Is Direct Mail Marketing Dead?

mail truck
Email inboxes get crowded. If prospects and customers don’t have a compelling reason to open your email, it will be deleted, or drop below the fold and become the victim of a mass delete some day.

There are rumblings out there that “email marketing is dead.” To those of you that have been around direct marketing for a while, it’s sounding very similar to the “direct mail is dead” message that’s been bouncing around for over half a decade.

The truth is, email marketing isn’t dead…and neither is direct mail. Direct mail is not an exciting topic for trendy marketers to discuss, as this Google Trends illustration shows.

Google Trends Direct Mail

Source: “Direct Mail Marketing” on Google Trends

Direct mail marketing dropped drastically in the 2007 economic downturn, but the volume of commercial mail has been fairly level since. While the drop isn’t good for the postal service and commercial printers, the reduced clutter in the mailbox can be a good thing for your marketing program.

Use this to your advantage!

direct mail advertising

Source: “A Decade of Facts and Figures” on USPS

Why Direct Mail?

Direct mail is a proven marketing workhorse, an easy way to differentiate yourself and get your message in front of your audience.

Direct mail can work great for:

  • Initial touch in a lead gen campaign
  • Reviving dormant leads that aren’t responding to email
  • Nurturing high value prospects
  • Customer retention

Direct mail can even be integrated into your marketing automation programs, as described in this SlideShare about Marketing Automation with Direct Mail.

How to Measure Direct Mail Performance

Measuring direct mail performance is similar to email—measure response to your call-to-actions. Since you’re most likely familiar with email marketing metrics, here’s a comparison of direct mail to email marketing.

 

MeasurementEmailDirect Mail
DeliverabilityBounce rateYou can determine undelivered mail using services based on USPS Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) data. (1)
Open RateMeasured using tracking images. Not 100% accurate but useful for comparing campaigns.No way to determine if mail is opened or read unless further action is taken.
Response MechanismText link, button, or image.URL, QR code, reply mail, or phone number.
CTA MeasurementTypically Clicking on an URL or image.Going to a web pate, calling a phone number, or returning business reply mail or a response card.

(1) Note:

  • Your mail service can clean a mail list through a National Chance of Address (NCOA) database.
  • 1st class mail is automatically forwarded by the post office.
  • IMB allows you to receive Change of Address (COA) information

 

Measuring direct mail performance does require more upfront planning than email marketing.

Here are a few direct mail measurement tips:

  1. The easiest thing to do to measure response rate is to use landing pages that are only used by your direct mail campaign.
  2. If you use the same landing pages for multiple campaigns or channels (email and direct mail, for example), tag your URLs with the channel and campaign name. Use friendly URLs, URL shorteners such as bit.ly or goog.gl URL shorteners, and/or maybe QR codes, that point to the long tagged URLs. (For more info, read the Google Analytics section below.)
  3. If your direct mail is sent to prospects that will be visiting your website for the first time, use personalized URLs (PURLs) that allow you to identify.

What to Expect

Printing and mailing costs for direct mail makes it much more expensive than sending an email. But cost isn’t what matters…ROI matters.

 According to the Direct Marketing Association, direct mail performs.

(In the following chart, a house list is a list of customers or prospects that have already had contact with you and a relationship has started.)

direct mail performance metrics

 Source: DMA 2013 Statistical Fact Book

Whether it’s email or direct mail, different direct marketing channels have similar characteristics.

  • Prospects that already know you are much more likely to respond to your marketing message.
  • Personalize copy and graphics to be more relevant. Personalization is about customizing the message based on data you know about your customer or prospect, not throwing their name or company into the message. Modern digital printing technology combined with variable data allows both copy and graphics to be customized on each piece.
  • Integrated, multi-touch cross-media marketing programs will have much better performance than random, single touch messages. This is true regardless of the marketing channel.

direct marketing response rates

Source: DMA 2013 Statistical Fact Book

Technologies That Enable Direct Mail Measurement

IMB (Intelligent Mail Barcode) Postal Tracking

The United States Postal Service has gone beyond barcodes that have just address and zip information. Now your mailing services provider can update your mailing list with current COA (Change of Address) information, and tell you the day the mail is delivered.

IMB deliverability data can be used to trigger follow-up emails or phone calls.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics allows you to measure marketing performance for different campaigns. For cross-media campaigns that combine channels, you can identify which messages are driving traffic to your website.

Most email marketing systems take care of this for you.

For direct mail you’ll want to use easy to type “friendly URLs.” Your web team can have the friendly URL redirect to a longer URL that includes the data needed by Google Analytics to track marketing performance.

You can read more about Google Analytics tagging, or better yet, just let your marketing ops team or marketing solution provider know you want to leverage Google Analytics to measure your campaign performance.

Back in the days before we were working in virtual offices and conducting meetings on Skype, informal workplace discussions frequently took place around the coffee pot.

A common discussion was complaining about the amount of junk mail we all got in the mailbox. We don’t hear that these days, because the complaint has been replaced with the amount of spam we receive in our email inbox.

Get your message into your prospect’s mailbox and into their hands. With a direct mail campaign, you’ll stand out.