Is Direct Mail – The “Snail Mail” Kind – Making a Comeback?

A number of years ago, a colleague of mine gave me a book on fractals to read and it was fascinating! At least I thought so. It was all about how nature is made up of fractals that operate in a systematic way to create patterns (in clouds, in leaves, in trees – in everything!). It’s all very mathematical (and I didn’t understand much of the really technical content…) but the images were fascinating and the idea that there are patterns – often predictable patterns – in everything around us, was very compelling, I thought.

I think about fractals and patterns a lot (yes, as those who know me would tell you, I have some odd interests…), and I’ve been thinking about patterns recently as I start to research – in truth, as I start to just think about starting to research – my next book Direct Marketing in the Digital Age which will be released early next year. It’s an update to my 1992 book, Direct Mail, which is out of print. That book, of course, only addressed the old “snail mail” form of direct mail. The new book will address the impact of new technology on direct marketing.

Two key points from my perspective:

  1. The basics are going to apply regardless of the delivery mechanism. Effective direct mail requires an attention getting headline (or subject line), compelling copy that addresses target market needs and a clear call to action combined with an easy means for potential customers to place an order.
  2. What goes around comes around. While online direct marketing has obviously grown rapidly, I suspect that the old-fashioned form of marketing may at some point make a comeback. It’s a pattern.

Why do I say this? Because marketers are always looking for a way to stand out from the masses as they work to get their messages in front of their target audiences. As more and more consumers experience email fatigue, and more and more email marketing missives end up in junk mail bins, some are turning back to traditional direct mail marketing to take advantage of the much less crowded environment that snail mail provides.

Traditional direct mail still offers not only the opportunity to target very specific market segments. And, unlike other traditional marketing tools, it’s highly measurable. You can determine what works, what doesn’t, and what works better than something else, through various types of testing. It’s very similar to the measurability of online marketing efforts although, admittedly, with not as much granularity. While traditional direct mail marketing is more expensive (you have printing and postage costs that you don’t online), the expense may be (may be) worth it, if it can generate more positive response.

I don’t know if my hypothesis is true, but I strongly suspect that it is, or will be. And, despite my procrastination, I really am looking forward to digging into the research for this book. If you have perspectives, opinions or personal experiences to share, please post them here, or contact me through my web site –

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2 Responses to “Is Direct Mail – The “Snail Mail” Kind – Making a Comeback?”

  1. lpophal says:

    Yes, great points. There are many things that marketers could and should be doing to increase their odds of standing out both online and in their traditional marketing efforts. And, yes, a 1-2% return can be very offputting when considering the overall cost of traditional direct mail.

    Definitely agree with your point about making whatever is done part of an overall plan. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Jeannie Odza says:

    It is interesting you are bringing traditional direct mail into the limelight.

    I totally agree with you on the point that e-mail marketing is inundating readers, resulting in a lot of unopened mail. But, I believe that may be due to a few factors, including; headlines are not catchy, they are not producing relevant content, and/or they are sending out way too many e-mails.

    As far as traditional direct mail goes, you are correct in thinking there is a movement back to it. However, those who do decide to use it must realise there is maybe a 1-2% return, and therefore should never be used as the sole form of marketing. To be truly effective, it must be part of an overall marketing plan.

    My two cents anyway.

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