Why the benefits of direct mail are greater today than ever before
Just recently, Joe Holleman’s 19-year-old daughter was complaining about going to the mailbox. The musings were something that Holleman, the Director of Marketing for Quantum Group, found more than a little interesting.
“All I get is bills,” his daughter said. “I miss the days when I would get an American Girl Doll or Lego magazine each month. That was the mail I wanted to get.”
Holleman had to laugh. Whether his daughter realized it or not, she was introduced to direct mail years ago in the most memorable of ways—receiving things she liked with subtle incentives to dig deeper into relationship-building with a brand.
“Printing technologies have evolved to the point where just about any type of variability is possible and most programs can be automated. It’s a good time to be in direct mail.”
— Joe Holleman, Director of Marketing, Quantum Group
What a long, strange trip it has been for direct mail, which over the past two-plus years has returned with a flurry at our fingertips. Whether you call it timing (a pandemic that has driven many to digital fatigue) or a return to simpler days (seeing something that makes you feel a little more at home), direct mail is close to making, what Holleman calls, a rebirth. “Ten years ago, my daughter was introduced to direct mail with those magazines. It provided a memorable experience for her. That is the power of direct mail.”
Holleman believes that direct mail is being viewed as a “sexy channel” again. With so much data to manipulate, marketers are seeing an endless array of opportunities for personalization. “Consumers expect personalized messaging. Printing technologies have evolved to the point where just about any type of variability is possible and most programs can be automated. It’s a good time to be in direct mail. I’m excited for the near future.”
Right now, the near future features a series of ups and downs. Jeff Tarran, COO of Gunderson Direct Inc., says the industry is facing a double-edged sword. On one hand, there are some significant disruptions due to supply chain issues, including paper, labor and other materials. On the other, companies are being very aggressive in the mail, with many eyeing making the most of coming out of the pandemic.
“The reaction by many marketers during the pandemic was to double down on digital channels,” Tarran says. “More than ever, marketers found themselves lost in the digital noise. Direct mail became a channel they had to try to get noticed. We’ve had a number of digital-first marketers look to bolster response with the addition of direct mail.”
The growing digital/direct mail approach is something industry companies remain optimistic about. With direct mail being the only physical and personalize-able channel, the combination can be very powerful in generating a higher level of involvement with a marketing message, whether as a stand-alone piece or as part of an integrated campaign.
For marketers eyeing the addition of direct mail into their arsenals, Tarran offers the following points of interest:
- Direct mail data sets are unique from digital. Direct mail data has its own set selects and, of course, each record needs to include, or link back to, a physical address.
- Direct mail is physical. This requires a whole different mindset to develop effective communications.
- Direct mail timeframes include a manufacturing process and physical delivery to a household. Gunderson measures campaigns over a period of weeks, not days.
“In terms of using direct mail and digital together, there are a few things marketers should consider,” Tarran says. “While mail data requires a physical address, we have resources that can append email and IP information to files; and likewise, reverse append physical addresses to IPs or emails. That opens the door to running targeted email and/or online campaigns tied to mailings. Triggered mailings also are growing in use. Website visitors can be targeted with personalized mailings based on their site behavior.”
“The reaction by many marketers during the pandemic was to double down on digital channels. Direct mail became a channel they had to try to get noticed.” — Jeff Tarran, COO, Gunderson Direct
The Gunderson Direct team often debates the value of multiple touches in a direct mail campaign. They have seen it work exceptionally well in B2B situations when certain criteria are present—notably when they know they have a valuable target, but they don’t know when they will actually need their solution. In those instances, emails build the brand into a top-of-mind solution for when the prospect is ready to buy.
One of Gunderson’s clients has built itself into a category leadership position doing just that—by establishing broad awareness and a strong brand through ongoing, monthly mailings. “Response stays strong because when our client’s solution is required, there is likely an updated offer already in the prospect’s hands,” Tarran says.
Getting personal matters
Anne Fouss recalls a recent conversation with an association research company client who said the groups he worked with were having a hard time getting responses from their members. The issues were traced back to the throes of the pandemic, when electronic forms of communication were used to reach people physically isolated in their homes.
But as Fouss—Director of Marketing and Business Development at Kenwel Printers Inc.—and others soon discovered, the digital approach was leading to overload and burnout.
While the associations had made the transition from doing mail-in surveys to digital during the pandemic, after they started adding a regular mail component, the responses started to tick back up. “The number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day continues to grow,” Fouss says. “Scrolling through email and social media posts can become mindless. But picking up or collecting mail is a physical interruption in the thought process. The brain is likely more open to receiving the message. It is something tangible—a connection that can be held onto.”
“Scrolling through email and social media posts can become mindless. But picking up or collecting mail is a physical interruption in the thought process.”
— Anne Fouss, Director of Marketing/Business Development, Kenwel Printers
The benefits of direct mail are equal parts viable and straightforward. In short, it is more stimulating (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste); it is not impeded by spam filters; and it is something that can easily be passed around.
Take this example by Kenwel Printers’ client Ohio Wesleyan. Lindsay Mauter, the university’s Director of Admission Communications, says the statistics her team examines for different generations tell a great deal about how prospective students interact with print and digital media. While practices differ between groups, it is clear that all age groups still interact with direct mail and that it is still an effective branding tool.
“If we stopped direct mail to 16 to 18 year-olds telling ourselves they’re only living in a digital space, we neglect the important influencers in their household that do interact with direct mail,” Mauter says. “If we want to build an effective campaign, we take a multimedia approach.”
Fouss recalls another example of a direct mail campaign that hit the mark in the higher education space, where variable data was used to customize alumni fundraising letters by graduation year. Each recipient received a personalized and relatable story relevant to their year in college. Having the ability to change the data on each letter in one run, the printing was done more efficiently and the higher quantity of pieces batched together creates savings.
“The personalized story by graduation year created more of a connection with the donor,” Fouss says. “We have a customer who told us that the pandemic shifted them to online events and gatherings for a period of time. Still, direct mail remained a helpful outreach to draw recipients into those digital spaces.”
Regardless of your approach, having the perfect blend of direct and digital is a strategy worth employing. While digital can reach anyone, anywhere, direct mail provides the audience with a physical reminder of the brand with a tactile experience, helping build the kind of trust you want for customer engagement.