranked integrated, branded, personalized direct mail as the second most effective channel for reaching their target audiences, right behind events, which represented the most effective channel (at 83 percent).

Businesses of all sizes are turning, or returning, to traditional direct mail despite one obvious barrier: cost. A survey published by The Manifest last year found that more than one in four small businesses (28 percent) still use direct mail to reach customers. Five percent of small businesses only use direct mail to communicate with customers.

Many in the marketing field see a pendulum that swings back and forth between online and offline communications, and that pendulum is now swinging toward the offline world.

“The walls around digital communications are starting to get higher and higher,” says Harry Zhang, cofounder of Lob, a direct mail platform provider, pointing to efforts on the part of major channels like Instagram and Facebook to limit or constrain how marketers can use their channels. In addition, Zhang notes, a lot of people are unsubscribing from various email lists these days, further challenging marketers’ abilities to reach them digitally.

These and other reasons are causing marketers to rethink the value of traditional direct mail marketing, which, although more expensive, can yield higher returns, especially for higher-priced products and services.

Interestingly, and in defiance of much popular wisdom, Millennials, who are widely believed to eschew anything print, actually have a high response to direct mail, according to recent research from Valassis, an advertising and marketing intelligence company. The study found that 67 percent of Millennial parents and 53 percent of Millennials overall are more likely to make purchases from or respond to personalized direct mail ads.

THE PERSONALIZATION AND THE PENDULUM

Part of the reason for the pendulum swing in favor of direct mail is new technology that allows for the medium to be more personalized.

“Core to the ongoing meta-trend of more personalized communications is the continued importance of direct mail,” says Stephen Farr-Jones, founder of ADM Marketing. “Direct mail is ideal for targeting, reaching, and tracking high-potential prospects as well as increasing the activation of existing customers, whether they use the brand online or off.”

Zhang agrees. “I would say we’re seeing the trend shift quite a bit today,” he says. “Many new-age direct-to-consumer companies are trying to invest in more traditional advertising channels, whether that be billboards all the way to direct mail. Brands consider direct mail to be a very high-quality channel.”

“While many marketers continue to focus on the breadth of reach with broad-based media, others are delving more deeply into their data and are seeing exponential returns via highly targeted and tracked traditional direct mail,” says Farr-Jones.

Direct mail is versatile in that it allows marketers “to leverage data from a mix of on- and offline sources, including digital purchases and loyalty and e-club memberships and transactions, to pinpoint potential high-value lookalikes in any market,” he adds.

Marketers, Farr-Jones says, can use direct mail with their own customer base “to reach specific segments of known customers with differentiated messaging to build greater recency, frequency, and monetary value.”

Another change that makes traditional direct mail more appealing is that while online email boxes can be increasingly cluttered (if messages even make it past consumer and corporate spam filters), traditional mailboxes are not.

“The mailbox offers an opportunity to be extremely relevant to the consumer, to really overcome the challenges of media fragmentation today, where it’s difficult to reach, engage, and activate a consumer,” says Curtis Tingle, executive senior vice president of product at Valassis. “It’s not just breaking through the clutter of digital messaging but breaking through the clutter of all messaging to consumers.”

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