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Denise Holland Direct Mail Marketing is Dead. Long Live Direct Mail Marketing.

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 By Denise Holland

The Death of Direct Mail Marketing Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Excuse the Mark Twain cliché, however relevant it may be among digital marketing crowds and even much of the marketing industry at large.

I continue to be surprised by the number of marketing professionals who suggest direct mail no longer plays a role in the marketing mix. It should not go unnoticed that retailers continue to show impressive returns with their paper based catalogues, politicians use clever direct mail campaigns to drive their messaging or marketers continue to show innovation - and impressive response rates - with odd sized and abnormal form factor mail distributions. Lets also not forget that there is an entire generation of seniors with massive financial clout that has little connection to the digital world.

Despite its own age, direct mail continues to innovate and adapt. Some of the most impressive direct mail innovation comes in the form of dimensional mail. Born from children's pop-up books, this thriving new industry breaks through the clutter with mailed multi-dimensional paper structures that imitate life or a product being promoted. Mail that actually demonstrates the message rather than just describing it.

Information services company Experian kicked off a product launch using dimensional mail with the aim to break away from its slumping direct mail approaches. The company had been delivering promotional giveaways to C-level executives, however, "The small tchotchkes were not capturing the attention of busy executives" concedes Karen Huang, Marketing Communications Manager at Experian. "We thought that something more three-dimensional and interesting would" and the company launched campaign Income Insight in order to provide credit card companies with information that addresses a new law requiring lenders to consider a consumer's ability to pay when setting credit limits. With a tag line of 'A borrower's ability to pay should not catch you by surprise' and a slider which illustrates the questions to be asked for varying types of consumers, the campaign was a big success. "The format allowed us to address the pain point for our customers and communicate what these businesses want to know" commented Samantha Haugh, Senior Marketing Manager at Experian.

Direct mail isn't as much a replacement or competitor to digital marketing as it is a complimentary component in multiple factor, multiple distribution campaigns. There is a convergence of traditional with digital and savvy marketers are using direct mail in combination with digital marketing to increase signal strength, the power of the message and response rates. Engaging and dynamic marketing messages delivered in an integrated campaign with progressive touch points and leveraging dimensional paper media can result in some of the best response rates in the market place.

Direct mail likes to be held and can invoke a connection that is not matched with digital delivery. So before you run with the crowd that suggests direct mail is dead, rethink this time tested campaign type in connection with your overall marketing strategy.

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Comments (6) — Comments for this page are closed —

Guest John Cross
  I appreciate your balanced approach between traditional and digital campaign programs. I've been a marketer for just over 20 years and have witnessed far too many marketing professionals rushing to their digital marketing because its something new and exciting or because of its alleged ease and efficiency. Digital marketing done right is not easy and done in a vacuum is incomplete.
  Denise Denise Holland
    You make a good point. I also hear too many marketers claims of digital superiority due in large part to its mass scale and efficiency. While potentially valid points, efficiency without effectiveness is a losing proposition.

Guest Kevin Spore
  Finally, an expert opinion that chooses not to chastise, dismiss or mock the proven results that can be achieved with direct mail marketing campaigns. Thank you!

Guest Kim Spencer
  As long as your discussing marketing programs that are not dead, recognize trade shows are alive and well. While new age marketers like to cast trade shows as in a decline, or maybe in a death spin, the 2010 CEIR Index, a composite score of four industry metrics compiled by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, grew 4.1% from the prior year. Fair growth despite some tough economic times. Also, the Veronis Suhler Stevenson 'Communications Industry Forecast' predicts trade show spending growing to $15.63 billion in 2014, which will make it larger than e-media ($8.03 billion) and print ad spending ($6.36 billion) combined. We wouldn't be seeing that growth if trade shows didn't work. Long live trade shows.

Guest Jenna Ritchie
  We have found direct mail to be expensive and clunky. Postage and undeliverable mail continue to go up. You can't beat the cost of online email distributions.
  Denise Denise Holland
    Increased postage rates are a factor that need to be weighed when modeling this campaign type. Undeliverable mail is also a significant expense. According to Pitney Bowes, undeliverable mail can cost companies up to $3 per piece in misspend and added processing. One method for U.S. direct mail marketers to consider in mitigating undeliverable mail expense is to use the U.S. Postal Service Delivery Point Validation (DPV) System. The DPV system verifies accurate delivery addresses by identifying erroneous addresses contained in mailer address files. DPV is available through USPS Certified DPV Licenses or you can contact the USPS National Customer Support Center at (800) 238-3150.


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Direct mail isn't as much a replacement or competitor to digital marketing as it is a complimentary component in multiple factor, multiple distribution campaigns. There is a convergence of traditional with digital and savvy marketers are using direct mail in combination with digital marketing to increase signal strength, the power of the message and response rates."


Direct Mail Research
  • Widowed and divorced singles are more likely than other adults to make direct mail and catalogue purchases.
  • A half century ago, unmarried women comprised one of every seven American adults. Today they account one in every four adults.
  • The largest demographic of singles in the 18 to 24 age group (22%), followed by the 65+ age group (17.5%).
  • The average direct mail spend by singles from catalogues and direct mail pieces in 2009 was $372. This is approximately $50 less than the average U.S. adult, as singles are normally buying for fewer people.
  • The USPS reports that 79% of all households read or scan the direct mail content they receive.
  • The Direct Marketing Association reports that direct mail returns $12.53 for every dollar invested.
  • The DMA 2010 Response Rate Report disclosed that catalogs provide consistent response rates and the lowest average cost per order.


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