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Direct mail marketing: Not dead, but more personal and alive!

8 Minute Read

Direct mail image

Rachel WeingartenContributor

For as long as there have been advertising media, marketers have been debating the best methods to reach and retain clients. But over the years there have also been many misconceptions about what works best and why.

Is print dead or not?

Print is dead, right? In the world of news, that may be a common belief, as people flock to the internet and apps for news updates. But in the world of customizable ads that reach consumers and convert to sales, print still rules. And despite digital advertising ruling the content world, direct mail and print marketing are more robust than ever. So if you’ve found yourself believing print is over and your customers will look for you elsewhere, you might want to rethink your strategy.

​The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) studied multiple methods of multi-format customer outreach including email, paid search, direct mail, and SMS. In June 2022 they released their Response Rate Report (membership required), which revealed some surprising findings. Of all channels analyzed, direct mail consistently had the highest level of ROI. Here are a few statistics to help you understand why print is a great option for converting eyeballs to sales.

Printed mail success statistics

  • When using a multi-format approach, direct mail had 112% ROI.
  • Nearly half of all participants planned on increasing their use of direct mail.
  • Letter-sized mailings including envelopes had the greatest result.
  • Direct mail ranked fifth for popularity in marketing campaigns, averaging about 38% across all industries.
  • Automotive, financial services, and travel and hospitality were the strongest users of direct mail marketing campaigns.

About those travel and hospitality mailers…

Viking Cruises direct mail case study

Without fail, every single time I receive a brochure for a cruise or travel destination, I will read it first. And while I may not book immediately, I will pay attention to the offerings, sales, or incentives. While I’ve never taken a Viking Cruise in my life, they have the instant recognizability factor for me from their sponsorship of PBS Masterpiece Theater (waves to fellow fans). That somehow ups their credibility to me. If PBS trusts them, I guess I can as well. And here’s where things get a bit more interesting.

While I’m not necessarily Viking Cruise’s desired demographic, somehow I ended up on their mailing list. Reading their direct mailings offers a certain level of aspirational cozy comfort for me. I’ve also become an unintentional brand evangelist for Viking Cruises. Every time my mom or one of my aunts mentions wanting to take a cruise, I extol the virtues of Viking. And here’s another marketing twist in their favor: I’ve started to seek out their tantalizing Instagram posts as well.

But of all their marketing materials, it’s the tangible assets that I pay the most attention to. Viking Cruises’ eye-catching images and on-brand copywriting is infinitely appealing. I also am a big fan of their slight crankiness. While mega cruise brands can’t stop raving about everything they offer to everyone, Viking loves to highlight the things they’re not. No casinos, no children under 18, no umbrella drinks, and best of all, no inside staterooms. Can you see why I gleefully pore through anything they send my way?

FreshDirect offers consistency and reliability

While some direct mailings try for originality or outrageous claims, FreshDirect has pretty much had the same campaign since they launched. In fact, every single time I see a FreshDirect slightly oversized postcard in my mailbox it has the desired Pavlovian effect — I think about the $50.00 I could be saving if I use the included code. It doesn’t matter if the mailing is addressed to me or not, or if I see a neighbor’s postcard discarded in the mail room, that potential is already ingrained in me. And weirdly enough, I always save their postcard even if I very rarely use the codes.

So what is it about FreshDirect’s campaign that’s done so well? Consistency. The logo is always the same size. The branding never changes. The words are almost always identical and never pushy. It’s a come on without pressure. And to go against everything advertising stands for: It’s the promise of the steak with no premise of any sizzle. It’s consistency and reliability all rolled into one sleek piece of direct mail. They no longer have to sell themselves. I already know what the deal is.

