Direct Mail Marketing: How to Make It Work in a Digital World

Noah Wieder
Oct 1, 2019 · 6 min read

Online marketing has become so popular that direct mail marketing has not only lost a lot of popularity, it’s also gotten an unfair rap as an outdated and ineffective marketing channel.

The decline in popularity is unfortunate. But, the idea that direct mail is ineffective is simply wrong. Direct mail averages a 4.4% response rate. Which beats the 0.12% average response rate of email marketing.

All this begs one question: if direct mail is so effective, why do so many companies avoid it?

Because of the widespread misconceptions about direct mail. Let’s dispel some of those misconceptions now. Then, we’ll talk about how to make money with direct mail in today’s market.

Direct mail marketing myths busted

We already covered the myth that direct mail doesn’t work. But, there are two other misconceptions which drive companies away from direct mail:

1. Direct mail marketing is too expensive to be profitable: false.

Printing and posting direct mail campaigns costs money. There’s no debate about that. And, online marketers often assume that online marketing is less expensive because there are no printing and postal costs.

But, online ads have a delivery cost. And, your online marketing campaigns are subject to algorithm changes and platform updates, which can negatively impact ROI. Not to mention that most online advertising is displayed on borrowed real estate. Meaning that the platform owner can pull your ads whenever they want.

On the other hand, it’s unlikely that USPS will stop delivering your mail anytime soon.

Additionally, on-demand and automated printing have significantly reduced the cost and time it takes to print a direct mail campaigns. So, direct mailers can be produced quickly enough to send time-sensitive and personalized marketing messages in your mailers.

When you factor in the higher response rates, direct mail is at least as profitable as online marketing.

2. Lack of mailing addresses makes direct mail impossible: false.

It’s true that most leads are generated online these days. It’s also true that lead collection forms typically don’t ask for mailing addresses.

This means that most businesses have a lead database of email addresses and/or phone numbers without the associated physical addresses. These databases can easily be turned into direct mail marketing databases.

Just upload your lists of email addresses or phone numbers to a batch append service. Or, use a contact information API in your lead generation forms to get mailing addresses in real-time as you collect leads.

So, you can build direct mail marketing lists fast, without impacting your lead generation. And, the profit from direct mail marketing can easily cover the cost of getting mailing addresses.

In the end, the objections to direct mail are just not true. But, a lot of businesses believe them. And, they’re leaving a lot of money on the table because of it.

Why direct mail marketing works in a digital world

First off: direct mail marketing won’t replace online marketing. You need both of them to succeed in today’s marketing environment. However, direct mail can do a few things that digital marketing can’t.

Direct mail can reach more people

Not everyone uses social media. Some people are unreliable in checking their email. Others never answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize.

But, snail mail dependably shows up in the mailbox. And, most people collect it. So, you can use direct mail to target audiences that might never respond to your online marketing. Accessing new customer segments means more sales. One point for direct mail.

Direct mail offers more interaction

Email and online advertisements can be made interactive, to a point. Even though people might be able to play around with an ad, at the end of the day they’re just clicking.

But, direct mail gives people a physical item to interact with. It can be folded, torn, written on, soaked with water, or anything else you can think of. There’s simply far more potential for interactive direct mail advertising. That leads us to the next advantage of direct mail…

Direct mail is memorable

Since prospects can hold direct mail in their hands, and even just opening a mailer requires more action than clicking an ad or opening an email. So, people are much more likely to remember a direct mail advertisement than a digital ad.

Also, if they keep the mailer, they’re more likely to look at it again, because it takes up physical space. If someone saves an email, that email goes away as soon as they leave their email client. But, a mailer sits on their coffee table or counter until they do something with it. It’s much harder to get direct mail out of sight and out of mind than it is to make digital advertising disappear.

Direct mail is less competitive

People can receive tens or hundreds of emails a day. That’s thousands of emails a week.

But, most people only receive a handful of direct mail pieces each day. In some cases, your mailer is the only thing in the mailbox that day. That makes it so much easier to get attention with direct mail. And, that means better response rates ROI.

How to Do Direct Mail Marketing Right

Even with all the advantages, direct mail marketing isn’t a no-look slam dunk. You have to follow some best practices and put creativity into direct mail. Otherwise your mailers will get slam dunked into the trash.

Here’s how to get the best ROI from direct mail.

Personalize your mailers

You can often personalize the same elements of your direct mail marketing that you’d personalize in an email:

  • The mailing address
  • The salutation
  • The Body copy
  • Anywhere else you use the prospect’s name

The mind boggling thing about personalization is that marketers often don’t personalize direct mail. This is strange because the mailing address gives you plenty of data for personalization.

Also, with on-demand printing, you can even personalize your direct mail marketing based on a prospect’s browsing behavior on your website and other lifecycle marketing triggers. So, don’t let the need for printing fool you into thinking that you can’t personalize direct mail.

Send something useful

This is one of the most effective direct mail tactics. Companies have sent erasers, pens, stamps, address labels, and more. One theater sent bags to put snacks in with invitations to their next play.

Even though this tactic increases the cost of your direct mail campaign, it also increases response rates, because exploits two selling fundamentals:

  1. The reciprocity principle. Human psychology dictates that people are more likely to do something for you — like making a purchase — if you’ve given them something of value.
  2. The top-of-mind effect. If prospects keep the item from your mailer, they have a constant reminder of your brand. So, when they need something your company provides, they’re more likely to turn to your product or service.

Sending something useful is so effective that it more than justifies the cost of the free item. Think about it. You’ve probably got some address labels that you received in a direct mailer. What’s something useful you could send in a direct mail campaign?

Segment your audience

Just like email, you need to segment your audience and tailor your message to that audience.

Most marketers use geography to segment their direct mail audiences, since you get that information organically with the mailing addresses. However, you can segment your direct mail lists based on any information you have. Age, sex, household income, almost anything you can think of can be effective for segmenting your direct mail audience.

Use an appropriate call to action

This one can be trickier with direct mail marketing than with digital advertising. In most online marketing, the next step in the buying process is just a click away.

But, people are not at their computer when they open their mail. So, you may need to ask for a different or more specific action in your CTA.

Never leave the CTA out. But, ensure it makes sense in the context of direct mail.

Support your online marketing

Direct mail marketing shouldn’t be an independent marketing channel with its own separate path to a purchase. Use your direct mail to direct prospects to your online assets. That way they can interact with your brand and experience your entire marketing ecosystem.

That way your direct mail marketing generates its own revenue, and improves your digital marketing ROI. That’s how you get the most value from direct mail.

Get addresses, make money

In conclusion, direct mail isn’t dead. In fact, it might be better than ever, given how few businesses are using direct mail right now.

If you want to expand your marketing, and add a revenue generator to your business, start sending direct mail. The first step is easy: get mailing addresses.

After that, it’s just a matter of getting creative.

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