Does Direct Mail Still Work?

Making a trip to the lobby, curb, or post office box is a daily task for most people. It’s ingrained in our habits because we know there’s valuable information waiting inside. So when I hear that direct mail is dead, I have to question the claim. Is it true that marketers can’t reach people as effectively with mailers and flyers? Let’s dig in.

It’s no secret that I’m a big advocate of digital marketing. Digital communications have completely changed the way we reach customers. The technology enables us to gather quality information about our customers so we can create a more personalized and automated approach to our marketing. It’s faster and cheaper than direct mail ever will be.

But if personalization in marketing is so important why do 70% of Americans say snail mail is still more personal than the internet? That stat comes from the Direct Mail Association (DMA), so take it with a grain of salt. Still, it shows that traditional direct mail still has real value and should not be overlooked.

Direct Mail Then and Now

Direct mail has been around for ages. The ancient Egyptians were reported to have introduced the first widely acknowledged example of direct mail marketing as early as 1,000 B.C. Since then, direct mail has been widely used around the world and according to the Direct Marketing Association it shows no signs of stopping.

The DMA recently published it’s 2015 report which shows that the response rate for direct mail is 3.7%. This is a high figure for a channel that seems to be dying off, do you agree?

Direct mail has also been shown to compel action. The USPS found that 23% of direct mail recipients visited the sender’s store location. They also purchased 28% more items and spent 28% more than non-direct mail recipients.

Based on the stats I can’t see direct mail fading into the distance any time soon. In fact, we should continue to embrace it in a fresh, modern way.

Is It Really Interruption Marketing?

Direct mail, along with other traditional outbound marketing channels such as print advertising, are now seen as interruption marketing. That’s because they interrupt someone’s flow of activity in order to get attention.

But most people include collecting the mail as part of their daily ritual, so can we really assume direct mail is interrupting someone? Or is it adding to the normal flow of their routine?

56% of Americans say that receiving mail is a real pleasure. Even in as technology driven an age as we live in, there’s something delightful about physically holding a piece of paper or book in your hands. Direct mail offers this tangibility, which leads me to believe consumers are still taking the time to read what comes out of their mailbox.

Consider the experience that happens every time your customer goes to her mailbox. She is consciously involved in that particular task and ready to look at what might be lurking in its dark corners. We usually collect the mail at a moment when we have at least a few seconds of uninterrupted time, making us more likely to scan through what arrived.

Of course, like email marketing, if a direct mail piece doesn’t immediately catch our attention, or it isn’t relevant to us, then it will be tossed out with the rest of the junk. The headlines and design are still as important as our subject lines and templates.

Combining Direct Mail and Digital Marketing

As marketers, it’s easy to get caught up in the shiny object syndrome. New strategies and tactics are coming out every day. When they capture your eye, it’s easy to be tempted to switch modes and try the new approach. As a result, you leave tried and true tactics in the dust, like direct mail.

Although it’s imperative that you continue to innovate your marketing, there are ways to combine traditional with tantalizingly new strategies.

One company that has this attention grabbing philosophy down pat is Ikea.

Take A Leaf Out Of IKEA’s Bookbook…

One particular piece I (and millions of other Americans) don’t mind receiving is the IKEA catalogue.

IKEA does direct mail well and their recent campaign proves that.

In 2015, IKEA ran a YouTube video campaign to entice digital consumers to get their physical catalogue. They knew that direct mail was still a hot marketing channel, so they used digital to attract more attention to their physical mailers.

The catalogue campaign was called ‘Experience The Power of a Bookbook’. When launched, it received over 9 million views in just one week. Take a look at the video and see if you don’t crack a smile while watching it.

The campaign ran in Singapore and Malaysia and was widely applauded globally for its satirical take on Apple’s commercial style.

IKEA wanted to create a campaign that showed catalogues were still special — despite the rise in digital devices. The idea was to alert customers their IKEA catalogue would be arriving in their mailbox very soon.

Tinus Strydom, creative director at BBH Asia Pacific, who created the campaign said: “When you’re thinking about how to make a traditional marketing tool like a catalogue seem special, your context is that it lives in a world of digital marvels where devices are replacing books. From there the notion of announcing it like anything but a book starts to take shape.”

The campaign was developed to make people take note of the annual IKEA catalogue when it arrived in their mailbox. With 9 million views in just one week, it certainly did that.

Why Did It Work?

IKEA didn’t just drop a catalogue into a mailbox. They used the Internet to create a whole experience leading up to the customer receiving the brochure.

The campaign helped IKEA to enforce the message their annual catalogue would be arriving in their mailbox very soon.

The catchy video helped to create a buzz.

By blending digital and direct mail, they were able to create an entire campaign around their one direct mail piece. This maximized the excitement around the catalogue and ensured it didn’t get tossed with the rest of the junk mail.

Taking the same approach of creating buzz before you send your direct mailers will help you achieve similar results. Instead of risking your direct mailers getting tossed into the trash, you can make sure it packs a punch by building the anticipation.


The statistics from the DMA and USPS speak for themselves. Direct mail is far from dead.

When you are considering a direct mail piece my advice is to create a campaign which incorporates a mix of digital and traditional channels.

Digital channels such as videos and social media will help to create hype about your product and get people interested. It will also create a sense of anticipation.

Then when your direct mail piece does arrive your customers are more likely to notice it, visit your site or store and purchase something.

Are you looking for a little bit of guidance when it comes to merging offline and online marketing channels? My team is on standby ready to help. Schedule your free business consultation to discuss your current marketing strategy and find new ways to reach customers.

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