It's clear that email is not replacing direct mail any more that texting has replaced normal phone conversations. What texting has done is change some of the purpose behind making a phone call. Direct mail and email have taken the same path.
Texting is ideal for when you need to connect with someone and either, or both, of you may be unable to take a phone call. If you would like an actual conversation and to hear a human voice, then a phone call is of course the best way (OK, or you could Skype, which is still a phone call). You can't text when you're driving (legally of course), the phone is a way better option for reaching someone in that instance. Texting did not kill the phone call—they both have their place. Likewise, email has not killed direct mail.
According to the "DMA 2012 Statistical Fact Book," the overall volume of direct mail has remained fairly steady across the past three years (a slight dip from 2011 to 2012). So let's agree that, for the foreseeable future, we should still keep our mailboxes in front of our house.
This article, however is not about the volume of direct mail; it's about the purpose of direct mail. It's about the importance of understanding your purpose for each direct mail campaign before you even take your first step in the creation process.
The key objective for direct mail marketing is to motivate the recipient into buying your products or services. To meet that objective, you need to be clear on what is the key driver or function—purpose—of each piece you are mailing. Here are some of the key drivers today that ultimately feed that same objective of direct mail:
- Acquisition Marketing: If you're looking for new customers, it's likely you don't have their email address. If you have acquired a reliable email address, your chances of having any impact are slim. Direct mail can reach a physical mailbox that will get opened, in fact 98 percent of us open that mail box every day.
- Email Adoption: Regardless of the industry you're in, it's likely your client email list is small compared to your overall client list. Or experience has shown that a personalized direct mail piece, accompanied by a reward incentive to sign up, can yield up to a 35 percent response rate. If you need to grow your email list, direct mail can prove to be a great way to accomplish just that.
- Channel Preference: According to a study conducted by Epsilon, The Formula for Success: Preference and Trust (opens as a pdf), people still commonly prefer direct mail over email in almost every marketing category, including financial services, insurance and travel. Before you alienate your best customers, make sure you understand their primary channel of preference.
- Multichannel Marketing: Our own experience has shown that combining email and direct mail into a unified marketing campaign results in a three-times lift in response over using either channel by itself. Studies are coming out more and more frequently proving this to be true in many markets. Depending on the design of the campaign, the order and cadence of online vs. offline can impact the final response numbers. It's critical to start small and test several combinations to determine the best mix.
- Migration: This category is about upselling, cross selling, bounce back and inactive motivators. For those clients that are flagged for very specific action, it is imperative that the message you send is guaranteed to not only make it to them, but to get read. This is one of the key areas of growth for multichannel marketing.
- Lifespan: How quickly do you delete solicitation emails before even considering them? If your direct mail piece makes it from the mailbox to the kitchen counter, it has already outlived most email messages. A properly designed mailpiece, with a relevant message and properly timed to be in-home, has a very high likelihood of staying out of the trashcan long enough to be actionable. If you want your message to last more than 5 seconds, consider printed mail.
- Differentiator: The key differentiator of direct mail vs. online marketing is, of course, physical. You can change the size, shape, feel and even the smell of a piece to make it stand out from anything else that might be in the mailbox that day. Once it's in the recipients' hands, studies on neuroscience show that our brain actually fires more actively than if we are reading the same communication online. If you have a special event that needs to grab attention, direct mail can be the solution.
Technology has changed our focus on the "how" to do direct marketing instead of "why" and "what" to do direct marketing for. By only focusing on the "how," it's easy to see why online channels are so prevalent for direct marketers. It's so much easier to execute than traditional mail. But the simplest easiest path is not always the most effective.