Cover Story: Top 50 Mailers
Who still sends direct mail? Many of the most successful companies in the U.S.
In fact, nine of the top 10 on this year's Top 50 Mailers list are also on the Fortune 500 (including GEICO, which is a part of Berkshire Hathaway), and the one that isn't happens to be one of the world's largest nonprofit clubs (AAA).
Once again, Target Marketing has teamed with Who's Mailing What! (WMW!) and its impressive library of current direct mail to track the top mailers of the past year.
Like last year, this year's list ranks the top mailers by campaigns received by WMW! during the most recent 12 months that are available to study (March 2013 to February 2014). The results, especially if you've been reading this list year after year for the past decade, are surprising!
In addition, marketers spent $45 billion to send 87 billion pieces of mail in 2013, according to "The DMA/USPS Revenue, Pieces and Weight by Classes of Mail and Special Services for Fiscal Years 1990-2013." Both numbers represent slight increases over 2012, which reverses a decline in total pieces and spending seen since the Great Recession (according to the report, spending and sending peaked in 2006 and 2007, respectively).
While those totals may not be high watermarks, direct mail's presence in the mail stream is growing. Direct mail represented 56 percent of the mail USPS handled in 2013, which is a larger percentage than it ever has been before.
So, for direct mail as a marketing channel and an industry, the past 12 months seem to have been pretty good. And as you'll see in the trends below, for-profit marketers who may have reduced mailing during the Great Recession look like they are coming back to it.
5 Trends in the Top 50
1. The Fundraiser Fall: There has been a major shift in the Top 50 during the past few years and that continued in 2014. Fundraisers are disappearing from the list, perhaps because for-profit direct mailers are squeezing them off of it.
Nonprofits have traditionally made up the largest portion of the list—half in 2012 and for many years before—but that ended last year when only 11 nonprofits appeared, the smallest total in quite some time. This year, that number fell to seven.
2. Catalogs and Retail Resurging: "Catalog" is now the largest industry on the list, with 11 representatives, one down one from last year's 12 (and cataloger Sahalie just barely missed the list this year, coming in at 51).
This year's most surprising trend may be the surge in retail mailings. Only two retailers made the list last year—mailing stalwarts Macy's and Sears, Roebuck & Co.—but six cracked it this year. They include some top direct mailers of the past (J.C. Penney, Bed Bath & Beyond, Victoria's Secret) along with the massive wholesale clubs Costco and BJ's. Surprisingly, Sears does not appear this time.
3. Insurance Evens Out: We saw a big upswing in insurance mailings last year as companies barraged customers and prospects with information and offers relating to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We went from two insurers on the list in 2012 to nine in 2013!
That trend appears to be leveling out. This year, there are six insurance companies on the list, and three of them (GEICO, State Farm, Allstate) are primarily automotive insurers, unaffected by the ACA. Will health insurers continue to mail at higher rates as ACA becomes more a part of everyday life? Only next year's list will tell.
4. Banks Not Too Big to Mail: Financial Institutions are always a solid block on the Top 50, and this year was no different. For the second year in a row, American Express was our top mailer, followed by Chase Manhattan Bank, and further down the list by Capital One, Citibank and Discover. That's half of the top 10 mailers coming from five of the largest financial institutions.
5. Publisher's Plunge: For the first time ever, there are no media companies among the Top 50 mailers. Part of that is due to the move to WMW! research (where individual magazine mailings are not rolled up to one parent company, so the numbers come out lower), but it is also indicative of changes in the industry.
Last year with this system, The Wall Street Journal still made the list. Companies like TIME could also be expected to make a strong showing. But this year, none of them made the Top 50. Media companies seem to be mailing less as more and more of their products and audiences move online.