Why direct mail is more valuable to advertisers than ever

February 12th, 2018 | by Steve Falk, President of Prime Data |

You don’t often hear of a platform coming back stronger than ever after being decisively thumped by a new technology. But that’s the story of direct mail.

It might be hard to remember, but there was a time before the internet and email and Google. It was an era of mass saturation. The advertiser’s goal was to reach as many people as they could, hoping a few of those seeing the message would be in the key demographic and would actually buy what they were selling.

In direct mail’s heyday, the chances of making the sale with your mail were low, so each piece you sent out was worth very little

In a world where data is everywhere and available to just about everyone, the thought that it was once too expensive for most marketers seems ridiculous. But that’s how it was. The only way to reach people in their homes was through direct mail.

Then came the internet. Google and email changed everything

Today data is cheap and if somebody doesn’t have an email address, you wonder who they might be hiding from.

Sending emails is cheap and easy. Marketers can pay a little and get into the inboxes of millions of people with just a few clicks.

At the same time, Google gives even the smallest-budgeted advertiser access to data that would have been unthinkable even 15 years ago.  

Those two factors led more than one marketing expert to declare direct mail dead.  And I have to admit that — for a while — direct mail looked like a very weak challenger.

Marketing departments shifted their resources away from mail towards digital.

The problem with something cheap and easy to deploy: everyone starts doing it

The ubiquitous nature of digital advertising, along with the lessons learned by direct mail companies who are able to use data in their campaigns has lead to regained admiration for the printed card that can be in the actual hands of a recipient and then possibly dropped on a desk, beside the phone or on the fridge, as Canada Post states, for an average of 17 days.

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When people aren’t seeing your message because of adblockers, or they stop opening your email because it’s automatically filtered by Google into a spam or promotional folder, then anything that does get in front of them automatically has higher value.

Digital seemed cheap until people stopped seeing it

And that’s where triggered and automated direct mail found it’s opening.

Where print was once the default mode of mass marketing, it has found a new life as a specialty premium service that brands use to get noticed in crowded and competitive marketplaces by customizing their messages based on the same data as digital platforms. Full colour variable printing allows for Just In Time,  speedy delivery of these customized messages.

A single piece of mail can now sell a lot more trucks than it did 10 years ago  

A good example would be in the auto industry. 30 years ago, a dealer might send 10,000 pieces of direct mail to a specific neighbourhood in the hopes of reaching a few people who might want to buy a new truck. The ROI was sufficient but low enough to be easily replaced by mass digital marketing.

Today, marketing tech companies like Bumper, can help dealers target current truck owners who are coming up to the end of their lease and are likely in the market for a new vehicle. Instead of sending out 10,000 pieces, they can send out 500 pieces that are further customized by images of the vehicles the reader is most likely to be interested in and timed to coincide with the end of his lease and an open house at the dealership.  When time and relevance are added to the equation you sell a lot more trucks. So the ROI is fantastic.  But don’t stop sending digital messages.  Canada Post has shown that multi-channel messaging improves your outcomes.  Keep the email and retargeting ads running for the best results.

Home is where the heart is and that is where your printed mail settles

The same data and analytics and that once made digital so powerful is now driving the direct mail renaissance by allowing marketers to send a lot fewer pieces but they are more targeted, customized pieces that are more valuable because they speak directly to the audience they need to reach at a relevant moment in time.

If you want to talk about how to effectively shift some of your digital budget to print and drive more results, we should talk.

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