Sometimes “Snail Mail” is Still the Best Way to Go

I’ve recently begun working in earnest on an update to my 1992 book A Small Business Guide to Direct Mail. The update will be significantly revised and will be titled Direct Mail for the Digital Age. A lot has happened in the direct mail industry since 1992–most notably the advent of email marketing which opens up many new opportunities for marketers. Very cost effective opportunities.

But in thinking about and beginning to research the book, I’m convinced that we haven’t seen the death of traditional direct mail and, in fact, that it may be poised to see a resurgence. When everybody else is marketing online it seems to suggest an opportunity to step away from the crowd and try something different. After all, how many e-marketing offers go directly into your junk mail folder? How many never even reach your inbox because they’re filtered by your service provider or organization? How many do you simply ignore? Yes, it’s more expensive to use traditional direct mail but, in some cases, the extra expense may be a good investment.

And, in fact, there are some things that you simply can’t do through email marketing. Like sampling for instance. Product sampling has long been a very effective way to introduce consumers to new products. Awareness is, after all, the first step in the consumer product adoption process and sampling serves to increase awareness. You can offer samples online, but there is a delay in the fulfillment of those requests and delays can obviously take the “direct” out of “direct mail.”

Even products that can be delivered online don’t have the same impact with consumers according to a recent study that I found quite fascinating. The study was done comparing the effectiveness of sending DVDs/CDs in the mail versus sending links to the same information via email. Technically, the end result would be the same from the consumer standpoint. But, interestingly, the results were anything but. In fact, the test of the two different options revealed a statistically significant favorable response for the hard copy version.

Here are some highlights from the study:

  •  91 percent of all respondents who received a DVD/CD in the mail opened the mailer (what percentage of email marketing do you think open your emails?)
  • 73 percent played the discs in their computers
  • 59 percent thought a DVD was more secure than an email (yes, security issues are changing the email marketing landscape!)
  • Respondents were 85 percent more likely to prefer receiving a DVD/CD in the mail, than an email by the same advertiser (interesting!)
  • 89 percent said they would spend more time, or the same amount of time, with a diect mail piece if it included a DVD/CD

This, despite the fact that—technically—marketers could deliver the exact same experience online through a click of the mouse. There’s just something about a tangible package that has yet to be replaced in the digital environment.  And, there’s just something about consumer behavior that isn’t quite logical. In fact, marketing is far more about appealing to emotion than logic. Despite the low cost and easy accessibility of online marketing channels, there is apparently still something about the tangible nature of the “real world” that has an impact.

Whether the value of that impact is enough to justify the higher cost of traditional direct mail marketing is a question that each individual advertiser will have to answer. But, the big benefit of any form of direct mail (traditional or digital) is its measurability. There’s a pretty easy way to find out–test it!

As I continue to do research for this book, I’m interested in hearing about your experiences with either traditional or digital direct mail efforts. What combination of these methods do you use? What has worked for you? What missteps have you made? What best practices do you have to share?

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