Is direct mail a dinosaur? Direct mail marketing has been around for a long time. Most people in the U.S. credit Montgomery Ward’s invention of the mail order catalog as the start of modern direct mail marketing in 1872. Then, in 1917, the Direct Mail Advertising Association was established. It continues today as the Direct Marketing Association to support the companies utilizing direct marketing. Everything from catalogs to postcards have been used over the years with great success.
Unlike the dinosaurs, direct mail has an extraordinary ability to change with the times. The more it changes, the more it stays the same. We still send catalogs, postcards and letters today. Who we send them to, how we send them and what we incorporate in them is what drives the real change.
Over the past few years we have seen great advances in technology that are now opening doors to enhancing direct mail like never before. Let’s take a look at the past, present and future of direct mail.
- Send the same piece to everyone: There was no personalization, no rotating offer, no target audience, just a vast list of people to send your message to. This was known as “spray and pray.” The thought was that everyone would need your product, so let’s tell them all.
- A real change came when the post office created ZIP Codes. This allowed marketers to communicate more directly to a smaller audience. For instance, if you needed to limit mailing to a defined geographic area, you could now do so with ease.
- Modern technology came along in the early 1980’s that allowed marketers to create relational databases to more finely target individuals. (Nothing like the database files we have now, but for the time they had a great impact.) You could now increase your response by sending relevant offers to the right people.