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5 Reasons Direct Mail Works Better Than Ever

February 3, 2014

5 Reasons Direct Mail Works - David Hennagin

I’m an integrated marketing guy, so when I’m working with clients to address aggressive customer acquisition and retention and ROI objectives, I start by considering that all forms of communication hold value toward a potential solution. Everything starts on an equal footing. Planned and executed properly and professionally, all communications channels work together toward establishing brand image, awareness, trust, credibility, preference -- and cost efficient leads and sales.

But as a career-long database and direct marketing practitioner, and understanding the acute measurable benefits that targeted and highly relevant communication can deliver, I will admit that I typically start by evaluating the role and fit 1:1 personalized communication can play toward delivering the results required – and work from there.

This topic of channel planning and selection came up last week over a Mexican food lunch here in Austin – shared with a couple of direct marketing industry colleagues whom I greatly admire. The topic of direct mail came up, and I was asked my POV on the health and well-being of the direct mail channel. Somewhere between polishing off the Super Burrito I ordered and eradicating the last few shards of chips at the table – I came up with 5 reasons why I believe direct mail is alive and kicking, and more relevant than ever.

#1: Touch It Feel It

When it comes to marketing messages that hold promise of sticking around and being remembered, I believe there’s greater value than ever attached to a piece of smart looking direct mail, from postcards to envelopes, delivered to a home or business physical mailbox. It’s something that can be retained and referenced, and if it contains a clear call-to-action, it’s something that will get used if it’s been targeted properly… and when the recipient has the need.

#2: Pinpoint Targeted

In terms of audience development (list), there is more relevant and actionable personal-level data available for these purposes than ever before. This represents a tremendous opportunity for the smart and responsible direct mail marketer.

With a well-defined target audience as the guiding light, direct marketers are finding easier and more efficient ways than ever to compile, slice, dice, refine and segment relevant in-house or 3rd party transactional consumer data, and deliver their important message and offers via direct mail. The quip “right person, right time, right offer” is more often and better achieved than in any time in our direct to consumer (DTC) marketing history.

#3: Breaks through the mailbox clutter

There was a time not long ago when breaking through the mailbox advertising clutter was a real issue. Over the period of years 2000 – 2006, direct mail volumes set all-time records. It wasn’t uncommon for well-known national brands, particularly those in the financial services category, to routinely mail millions of prospecting pieces per week (tens of millions per month). This on top of the multitude of other categories’ direct mail advertising programs in the mail stream, and in our mailboxes on any given day. This created massive mailbox clutter, and formidable challenges for direct mail marketers, database modelers, and crack creative teams doing their best to get their pieces noticed – and noticed by the right audience.

Those heady direct mail volume days may be largely behind us, but make no mistake -- the direct mail industry is still healthy. In fact, with advertising mail volume substantially below past heydays -- so has the mailbox clutter issue softened. Smart marketers whose products or services make sense to be supported with direct mail recognize this – as are mail recipients finding it easier to recognizing valuable and creative direct mail efforts delivered to their mailbox.

#4: Stands out in today’s cluttered 360-Degree Marketing Sphere

We live in a world of “virtual” this and that, where sometimes we’re left uncertain if the video we just viewed or text we just read is advertising – or a clever and creative piece of work by someone just having fun. We endure a daily avalanche of marketing messages blasting through our email inboxes, delivered as texts or GIFS to our mobile devices, interrupting our important work related web surfing activities with pop-up ads on computer screens, ads above bathroom urinals -- and on and on. It’s easy for a marketer to get lost in the mayhem.

But when was the last time you went to your home or business mailbox, and while perusing what’s there failed to recognize an important or value-added communication, or misinterpreted as superfluous entertainment something of personal importance or commercial value? It may happen, but it doesn’t happen often.

There’s something about receiving a physical item, addressed to you, that is very hard to ignore. Especially if it conveys something relevant and of value to your personal or business life.

#5: Faster and Simpler than Ever

Despite the overwhelming bottom-line success potential direct mail is famous for, the channel is often and still considered as one that is complex and requiring long lead-times to plan and produce. Since speed-to-market and being nimble can still be viewed as a competitive advantage (though some believe this is now table stakes) I still hear agency and brand executives talk about compromising creative and/or list quality to accomplish time savings.

This is flawed thinking.

Experienced direct mail marketers, agencies and service providers know there are many ways to deliver effective and personalized, segment-driven creative (messaging and 4C images), and a sharp list as fuel, in days – not weeks or months. Use of postcards as a format, on-demand printing technology such as variable digital printing, and piloting very user-friendly data mining and list selection systems that many brands possess in-house – all have become very powerful tools in the marketing toolbox.


David Hennagin is a recognized integrated and direct marketing expert, agency leader and client partner. In mid-2013 he founded BrandAction Partners, an integrated direct marketing consultancy based in Austin, TX, and is helping clients plan, execute and measure multi-channel marketing programs. He can be reached at [email protected].