Back to Home

Why Direct Mail Matters: An Interview With Debora Haskel, IWCO Direct

Categories: Industry Insights
debora haskel direct mail matters

Is direct mail marketing going the way of the dodo bird? Despite dire predictions that digital marketing would take the place of print marketing, one trip to your mailbox proves that direct mail matters, perhaps more than ever.

We recently spoke with Debora Haskel, vice president of marketing and corporate communications for IWCO Direct, a leader in direct mail marketing for 50 years. The company, which started as a small printing business, has successfully navigated the industry’s evolution from traditional print marketing to omnichannel marketing. Today, it is one of the nation’s largest providers of data-driven marketing solutions and postal logistics strategies for direct mail.

Haskel says that contrary to popular opinion, the rise in e-commerce has driven an increase in the use of print marketing. In fact, she believes direct mail matters even more than it did in the days before the internet, and that it is essential for millennials and click-and-mortar businesses.

Q. Why is direct mail still important?

A. The evidence shows that direct mail matters because as part of an omnichannel marketing campaign, it enhances the performance of the campaign across all channels. In a segmented campaign, targets who don’t receive direct mail are less likely to respond to other channels.

One of the greatest challenges for marketers today is attribution. What was the first touchpoint, and what was it that caused someone to respond? If they receive a direct mail piece but respond online, is there a way to capture that? And how does that work across other channels? There may not be a direct link in terms of source code or landing page, but often it was that direct mail piece that drove them to the website. Marketers are getting more sophisticated at looking at the customer and prospect journey to determine which touchpoints are most successful, and mail is high on the list.

Q. It’s easy to think print marketing is irrelevant for digital businesses, but clearly direct mail matters. Why?

A. Direct mail matters because it’s tactile marketing. I think what’s particularly important for digital businesses is that print establishes a presence that doesn’t exist when there is no brick-and-mortar space. There’s a trust that this is a legitimate business, whereas I don’t know if that’s the case if I’m just looking at a company online.

Also, one of the things that distinguishes digital companies in their approach to print and direct mail is that the pieces tend to be higher quality. That carries through in terms of making a brand statement, which can be difficult to make with online-only campaigns. I can see it, I can feel it, I can touch it, sometimes I can smell it, and if there’s a card affixed I will keep it. These are benefits that consumers don’t have when simply bookmarking a site.

Q. Do younger audiences respond to print marketing?

A. They do, and I think it’s actually relief from the screen that’s been in their hand practically since they were born. They can hold a direct mail piece, like a catalog, and turn the pages. A 2015 InfoTrends study on direct mail found that millennials were more likely to notice print and paper quality and to respond to print catalogs at a much higher rate than older generations. I think that has continued to drive the trend toward higher-quality print marketing materials. Younger generations respond to the combination of paper, design and print.

And let’s face it: Direct mail matters because it works. The 2018 DMA Response Rate Report shows a 9 percent response rate to direct mail sent to a house list and 5 percent to a prospect list; this compares to 1 percent each for email, social media and paid search, and 0.30 percent for online display ads.

Q. Why do new digital brands bother to invest in print marketing?

A. It establishes a different kind of presence for them and strengthens their brand. It gives people something to touch and feel and hold, and companies are learning that paper-based marketing is an important part of their brand identity. One trend among digital companies is to include handwritten notes; Stitch Fix stylists do this with every order, for example. They’re using paper to create another customer touchpoint when the order is fulfilled. It’s one thing to get an email or some other means of the seller saying thank you for the order. But when someone takes the time to write a personal note, it makes a difference. You can’t help but notice.

Also, as a marketing person, my sense is that the high quality of today’s print marketing comes from wanting to create a brand promise. It tells the consumer, “You are dealing with a company that cares and notices quality and stands by its product.” I think if you’re the owner of a company and you’re getting something printed, you notice how paper, design and color come together to create an impression, even if you don’t realize that’s what you’re thinking. A low-end sheet of paper conveys a message that the product is low-end. But high-end materials create a promise of quality. Customers aren’t coming into a store to feel and see the products, so you have to convey that in other ways. Paper is turning out to be an effective way to do that.

Q. Which digital brands are doing a great job with print and blended marketing?

A. A lot of companies are using print very effectively for their continuity campaigns. If you’re old enough, you might remember the book of the month club or the music clubs. Today’s continuity campaigns offer similar subscriptions or auto-ship programs, where the company (usually an e-tailer) sends you something each month or on a regular schedule, and you decide when to stop or continue the program. For these companies, direct mail matters because it creates an important customer touchpoint.

Harry’s, which offers razors and men’s grooming products on subscription, has done a very effective job with its marketing campaign, which includes TV commercials and direct mail pieces with a compelling CTA to try their products and subscribe. They used a similar approach to launch Flamingo, a brand for women.

Another example is Quip electric toothbrushes. Why buy a toothbrush in a continuity program? Quip toothbrushes, which prompt you to brush more effectively and to replace your toothbrush when it’s worn out, promise to help you be the patient your dental hygienist always wanted you to be. That’s not an easy story to tell quickly onscreen, but print lets them connect with potential customers and then send them online for the rest of the information.

Chewy, the pet supply company, offers subscriptions so you can get your pet’s food, supplies and medications sent to your home. Their print campaign offers $15-off coupons and information on pharmacy services, and they’re doing a great job with small print catalogs and other package inserts that come with shipments. Chewy also sends handwritten birthday cards for your pet. It’s a great personal touch.

Q. As more companies are closing their doors and moving online only, what will the future of print marketing look like?

A. Barb Pellow, formerly of InfoTrends (now Keypoint Intelligence), once said that someday, all that would be left will be paper and mobile — meaning that paper will continue to be the preferred way to communicate the brand promise when a company doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location. I see this happening all around us. I may be the last one holding a piece of paper and preferring to read a book in my hands versus on a screen, but I still think direct mail matters because it does establish a presence, which is critical when you don’t have a physical store.

Several years ago, I participated in a panel discussion, and the person next to me was disdainful of direct mail. He said, “I have a 15-year-old daughter who doesn’t know what an envelope is.” But the person next to him said, “That may be your daughter, but I have three kids, and they want to get the mail every day.”

There are two ends of the spectrum: people who think direct mail is a waste of time and money, and people who believe direct mail matters. But the research shows there’s value in the mail moment. I still count on the mail moment every day.