Editor's Notes: The Money's in the Mail
The death of direct mail is the most exaggerated story in marketing.
That jumps out at me every year when we compile the Top 50 Mailers list (with a great deal of help from ALC and additional research through Hoover's and SRDS).
In that list, you can't help but see how many of the top direct marketers keep sending mail year in and year out, with consistent success.
Even today when most orders come through the Web, direct mail is a huge piece of many direct marketing programs, where it continues to prove its worth.
The proof part is important. When you look at the Top 50 Mailers, these are not marketers to dismiss as dinosaurs. They're some of the most sophisticated and successful companies in direct marketing. They know how to test and track results—they still use direct mail because it's profitable and efficient for them.
In fact, direct mail still works for a lot of marketers. I'm certainly not saying everyone needs to send mail—because the idea that every marketer needs to use any particular push marketing channel is ridiculous; respect your own data—but direct mail is certainly weathering this whole "digital shift" pretty well.
If you look at year over year direct mail volumes, there's more mail being sent today than at any point in the '90s or the rest of last millennium. The "DMA/USPS Revenues, Pieces and Weight" report for 1990 to 2011 (data available in the DMA 2012 Statistical Fact Book) estimates that total direct marketing mail peaked around 113 million pieces in 2007, dipped to nearly 91 million in 2009 and was back up over 92 million in 2011.
That looks like market fluctuation to me, not a death knell.
Direct mail is the marketing medium that will not die because, no matter how portable, convenient and ubiquitous electronic devices become—and smartphones are all three—there's always going to be that impact of sending someone mail. It's like the impact of a face-to-face meeting in sales: There's something about being there, physically, that's hard to ignore. And being hard to ignore is the first step toward marketing success.