The Power of Direct-Mail Advertising

On a typical weekday, many people come home from work, kick off their shoes, kiss their children and read their mail. They may check to see what’s on sale at the grocery store, clip a few coupons or set aside the postcard for the art show they want to attend.

Sound familiar? The act of reading the mail is an integral part of modern life. For all the many ways we could choose to reach each other — email, social media, text messages — paper continues to serve as the foundation of our communication.

This is especially true of direct-mail advertising, unsolicited communications sent to prospective customers through the mail. The most recent United States Postal Service (USPS) Household Diary Study found that U.S. households received 119.9 billion pieces of mail in 2015. Sixty-five percent of that was direct mail.

The study also showed that people are receptive to direct mail. Fifty-four percent of households reported that they read their advertising mail, while an additional 21 percent said they at least scan it. The report notes that households read more advertising mail now than in the past, a result of the large increase in the volume of direct-mail advertising since the study began in 1987.

Direct Mail’s Universal Appeal

IWCO Direct is the largest producer of standard-class mail in the U.S., sending more than 3 billion pieces each year for big-name companies in financial services, insurance, cable television, health care and other sectors.

“I like to say direct mail is the Betty White of marketing,” said Debora Haskel, vice president of marketing and communications for IWCO Direct, referring to the iconic actress, whose appeal spans generations. “It’s not only been around forever, but it has adapted to changing roles in the digital world. Our savviest marketing customers have found that the less they use direct mail — especially for acquisition programs — the more customer opportunities they lose.”

Haskel notes that even so-called digital natives — millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 who never knew a time without computers — respond well to this form of marketing.

“It’s counterintuitive, but millennials love direct mail,” she said. “The difference now, for millennials and everyone else, is in the response. Good direct mail compels you to respond to a call center or a website or a personalized landing page. A successful marketing campaign depends on direct mail’s adaptation to working with other channels.”

The Medium Makes the Difference

According to USPS research, success also depends on factors such as household income, education, age, access to technology and volume of direct mail received. Even so, direct mail continues to be a popular channel because it works. In fact, the Direct Marketing Association reported in its 2016 Response Rate Report that direct mail outperforms all digital channels combined by nearly 600 percent.

That is likely a result of the medium on which it is printed: paper. Researchers at Temple University found that when we look at a physical ad, the section of our brain responsible for value judgments and desire becomes active, making us more likely to act on what we see. The researchers also found that we remember a physical ad longer and more accurately.

The Association of Magazine Media recently released two papers on this very subject. A meta-analysis of nearly 100 studies on advertising effectiveness found that print marketing offers eight distinct benefits when compared to other forms of advertising. The effects are even greater when companies use print advertising in conjunction with other media.

“Our bank customers that are involved in credit card acquisition use a variety of marketing tools to secure new business,” said Mike Spath, director of sales for strategic accounts at Domtar. “We know that including direct mail as part of an integrated offer campaign is necessary to drive the responses that our customers are seeking. While applications are generally completed online, it is the combination of direct mail and digital marketing that brings people there.”

Real estate agents, too, understand the power of direct mail. For example, Blue Ridge Printing in Asheville, North Carolina, prints postcards — up to 150,000 at a time — for real estate agents who target an affluent demographic looking to purchase luxury vacation homes along the East Coast.

“Direct mail gets results,” said Bill Chilton, senior sales representative for Blue Ridge Printing. ”When you receive a piece of mail, you look at it, you hold it, you make a decision about it. And a week later, you spot it on your kitchen counter. It’s a physical reminder to act that you will not get any other way.”

Five More Benefits of Direct Mail

It can be original and surprising.

Direct mail can be virtually anything you want it to be: personalized letters, bold flyers, whimsical postcards, appetizing menus, functional calendars, colorful coupons, slick catalogs, fold-out invitations, etc. The options are virtually endless, making it easy to create an advertisement that fits your budget, your brand and your target audience.

It can boost brand perception.

Direct mail allows companies to invite, rather than impose. Instead of bombarding potential customers with unsolicited messages, companies can offer a message that potential customers can consume whenever it’s most convenient for them, even if it’s days after they receive it. Direct mail can also be highly tailored, which makes recipients feel like valued customers.

It’s convenient.

Direct mail is inherently flexible, which makes it an ideal medium for any size or type of business, regardless of budget. You can keep it simple, or roll out a complex campaign. You can be highly selective in who you reach, or you can cast a wide net. And because production time is short, you can act quickly to respond to new market conditions.

It’s easily tracked.

Direct mail provides you with vital information on the effectiveness of your marketing campaign. You can pinpoint the exact demographics you wish to reach, and you can easily track response rates and make adjustments for future campaigns. This allows you to measure and even forecast the return on your marketing investment.

It’s sustainable.

Paper is one of the most recycled materials on the planet — more than metal, glass or plastic. It can also be recycled multiple times. There are many sustainable paper products available to marketers, including Domtar’s EarthChoice products, which use fiber sourced from forests that have been certified to the international standards of the Forest Stewardship Council.

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