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6 Facts About Direct Mail Every Marketer Needs to Know

Direct mail is essential for any good marketing strategy today. Here are 6 facts that will help establish a basis of understanding about this very important print medium.

Fact #1: People don’t use “snail mail” as much as they used to.

There is a widely held perception that traditional mail (the kind you receive in your mailbox) is a dying form of communication. In past blog posts, we’ve investigated this trend heavily and proven that this isn’t fully true since there are psychological and cultural aspects to direct mail that make it a very attractive method of getting in touch with prospects for marketers across all industries.

This isn’t to say that direct mail is increasing in popularity. In fact, a report published by the American Marketing Association in 2018 found that the volume of mail going through the USPS decreased by almost 30% between 2006 and 2017.

This may not sound like much, but when you consider this change in terms of how many pieces of mail each American received over each year individually, this weight of this change becomes a little more concrete.

A comparison of the two years (2006 and 2017) and the average number of pieces of mail each person received per year.

In 2006, each person in the US received roughly 715 pieces of mail in one year. In 2017, they received only 460 pieces of mail. 

While this data alone does point to an obvious decline in the volume and therefore usage of direct mail by people in the US, it also points to a serious opportunity for marketers when combined with some of the points from our previous blogs about various psychological aspects of printed mail especially when linked to digital.

Each piece of mail progressively has less and less competition for the attention of its recipient. When you combine this with our second fact below, it becomes more apparent how incredibly powerful direct mail can become when done correctly.

Fact #2: Response rates to direct mail marketing have significantly increased despite the decrease in mail volume.

As the volume of mail continues to decrease year over year, the likelihood of marketing messages sent in the form of physical mail being seen by their recipients has increased dramatically. The graph below demonstrates how the response rates (to marketing mailers) has increased since 2003.

A graph showing how response rates to direct mail marketing campaigns have increased despite a decrease in overall mail usage.

All of this information is according to the Data & Marketing Association’s 2017 Response Rate Report.

While the percentage increases may seem small, this equates to a huge improvement in response rates from the perspectives of individual marketers who are using direct mail in their marketing mix.

Basically, these first two facts in combination prove that, despite the declining usage of direct mail, people are responding more than ever to marketing messages they receive in the mail.

This fact can’t be attributed directly to any single aspect of the mailers in terms of their content or frequency, but there are several facts that have become widely accepted about marketing via direct mail in the past years that have very likely attributed to the increase in its success.

When making a direct mail marketing campaign, it’s essential to keep these facts in mind to ensure your campaign meets all the necessary criteria to be truly successful.

Fact #3: Despite the perception that digital purchasing methods have replaced traditional, the number of US adults making purchases via direct mail and catalogs is about half as large as the number of adults making online purchase.

While in-store purchases continue to maintain their position as the most common form of purchasing goods in the US, online purchasing and purchases made via catalog and direct mail remain formidable forces in the world of purchasing methods.

In 2016, 209.6 million people made purchases online. To put this in perspective, the population of the US in 2016 was 323.4 million. That’s a very large portion of the population that made online purchases.

But purchase methods aren’t mutually exclusive. People that make purchases online also make purchases in stores, for example.

The same thing goes for people who make purchases via catalog or direct mail.

In the same year, 100.7 million people made purchases via catalog or direct mail. That’s roughly half of the number of people making online purchases, and nearly a third of the total US population, to put this number into perspective.

People don't want spam mail. All good direct mail campaigns are personalized and make the customer feel valued.

Fact #4: Much of the increase in the effectiveness of direct mail is attributed to an increasing awareness among marketers of what kinds of messages attract their customers and prospects.

Researchers have partially attributed the increase in response rates to direct mail to an improved understanding of the types of messages that do well in direct mail. This is also partially based on the looks of a mailed piece.

If a piece of mail looks “spammy,” or if a recipient feels like they’re being marketed to as a member of a collective audience segment, they will likely disregard the mail and place it directly in their trash. This keeps the amount of time the person interacts with the message to a minimum.

In recent years, with the improvement of technologies that variably print customer information onto individual mailers, marketers have become far more able to send personalized messages to individual customers.

When a customer receives mail that looks like a genuine letter from a brand, that directly addresses them, and that sincerely seems to know what they’re looking for or interested in, they begin to feel like they have a personal relationship with the brand.

Marketing researchers say these are the types of messages that do exceedingly well in direct mail formats. As we have said in previous blogs, people have a stronger emotional connection to messages written in print on physical paper they can touch than they do to any digital messages.

This psychological implication of print amplifies the types of messaging a brand uses in its direct mail marketing campaigns, so when done correctly, variable prints that use customer data to personalize their messages are extremely effective at motivating customers to make purchases.

If a message seems to be too invasive, however, people begin to feel as if the brand might be spying on them in some way or another. When customers feel a brand has too much information on them, these messages can do the exact opposite of what they intend, and they can mortally wound the relationship that brand would like to have with their customer.

Fact #5: Your direct mail campaign is only as good as your mailing lists.

It’s obvious that sending the right kinds of messages for certain people to the wrong group of people is not a smart thing to do. This will alienate your brand and make you seem awkward to the people you need most.

According to marketing researchers, a mailer is only as good as the mailing list to which it is sent.

The three types of mailing lists marketing experts say you need to have are as follows:

  1. Existing customer list (or a house list) – these are the customers you can rely on as being more inclined to make purchases from you in the future. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you have the right kinds of information about your existing customers; it will allow you to get in contact with them where they want it, and when it will be most effective for you.
  2. Prospect list – a list of the people you want to have as customers. To make this list, it’s important to know the demographics of your existing customer list and to study them closely. This can help you target demographics further down the line as you are creating the prospects for your product. This is as simple as the concept that knowing who purchased your product helps predict who will continue to purchase your product.
  3. Warm leads list – this is a list of the people who have expressed interest in your brand but who have not actually made a purchase yet. Monitoring those who have interest in your brand is as simple as providing a means for them to experience or sample your products. In the process of doing that, make sure you get their contact info, and voila! You’ve got yourself a warm leads list.

Fact #6: Having good data about response and interaction rates is the key to having even more successful direct mail marketing campaigns in the future.

If you have good data about how many people are responding to which messages across your various marketing segments, then you’re on the right track to building a foundational data set that can be used to inform your future direct mail marketing campaigns.

With direct mail, measuring response rate is the most difficult element. Check out our blog on tracking your print marketing to see how we suggest making this easier. Conquest Graphics also offers several other tactics for tracking your direct mail campaigns, which we talk about in this blog.

Basically, it all comes down to being practical with your direct mail campaigns. Not overspending by trying to reach the wrong people is as simple as making sure you have good marketing lists. Not alienating yourself from your desired customers is as easy as making sure you don’t overdo your implementation of variable data printing. Despite all the uncertainties that go along with direct mail marketing, and any other type of marketing for that matter, it all comes down to a delicate balance in your approach to reaching customers.

Generally speaking, it’s as simple as ​having data to support your actions and genuinely wanting to help your customers.

6 Facts About Direct Mail Every Marketer Needs to Know

Direct mail has changed a lot over the past few years. Here's what you need to know today to make your direct mail marketing campaigns as successful as possible.

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