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Is Direct Mail Dead?

With the ascendance of digital media in the new millennium, and the rapid decline of newspapers and other print media, one may well be asking: “is direct mail marketing dead?”

The answer: absolutely not!

In fact, direct mail has been proving itself to be more effective than digital advertising. Seen as just more digital clutter, email marketing often goes unread if not immediately deleted or sent invisibly off to anonymous junk mail dungeons by aggressive spam filters. Direct mail has a decided advantage over email – people will still stop and read it. There is a much greater chance that one’s message will reach its target during those vital moments when it’s in your potential customers’ hands and under their gaze.

But how is direct mail surviving when newspaper advertising is in a seeming death spiral? Newspapers are experiencing a precipitous audience reduction as people are more and more inclined to consume their news online through a laptop, PC or mobile device. This creates a negative feedback loop where the loss of audience causes a drop in ad sales. The drop in ad revenue triggers cutbacks in newspaper staff which reduces the amount of content which causes newspapers to lose more of their audience – continuing the cycle.

This is not happening at the mailbox. Everyone still checks the mail every day, thumbing through each piece. This is an enormous audience that isn’t going away anytime soon. Opportunities to reach this audience abound and should not be ignored.

The trick for marketers in 2015 and beyond will be smarter employment of direct mail. This can be done through personalization, localization, and clever integration with digital media.

Big Data is your friend. With the rise in social media and myriad other ways people interact in the digital realm, it is now possible for business to get to know individual customer’s habits, needs and desires better than ever before.

Consumer data combined with variable printing is a powerful way to personalize direct mail marketing. Postcards can be addressed to individual customers, coupons with unique serial numbers or mailings with unique landing URLs can track the effectiveness of mailing campaigns. Imagery can also be tailored to the individual using variable printing: individualized maps featuring the customer’s neighborhood, unique QR codes, or simply variable background imagery.

Direct mail tailored to individual customer experience has been proven to be extremely effective. 86% of customers who have received personalized marketing believe it positively influenced their purchase. Personalized coupons based on previous experiences, and product recommendations based on previous purchases are also highly favored.

Customers greatly appreciate information about products and services that are specifically relevant to their desires – not so much with vague mailings for “current resident” about irrelevant services.

Local and small businesses are reaping the rewards of direct mail. It is an increasingly effective way to reach out to new customers in their area as well as engaging with returning customers. The rising dominance of mobile devices has spurred an increase in local search which has translated to an increase in local shopping. People feel a need to engage with their own communities even as they enjoy unprecedented access to the entire globe through digital media. Local businesses stand to benefit the most from direct mail over email and social media advertising, particularly when they find clever ways to integrate all three strategies.

Clever print marketing is another trend to look out for in the years to come. Direct mail has the rare opportunity to spend more time in a target’s hands than any other medium. If it is in the mailbox, it will be thumbed through. This is its big chance to make an impact on the recipient before it makes its way to the recycling bin – or tacked onto the refrigerator if it has played its hand well.  Use of novel paper stock and unusual die cuts can create a tactile experience to engage the customer. Brand storytelling and compelling testimonials from real customers are another way to connect with individuals in a direct mail campaign.

Additionally, smarter integration with digital and social media will improve the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns. Scannable QR codes are a prime example. One way to increase their effectiveness is to provide something rewarding on the digital end to engage the customer that is not present in the printed material – a video or an interactive piece for example – as opposed to leading to a mere digital clone of the printed content.

Another trend, ironically enough, that has been increasing the effectiveness of direct mail marketing is the decline in volume of direct mail. Since digital media has absorbed a large portion of marketing that had traditionally been in the realm of print media, there has been less mail taking up space in consumers’ mailboxes. This means a direct mail piece has less competition for the audience’s attention. Therefore, a beautiful, engaging direct mail campaign that is clever, personalized and relevant to the customer’s individual shopping needs will have a greater impact and lead to greater sales for the business that employs it.

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