Direct Mail in a Digital-First World
An age-old communication strategy can bring new life to marketing
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When you’re thinking about cutting-edge marketing, direct mail probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. After all, physical mail has been around for thousands of years—one of the earliest examples dates back to about 1,000 BCE, when an Egyptian landowner used papyrus to offer a reward for a runaway slave. Digital marketing arrived much, much later in the 1990s, but it has since spread like wildfire. Just think about all the emails, texts, and online ads we’re all exposed to on a daily basis. Whereas a typical person might collect a handful of physical mail pieces when they visit their mailboxes, they will likely be exposed to hundreds or even thousands of digital marketing communications each day.
Of course, digital’s popularity is a double-edged sword. Most people now receive an overwhelming number of digital communications, so they’re becoming increasingly skilled at filtering through all that clutter. Mobile messages and online ads can be blocked or ignored, and emails are frequently mass deleted. Sure, you can immediately discard or recycle any unwanted direct mail pieces, but these communications represent a tangible connection to a brand that is harder to ignore. These pieces take up physical space in our hands and homes, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Direct mail still matters, and this article explores some of the trends that make it valuable and effective among today’s consumers.
Working Habits Are Changing
There is no question that COVID changed our lives in a great many ways, and just one of these changes dealt with how we work. During the lockdown phase, non-essential professionals were ordered to shelter in place and work from home. Now, nearly three years later, it appears that some of the changes that occurred during the early days of the pandemic will likely become permanent. Despite all the talk about returning to the office as we continue to put the pandemic behind us, the reality is that work simply isn’t what it used to be for many people.
Prior to the pandemic, it was not uncommon for office-based professionals to spend five days a week in their physical offices. Today, we’re seeing more of a hybrid approach. Some people might visit their corporate offices two or three days a week, while others have become fully and permanently remote. In either case, the result is the same: many people are home more often than they used to be and in closer proximity to their home mailboxes. This will naturally make them more attuned to any direct mail communications that arrive in said mailbox!
Direct Mail Appeals to All Ages
One might assume that direct mail is preferred by the older demographics, but the reality is that direct mail communications can be effective for all age groups. Recent statistics tell the story:
- According to Marketreach, members of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) like direct mail because it’s a novelty to them. These individuals grew up with digital messaging, so physical mail is seen as more unique.
- Data from the USPS confirms that 75% of Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) feel special when they receive direct mail.
- A Vericast Consumer Intel Report states that 68% of Gen X consumers (born between 1965 and 1980) have used coupons they’ve received via direct mail.
- Research from the USPS asserts that nearly 90% of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) seek special offers in the mail. Coupons and deals are the most effective incentives.
Direct Mail Spend is Increasing
Brands seem to recognize the power of direct mail, and they continue to invest in it despite the shift to digital. According to the Winterberry Group, US direct mail marketing spend is expected to increase from $41.9 billion in 2021 to $43.3 billion in 2022.
|Chart 1: US Direct Mail Marketing Spend.|
Recent research from Keypoint Intelligence aligns with this trend. According to our 2022 Direct Marketing survey, 68% of total enterprise respondents expected their direct mail marketing spend to increase over the next two years. Meanwhile, only 13% expected this spending to decline.
Ongoing USPS Promotions
Every November, the United States Postal Service (USPS) launches a set of promotions for mailers at the end of its fiscal year. These promotions encourage direct mailers to explore and take advantage of new technologies or processes. Although the 2023 promotions are still pending approval, the 2022 Mailing Promotions calendar is available here. The six promotions, all of which have been in place for over five years, include:
- Tactile, Sensory, and Interactive Engagement
- Emerging and Advanced Technology
- Earned Value Reply Mail
- Personalized Color TransPromo
- Informed Delivery
- Mobile Shopping
These new promotions, though not markedly different from past years, will surely encourage direct mail marketers to use digital technologies that can increase the effectiveness of their physical mail pieces. They should help marketers keep their direct mail communications fresh, while also enticing recipients to engage and interact with them.
In addition to these ongoing promotions, the USPS also increased the maximum size of a First Class Mail postcard to 6" x 9" in August 2021. This larger size (increased from 4.25" x 6") enables more flexibility with design so mailers can increase engagement and incorporate more interactive features (e.g., augmented reality, QR codes, and NFC tags).
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
Direct mail can (and should) be a part of every business’ marketing plan, even in the digital age. To be truly effective, though, it’s more important than ever for direct mail to be done right. Today’s consumers expect and often demand customization to their needs and interests, so generic mail pieces with no personalization simply won’t work. The most effective direct mail communications are engaging, relevant to the recipient, and designed to complement any digital efforts. As discussed in an earlier blog, direct mail is uniquely positioned as a tangible form of marketing that can also be used to connect the recipient to digital experiences. Furthermore, since the number of digital marketing messages now far surpasses the number of direct mail messages received, brands can use direct mail to stand out and get noticed.
Of course, this is not to say that direct mail should be the only platform for marketing. The best campaigns will make the most of all physical and digital forms of messaging to deliver an omni-channel experience that is consistent across all channels. By combining direct mail with digital marketing, brands can learn more about their customers’ preferences and ultimately reach them in more meaningful ways.
Subscribers to Keypoint Intelligence’s Customer Communications Advisory Service can access additional information, including brand new research, on direct mail’s role in our digital world. If you’re not a subscriber, just send us an email at email@example.com for more information.