In this ever-on digital era, it may seem direct mail has lost its relevance as an effective marketing tool. After all, digital marketing provides a plethora of benefits for reaching the right customers with the right message in the right place at the right time. In that light, how could the seemingly lowly mailer ever compete?
But some experts say that marketers who successfully include direct mail in their marketing efforts are doing so by integrating digital insights and tools while embracing a true omnichannel approach.
Winterberry Group Report
According to a recent report from the Winterberry Group, brands are “steadily investing in more data-driven direct mail applications to attract customers,” and “seeking out performance-oriented benefits that support broader omnichannel strategies.”
The whitepaper, “Delivering Performance: Direct Mail in the United States 2023,” is the outcome of an “extensive primary research effort” that was conducted by the Winterberry Group for the United States Postal Service (USPS) from November 2022 to August 2023. The research involved the “interview contributions of dozens of thought leaders in the agency, data, printing, mailing service and technology communities, as well as survey responses from more than 500 enterprise and middle-market brands and agency executives.”
Results indicated that direct mail (DM) expenditures in the U.S. may pass $39.3 billion this year. Although that’s less than 2019’s pre-COVID spending of nearly $43.2 billion, it’s up from almost $38.8 billion in 2020, the Winterberry Group said.
Among the participants surveyed:
- “45% of marketers say the most important use case direct mail fulfills is customer acquisition”
- “59% of marketers are taking steps to better integrate their use of direct mail with other channels”
- “53% of marketers are shifting to more personalized content over the next year”
“The resiliency of direct mail in the United States is rooted largely in its unique capability as a performance marketing channel,” said Jonathan Margulies, managing partner, Winterberry Group, one of the paper’s co-authors. “While marketing practitioners have long been migrating spend to performance-oriented digital media channels, a growing number are coming to see direct mail as a powerful tool for delivering curated, personalized messages and content on the basis of data triggers—helping support customer acquisition, incremental sales and other key marketing objectives. It’s this unique capability that is likely to keep DM at the forefront of the marketing mix well into the future.”
“In a marketing world where digital channels tend to be the default, we are seeing savvy marketers add direct mail to their omnichannel campaigns because its tactile nature makes it more memorable and generates much higher response rates than digital channels,” said Tom Foti, vice president of product solutions, United States Postal Service.
Six “Overarching Trends”
The Winterberry Group whitepaper identified six “overarching trends” that contribute to direct mail’s “prominent role” in a U.S. marketing mix:
- “Brands have come to widely embrace the ‘omnichannel’ philosophy, emphasizing the integration of all marketing channels, both digital and traditional, in a diverse media mix.”
- “Marketers are increasingly prioritizing performance—the ability to achieve specific, incremental objectives with respect to customer acquisition, sales and other outcomes—over other use cases.”
- “Growing costs and challenges associated with the addressability of data-driven digital media are leading many marketers (and digitally native direct-to-consumer brands, in particular) to test alternate channels, such as direct mail, in support of their growth ambitions.”
- “Improvements in the integration of data and creative content, coupled with the advent of less expensive and more capable marketing technologies, are allowing direct mailers to achieve long-promised value from on-demand production, personalization, trigger-driven programs, retargeting and other innovations that capitalize on intent signals in the buying cycle.”
- “The continued robust availability of licensable third-party data—backed by a mature, multifaceted supply chain—represents the foundation upon which brands responsibly orchestrate their direct mail programs at scale.”
- “Seeking to manage the vast complexity inherent in modern marketing, brands are looking to media channels and supply chain partners that provide for flexibility, scalability and the ability to rapidly adapt to changing needs.”
Digitizing Direct Mail
Other experts agree that direct mail still has an important role to play in omnichannel efforts — and can be optimized by integrating digital marketing capabilities.
Experian says marketers can leverage technology in various ways to make direct mail campaigns more interactive and engaging by integrating:
- QR codes — which allow recipients to learn more about the offer and can include various elements to optimize brand recognition and personalization.
- Voice Activated Call to Action (VACTA) — in which recipients respond to offers verbally by calling out to a smart speaker with the offer code, which triggers a link send to the consumer’s phone so they can check out the offer at a more convenient time. “Additionally, including a VACTA in direct mail pieces allows marketers to manage, track and optimize their marketing campaigns in real-time,” Experian says. “Because VACTAs make offers immediately redeemable, businesses can easily measure the performance and effectiveness of each direct mail piece.”
- Informed Delivery emails — which give consumers a “sneak peek” of the direct mail that’s headed their way. The Informed Delivery service is offered by USPS and gives consumers a digital preview of direct mail prior to physical delivery so they can check out the offer ahead of time. According to the USPS, Informed Delivery “offers business mailers and shippers the opportunity to engage users through an integrated mail or package digital marketing campaign that generates additional consumer impressions, interactions, and insights.”
Finding the Sweet Spot
As global consulting firm Deloitte notes in a recently published study about the traditional-to-digital media shift, “There is a continual need to reassess between digital and traditional media to create the most effective media mix to achieve business goals.”
Part of that assessment includes understanding which customer segments may be particularly responsive to direct mail. The firm notes that “older consumers (57+) are 48 percent more likely to prefer traditional mail to digital marketing,” and these older consumers also represent a “valuable segment,” since they comprise the “majority of the top spending customers across many industries that still heavily leverage traditional mail.”
“While older consumers may prefer traditional, that is not the case for all key consumer segments—so balancing traditional and digital media formats is critical for all companies,” Deloitte says.
The firm also notes that as marketers make allocation decisions, it can be easy to view the choice between traditional and digital media through a binary lens.
“Yet, there’s a compelling case for digital as a compliment to traditional to enhance the overall effectiveness of marketing spend,” Deloitte explains. “We found that traditional direct mail’s impact is amplified when it is combined with digital. …Eliminating the binary approach to allocation and thinking about the synergetic effects can be an unlock for companies to maximize marketing effectiveness. …”
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