Junk mail was expected to follow the path of the dinosaurs, driven extinct by the crashing meteor of email marketing. Well, things didn’t quite turn out that way. Direct mail use is actually growing as marketers learn that email can’t satisfy all their needs and that consumers are getting pretty sick of an inbox full of spam. Worldwide spam volume doubled last year. “With the proliferation of computers, people were saying that paper was going to go away,” says Ramesh Lakshmi Ratan of the Direct Marketing Association. “Almost exactly the opposite happened.”
There was a time when junk mail was expected to follow the path of the dinosaurs, driven extinct by the crashing meteor of email marketing.
Well, things didn’t quite turn out that way. Direct mail use is actually growing as marketers learn that email can’t satisfy all their needs and that consumers are getting pretty sick of an inbox full of spam. Worldwide spam volume doubled last year, with nine of 10 emails now being spam.
“With the proliferation of computers, people were saying that paper was going to go away,” says Ramesh Lakshmi Ratan, chief operating officer with the Direct Marketing Association in New York. “Almost exactly the opposite happened.”
According to the United States Postal Service, direct mail use—coupons, catalogues and the like—increased by about 15 percent over the past five years, with more than 114 billion pieces sent out over the last year. According to some experts, direct mail just works better than the alternatives.
At Customer Connections, a marketing agency with about 120 restaurant clients, responses to some of their email marketing programs are running at just a third of their direct mail programs. “The reason, we believe, is that people are just getting so much email,” says vice president of business development Allan Guarino.
Still, some say choosing between direct mail and email marketing is more complex than an either/or equation. “We don’t see it as a battle between direct mail and email,” says Dan Roselli, president of Red F marketing in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We see it as a battle between mass media and targeted media.” Mass media outlets like TV and radio, he explains, are giving way to niche media that can target an audience more precisely and track results. “We’re seeing dollars shift in almost every category from mass media to the targeted, measurable approach.”
Advances in tracking and targeting direct mail also contributed to its increase, according to Megan O’Connor, account director with marketing agency DraftFCB in Chicago. Just as important, she notes, is the tactile experience you get with direct mail that is unique in marketing. “We call it the ‘mail moment,’” O’Connor says. “You come home from work and you go to the mailbox, and you still get excited about what’s there. It gives you that personal moment you really don’t get with other media.”
Direct mail has also seen a boost from restrictions on phone solicitations instituted in 2003, and could see further increases this year as new postal rules take effect that will, among other things, institute more gradual increases in postal rates.
Diane Trepper, director of marketing at Arlington, Virginia-based Red Hot & Blue Restaurants, says her company had been heavy into direct mail, but began putting more emphasis on email because it was cheaper. “Now with spam, [customers] won’t open it unless it sounds great,” she says.
Email is still preferable for the quick promotion, Trepper says, like the restaurant’s post-Thanksgiving push
to tempt people with bar-b-que. But they’ve found direct mail works better for things like their birthday program. Since February 2006, when Red Hot & Blue went strictly direct mail with the program (rather than a mix of email and direct mail), they’ve tracked a much higher response rate and an attention-grabbing 284 percent ROI. “People are just not as apt to print out the offer [from an email] and bring them in,” says Trepper. Offering a free $10 pork platter, the restaurants saw an average $27.50 check, since most birthday patrons brought friends along.
For new customer recruitment, the restaurant analyzes its database of customers against
carrier routes and targets potential customers close to existing ones. “Birds of a feather flock together,” Trepper says.
Roselli advises remaining “tactic agnostic” with marketing. “You should ask what is the marketing challenge you’re trying to solve and then what is the best channel and tactic to deliver on that objective?”
Doing direct mail right
Know your customer: Keep an active database with as much information as possible on your clients. And keep it current; bad addresses cost mailers $1.8 billion a year in postage alone.
Make it relevant: Target your campaigns based on the information you’ve gathered, tailoring each mailing to a group’s specific profile.
Get them engaged: Ed McMahon showed us the way—peel off the sticker, put it on the form. Get creative; get them interacting with the mail and you’ve hooked them.
Keep experimenting: Even if you have a mailing that works, make changes and send it out to five percent of your
list to see if you can make it even better.