As the founder and CEO of a direct mail company, I run into questions like these a lot: “Hey, Joy, isn’t direct mail a dinosaur? Doesn’t digital work better?”
I got into the direct mail marketing business 21 years ago, when digital was still in its infancy and traditional marketing methods reigned supreme. And wow, how things have changed. Digital advertising has exploded at a breakneck pace, finally unseating television in 2017 to grab the larger share of worldwide ad spending ($209 billion compared to $178 billion for TV).
Despite the marketing ecosystem being largely focused on digital, direct mail is still a viable option for many businesses and agencies. In fact, many of today’s largest disruptors — digital-first companies — have dipped their toes into the direct mail pool. The list is truly eye-opening: Casper, Wayfair, HelloFresh, Glossier and Away. I’ve even received direct mail from Google.
Maybe it’s because most of our email inboxes are a total mess — with “important” messages and receipts galore, as well as alerts, statements, newsletters and good ol’ what-the-heck-is-this spam — while our real-life mailboxes are about a third less full than they were a decade ago.
Or maybe it’s the myriad of other challenges that come with reaching people on digital platforms:
• In the United States, Facebook lost 15 million users from 2017 to 2018.
• According to the Pew Research Center, one in four Americans has deleted the Facebook app from their phones in the last year, and 42% have “taken a break from checking the platform for several weeks or more.”
• Ad blocker adoption is rising quickly as privacy concerns abound.
That isn’t to say that direct mail is without its own difficulties. For one, the lion’s share of any direct mail budget will likely be pocketed by the U.S. Postal Service well before your piece shows up in anyone’s mailbox. For another, you can’t monitor and micromanage performance 24/7. There will always be a lag in your tracking, thanks to real-world logistics.
But with a little guidance, you can add direct mail to your marketing mix and see real, tangible results. Here are my top three direct mail tips:
1. Narrow your mailing list.
In my experience, mailing to the wrong list is the fastest way to completely waste your direct mail budget. Targeting is a fundamental part of direct mail, and really, the sky’s the limit on how niche you can get. Just keep in mind that the narrower your demographic profile, the costlier your list will probably be — yet you’ll likely also pay less in postage and generate more qualified leads. (So it’s a give and take, really.)
Here’s just a taste of the demographic data you can tap into with your mailing list: income, length of residence, type of residence, homeowner/renter status, investable asset value, marital status, age of children in the home, credit score, interests and more.
Unless your product or service is universally useful to all consumers, I rarely recommend blanketing an entire geographic area with your direct mail piece. To identify which demographics your business should target, the best place to start is your existing customer database. Compile a list of your best customers, or customers who converted within the last few years. (Going back too far could result in data that’s less accurate.)
Next, work with a company that can process data and add demographic information onto the record of each person on your list. This is important because you’ll have a more insightful and complete picture of who your customers are. If you’re already working with a direct mail provider (or plan on working with one), it’s worth asking whether they can do this for you. Some mail houses have ongoing agreements with data companies, so they can append your list with demographic data at a lower rate than you might pay as a one-time user.
2. Stack the odds in your favor when it comes to tracking.
Tracking is a key part of any marketing campaign — and when it comes to offline marketing, it’s still a work in progress (but getting there). No, you won’t be able to track and account for every single new lead, engagement or buying behavior, but covering all your bases can make it easier to track your campaign’s response.
A few of my go-to tracking moves include: using a unique landing page or URL for each direct mail campaign or piece, using a unique phone number to track calls, using a direct-mail-only promo code or special offer, and regularly comparing new leads to your master mailing list to catch prospects you’ve been mailing to who may have Googled you and converted that way (thereby mistakenly getting marked as an online lead).
Don’t rely on just one of these methods either. Consider using all of them.
3. Stay consistent — the ultimate be-all, end-all in direct mail.
One mailer isn’t likely to tip the scales in any direction other than downward on your budget. It’s almost a complete waste — and I only say “almost” because I’ve seen the occasional outlier that mails one batch of 20,000 postcards and gets a great (but very atypical) response.
I recommend mailing to a targeted, good-sized list (10,000 people or more) at least three times to gauge the response you get. Ideally, your mailings would be accompanied by follow-up online ads (also called retargeting ads) across Google and Facebook/Instagram that echo the design and message of your mailers. Coupling online display ads with offline mailers or postcards is a cost-effective way to build brand awareness and momentum.
If you want to make an impact offline, go for it fully and do it right: Be laser-specific with your targeting, stay smart with your campaign tracking and stick to a campaign that includes a minimum of three mailings that are echoed by coordinated online ads. As long as your direct mail campaign ticks off these three boxes, you’ll likely be on your way to successfully adding direct mail to your marketing mix.