Editor's Note: Long Live Direct Mail
Exaggerated predictions of direct mail's demise have come up again, the typical knee-jerk reaction to some harsh realities: Standard mail volume continues to shrink, for a total drop of 12 billion pieces so far this USPS fiscal year; direct mail spend is contracting while e-mail spend increases; and consumers' environmental concerns continue to pressure marketers to evaluate their media choices carefully.
Yet marketers still had the confidence in direct mail to send 18.8 billion pieces during the second quarter. And most forecasts estimate direct mail spending to still be double that of e-mail in 2013, despite the shrinkage. Yes, it's a more expensive medium, which is a prime factor driving marketers to pull back on their usage. But pulling back is not pulling out, as some headlines on direct mail's future insinuate. In fact, a study by Winterberry Group released in March noted that direct mail volume dropped off more quickly than spend because marketers were getting more targeted with campaigns to improve ROI.
So what has history taught us? Television did not kill radio. Direct mail did not kill newspapers. TiVo did not kill television ads. Paid search did not kill e-mail. And e-mail will not kill direct mail. New marketing avenues might fragment marketing budgets, but so far only regulation and obsolete technology—like the Federal Communications Commission's Do Not Fax law and the fax machine itself—have had the power to essentially shut down a medium.
As many a marketer has pointed out, competition in the e-mail inbox has skyrocketed—more than 210 billion e-mails are sent daily worldwide—making it more challenging to get your audience's attention. But combining direct mail and e-mail has been producing responses, sales and average order values that are greater than the sum of the individual channels' returns.
Fran Green, chief revenue strategist for American List Counsel—with whom Target Marketing editors worked to develop our annual list of the Top 50 Mailers in the U.S.—concurs. "Even though more and more marketers are engaging with customers and prospects electronically, those that appear to be the most successful are still keeping direct mail very much in the mix and really as a primary driver—even if they're using direct mail to drive traffic to a Web site or to stimulate interest in an electronic offer," she emphasizes.
That said, Green cautions marketers against resting on their still-performing direct mail laurels. "I think that when we hear marketers say, 'I can only use data that's direct mail-sourced,' in some ways, they're digging their own graves because other marketers are experimenting with other channels, particularly with electronic channels. So there needs to be some deliberate, judicious testing with those [online-sourced] names, because they're going to continue to proliferate," she notes.