Direct Mail: Friend or Foe of Marketing?


March 9, 2023

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to 1996 and think about the iconic jingle from Blue’s Clues where Steve sings “We just got a letter! We just got a letter! We just got a letter, wonder who it’s from?” Sure, you might not sing this when you’re retrieving your mail – though, once you listen to it, again, it’ll be stuck in your head – but there’s some truth to this nostalgic tune. Many of us can relate to that pressing question when opening mail … “I wonder who it’s from!?” The same can be said for your target audience.

There’s no question about it … the internet has changed the marketing game, especially with how it can reach and connect with your audience. However – and it may come as a surprise – direct mail can still play a strong part in your already digital marketing campaign, as it can strengthen that connection.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) states that 9 out of 10 consumers across generations engage with promotional mail – yes, even younger generations check their mail! In fact, the USPS also stated that 70.2 billion pieces of direct mail were delivered in 2021 alone – most of it read immediately upon arrival – and that number is expected to grow. But, why is that?

Well, direct mail response rates were found to surpass online mediums. One reason for this is due to the tangible experience of mail – it feels more real and personal. Your engagement isn’t with a faceless entity via digital avenues; you have an individual that’s directly being engaged with, ultimately creating a longer-lasting connection. In fact, a recent survey from Marketing Charts found that consumers felt the most comfortable and trusting of mail than the other online and offline mediums.

By no means are we saying to ditch digital and stick with direct mail. Instead, consider using it as an additional avenue to add that personal touch. Email marketing in comparison is significantly easier to track and measure, more cost effective, and allows for more immediacy than direct mail. And just like direct mail, the number of emails sent each year is only increasing, with email marketing as the most used campaign type of marketers. Not to mention, its high ROI beats out other channels.

Rather than choose one medium over the other, it’s best to integrate online and offline channels into your strategy and reap the benefits of both. Email may be the most optimal way to reach an audience, but direct mail has proven to better garner retention. A majority (84%) of marketers in a recent study underlined that direct mail improved the performance of their online channels, and thus plan to keep direct mail in their toolbox. Finding ways to bridge the gap between online and offline mediums is great to fortify a marketing campaign.

So, if you want to combine the two efforts, how do you know which direct mail strategies work the best? Consider the following if you’re leaning towards the additional avenue:

  1. Choose the right format, send the right message: As far as mail formats go, self-mailers take the cake as the most successful form in terms of engagement, but postcards and letters are not far behind. In the end, the right mail format for your strategy will be different depending on your target audience.

    Let’s put this into perspective. Meeting planners may want to use self-mailers – post cards, fliers, etc. since they grab the reader’s attention immediately without an envelope. However, membership teams may find an envelope necessary to convey a certain message like membership dues, or outstanding balances. An envelope can convey security and thus builds credibility. No matter what, though, all mail formats succeed at driving engagement. Your organization will have to determine what’s most important to determine which format works best.

  2. Keep it short: Just as you do with digital communication pieces, it’s best to keep your messaging concise with direct mail. In fact, recent findings point out that there’s been a significant decline in word count for mail due to lower attention spans. Think about using a call to action to get your message across or simply using a QR code. And remember that images can tell your story – sometimes even better than words.

  3. Smart design goes a long way: Based on the stats above, we know that direct mail creates a strong emotional impact on readers, so it’s crucial to consider good creative design to elevate that experience. Of course, direct mail needs to make your association’s brand immediately recognizable, so make sure your logo and branding is in-line with your guidelines.

Truth is, though we all know digital marketing is the king, direct mail isn’t antiquated. With the high open rates of direct mail, you’re encouraging brand awareness and driving a response. Combining that with the incredible success of digital marketing will set your association up for continued success, so maybe it’s time to consider getting your message signed, sealed, and delivered!


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