EST 1980
digital and traditional mailbox examples
Feb 26, 2020

Does Direct Mail Still Work In The Digital Age?

Gini Queen headshot
by Gini Queen

Trash or Treasure

In today’s digital age, a lot of marketers may discount good old-fashioned direct mail campaigns as “passé,” “ineffective,” “just something else to be thrown in the trash.” Well, as the old saying goes (or my interpretation of it):

“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”

It all depends on what the value is for each individual who receives it. Some online marketers distribute “spam email.” With the thought that, “If we bombard enough people, someone, somewhere is bound to actually open it.” It’s a game of percentages.
Direct mail works on basically on the same philosophy—the bigger distribution, the better chance of ROI, but there’s much more to consider for a successful direct mail campaign. You want people to “treasure” your direct mail piece, rather than “trash” it—and that means background research.
Yes, believe it or not, people still receive mail that they can actually hold in their hands—and, studies show that direct mail has definitely not “disappeared” from the marketing toolbox. An article from reported that the response rate for direct mail to residential recipients for 2018 nearly doubled the rate from the previous year (source: ANA/DMA Response Rate Report 2018).

Your Audience

But you need to be selective and strategic about the mailing list you use for your direct mail distribution. Identifying the correct demographics and personas are a critical piece to any successful direct mail campaign. Select your mailing list relative to:
  • Zip code
  • Income Level
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Firmographics (for B2B marketing)
And/or any number of other qualifiers.

Your Direct Marketing Goal

You also need to determine whether your marketing campaign goal is “quantity” (saturation) or “qualified” (targeted). 
If your main goal is to reach as many people as possible within specific USPS mail route(s), a saturation mailing can be as broad as “I want to reach every single mailing address in this three zip-code delivery area” or demographics can be drilled down further. For example: “I want to reach all residential mailing addresses in this three zip code delivery area that have children.”
Targeted campaigns focus on customers or “warm leads” that already use, or have expressed interest in your products/services and are usually distributed through a mailing list that has been compiled from existing customer order lists and/or sales “leads” and/or CRM data. If you don’t have an existing list, and you want to “test the waters” with a targeted direct mail campaign, it would be a good idea to rent a “response” list (people who have previously responded to mailings that offered like products/services). You won’t be able to keep the list, but any responses you receive from the mailing can go into your own “leads” list for future mailings.
For targeted campaigns using existing customer/leads lists, you can (and should) personalize the piece with Variable Data Print (VDP) to include a relevant, “personal touch” for the recipient.

Your Campaign Budget

Saturation mailings are less expensive. Less sorting for the post office means lower postage rates. Targeted mailings are generally more expensive due to the fact that they are more specifically tailored to attract, and appeal to, the audience you are trying to reach.
A breakdown of mailing list costs.
Many printers have in-house distribution facilities that have pre-determined mailing lists available, or can build a list based on the criteria you provide. You can also “do it yourself” by going directly through direct mail services. 

Standing Out In A Crowd

Any direct mail piece worth its stamp will make the recipient stop sorting their mail to look at the interesting, compelling, or humorous visual that accompanies your messaging. There’s a lot to be said (no pun intended) in the adage, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” After you’ve captured their attention with the visual statement, draw them in with the story behind the picture…and yes, there should be a tie between the two! (Most) everyone will pause to look at a picture of a cute puppy staring back at them, but unless your campaign is dealing with pet supplies or carpet cleaning… 
Don’t inundate your audience with trying to fit a novel onto a double-sided 10” x 4” direct mail piece (larger pieces tend to get more attention, simply for the fact that they don’t get “lost” in the shuffle of #10 sized letter envelopes). Sometimes less is more. A compelling visual, a short, clever headline, and a direct, “why you need this” message can work just as well as a specialty piece with die cuts and fancy print techniques (although I’ve seen some pretty awesome, albeit pricey, direct mail pieces in my day!).

The Bottom Line

A successful marketing mix should include both print (traditional) and digital channels. Direct mail is a good option to consider for respectable ROI at a manageable cost. For the next week, make a conscientious effort to set aside the direct mail pieces when you’re sorting through your mail. Then, sit down and separate the “Treasure” from the “Trash” — this will give you a good idea of what a successful direct mail campaign can look like for your company.