5 tips for successful direct mail campaigns

  • Support each mailer with a multi-format counterpart when possible. I recently received a mailer from Kencko, a healthier plant-based smoothie company. The collateral material was simultaneously soothing and cute. The product information booklet, “let’s shake things up,” was gently punny and highlighted the idea of this being an innovative shake company. The postcards offered sweet ways to unwind from your day including a Tic-tac-toe game played using the brands fruit gummies. Everything included highlighted the idea that there wasn’t a lot of work to be done for a healthy payoff.
  • Create a reasonable cut-off point for incentives. Plus-size fashion brand Eloquii includes e-cash coupons with every order. But they can only be used during very specific timelines, so if you forget to use it you lose out on the $25.00 discount.
  • Or don’t create any cut-off point. Many sellers on Etsy have sales at unexpected times or include discount codes that never expire. Some include cute stickers or candy with every order.
  • Reward their loyalty/create an ongoing interaction. Similarly, FinnStyle, a website specializing in Finnish design products recently offered free (Finnish) candy with every order over $100.00. It was a very clever way of inspiring buyers to anticipate receiving not just their order, but a treat in the mail as well.
  • Make it matter. If you do go the coupon route, take inspiration from the mentioned examples. FreshDirect offers a $50.00 incentive while Eloquii offers $25.00. You don’t want to dilute your brand, but you do want to appreciate every returning customer possible.

And just because…

One of the best print ads that wasn’t an ad was from Old Spice. And it’s worth reading about since although it appeared in a magazine, it used humor, innovation, and the ability to create a tactile experience.

Old Spice punks perfume ads

If you’re a fan of print magazines (some of us still are!), you’ve no doubt had your olfactory senses teased by endless perfume strips. In what may very well be the most brilliant print ad campaign of all time, Old Spice placed a print ad in GQ back in 2018. But as with all things Old Spice, they created a campaign that kept tongue firmly in cheek.

Instead of a scent strip, the campaign contained a scented man-sized disposable red paper blazer. Ad agency Wieden + Kennedy created the campaign to support Old Spice’s Red Collection. If you know your demographic well, you’ll know what they respond to. And that means you’ll better be able to create an automated direct mailer might be triggered by a customer’s interactions with a brand’s website/app.

Old Spice punks perfume ads in GQ magazine ad with full pull-out, red paper blazer
Read the full article about the Old Spice campaign on Adweek.

Create milestone mailings

Did your long-time customer reach a certain tier/level in a loyalty/rewards program? Consider sending them a celebratory greeting card applauding their accomplishment. Did they just renovate their kitchen and now get kitchen-/home-related mailers? What if you created a dinner plate that could be popped out of a postcard? Something that is interactive and helps your customers understand that you hope your brand remains part of their life. And that you might just have the solution for whatever comes next.

Some more ideas onhow to engage customers before or after they interacted with you online:

  • Extend a warm welcome. Send them a rewards card via mail after they order food using your delivery service for the first time.
  • Make it timely. If they ordered holiday flowers for a relative, send them a coupon code for the next upcoming holiday.
  • Don’t be creepy. There’s a fine line between creating a personalized interaction that delights a potential repeat customer and one that freaks them out. I recently received a mailer from stamps.com clearly marked “POSTAGE STAMPS INSIDE.” While I knew there was no way they’d actually included any stamps, I was curious enough to open up the envelope. I realized that I’d signed up and promptly forgotten about the service. As a gentle reminder, they offered me a promo code and label sheet for free stamps.

However you decide to engage (or reengage) with your demographic, you want to reach out to them and not smother them. The bottom line, show your customers the way their direct mail was personalized and that their interaction meant something to your company as well.

Leverage direct mail services

It’s not just travel or hospitality services that best use direct marketing. Today, marketers in nearly every industry can leverage their customer data to target customers. There are countless ways to use personalized automation to send customers and prospects direct mail on a much more personal, customized level.

Want to get started? Cordial has a partnership with Poplar so brands can create personalized, timely direct mail campaigns. Polar has a great primer on direct mail advertising case studies to give you an inspiration boost. Meanwhile, if you’d like some inspiration for fantastic classics or one-of-a-kind print ads or mailers, read on. Two pieces of targeted advertising using completely different approaches.