Is Direct Mail Making a Comeback?


Not long ago, suggesting that direct mail be a part of your marketing mix made you risk looking like you were out of touch, non-tech-friendly, or – that most dreaded of traits for marketers – like you were old-fashioned.

These days, however, with email marketing often dismissed as ineffective and concerns about ad fraud making online advertising more risky, direct mail is experiencing something of a renaissance, with even Amazon, Google and trendy tech startups turning up in the mailbox.

While Restoration Hardware recently came under fire for delivering enormous blocks of catalogs to a select demographic, the result was that they got an extraordinary amount of free PR, and there was no real damage to their sales.

In fact, the episode highlighted the opportunity for direct mail’s resurgence: With physical mailboxes so much less cluttered than they were just a few years ago, creative direct mail campaigns can stand out in a way that direct email just can’t.

Let’s look at how direct mail can work.

Data management has come a long way
In the old days, a direct mail campaign often involved buying or renting a list from a list broker, and paying a per-address fee. The problem was you never really knew just how accurate those lists were, and it was difficult to drill down into specific consumer data: You might know Bob Smith lived on a certain street and was a certain age, but you couldn’t know things like when he last bought a car or whether he’d recently had a baby.

These days, most companies have their own lists via in-house CRM systems, and if they’ve been maintained correctly, they contain all kinds of useful information about Bob. Lists can be segmented and offers tailored, almost infinitely.

Digital printing allows for more personalization
The key to effective direct mail is getting the recipient to notice and read it. And as we’ve learned from all kinds of media in the past few years, the key to getting the recipient’s attention tends to be personalization.

Advances in digital printing have made high levels of personalization easier – and cheaper – than they used to be. Combined with good data, it’s relatively easy and cost-effective to create highly personalized direct mail pieces that do a better job of reaching the target than a standard e-newsletter or other online media.

Creative and integrated campaigns do best
When Victoria’s Secret recently launched an integrated campaign involving direct mail and mobile advertising , they didn’t look old-fashioned – they looked like a smart retailer who was combining the best of both worlds. (And the PR they got as a result didn’t hurt, either.)

Tips for making the most of direct mail
Here are our tips for doing direct mail right:

  • Make direct mail part of your overall marketing mix – not the only channel you use.
  • Combining it with other media will increase its overall effectiveness
  • Make sure you’re starting with great data. Before you launch a direct mail campaign, clean up your client/prospect database so you don’t waste your efforts
  • Invest in great design. A long, text-only letter is much less likely to get read than an instantly-compelling graphic
  • Messaging is still key. Direct mail does best with clear, concise messages, so take the time to distill your offer to its most essential elements. Don’t forget that if you generate enough interest, recipients will visit your website if they want more detailed information
  • Establish metrics at the outset. Are you building the brand – or looking for action on a specific offer? Know what you want to measure, and what success looks like.