Does Direct Mail Have a Future?

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.


A blog about Direct Mail Marketing, tips, tricks and what not to do.

Summer Gould is President of Eye/Comm Inc. Summer has spent her 23 year career helping clients achieve better marketing results. She has served as a panel speaker for the Association of Marketing Service Providers conferences. She is active in several industry organizations and she is a board member for Printing Industries Association San Diego, as well as a board member for Mailing Systems Management Association of San Diego. She is also a committee member for Visionaries in Philanthropy which benefits San Diego Meals on Wheels.

You can find her at Eye/Comm Inc’s website:, email:, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @sumgould.

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  • TomE

    Don’t agree with "direct mail driving the initial engagement." But I do agree that in the future "the recipient will have the ability to seamlessly link to all marketing channels." Direct mail will still have it’s place as a useful communication channel. Just might not be the driver!

  • Shelley Sweeney

    Indeed, marketing communications have naturally evolved over the years. It takes a much different approach to get your message noticed in today’s “always on” world than it did 50 years ago. But even with the influx of digital media, I believe that direct mail is still important and is a very beneficial and useful form of marketing. DMA states the response rate of direct mail is more than 30x higher than that of email, with an average response rate of 4.4 percent compared with the 0.12 percent of email. In fact, survey respondents found printed material to be the ‘most trustworthy’ of media channels.

    I’ve seen a lot of great articles on direct mail recently and I try and chime in because the topic is core to what I help customers with every day. So, it pleases me to see your article confirming my beliefs as well – direct mail continuously proves that it is doing well and is not going away anytime soon. – Shelley Sweeney, VP/GM Service Bureau/Direct Mail Sectors, Xerox