Using direct mail as a viable marketing strategy may seem counterintuitive now, when a digital presence for each business is essentially compulsory. However, the allure of direct mail persists. After all, you’re still receiving printed mail from all kinds of businesses, courtesy of the United States Postal Service, in an attempt to capture your interest in the fleeting seconds you spend glancing over such documents before casting them aside.

Don’t be too quick to discard direct mail as a marketing strategy, however, or its potential to engage and convert customers. “The goal of direct mail should be to get the recipient to take action and respond in some way,” says Jim Cota, Rare Bird’s co-founder and president/CEO. “For that to happen, of course, you first have to get their attention.”

Let’s examine the value of direct mail marketing. Why does it still matter now? How can businesses put it to good use?

What is direct mail marketing?

Direct mail marketing involves sending physical mail—postcards, letters, flyers, brochures, and catalogues are the most common examples—in an effort to establish a connection with a targeted audience. Direct mail also includes some of the fancier efforts B2B enterprises might engage in order to land specifically targeted clients.

Because it’s been used for decades, direct mail now evokes a kind of nostalgia that digital marketing does not even attempt to replicate. Almost everyone likes to receive mail, and even now, when bills are paid online and we can text with people around the globe, there’s nothing quite like the enduring hope that today might be the day we again discover something interesting in our mailboxes. Surprisingly, “73% of American consumers say they prefer being contacted by brands via direct mail because they can read it whenever they want.”

Why does direct mail marketing matter?

Like email marketing and search engine marketing (SEM), direct mail targets specific demographics and segments customers into manageable groups. Direct mail can also be easily tracked and measured, albeit in different ways from digital marketing, allowing businesses to evaluate the effectiveness of specific campaigns and make informed, data-driven decisions in future efforts. However, some potential customers just aren’t going to bother opening an email from a business, even one they have purchased from in the past.

The unique and unexpected experience of finding something of value in your physical mailbox, while infrequent, is at least a respite from the inescapable nature of digital ads and text messages you’ve perhaps errantly signed up for by not clicking the appropriate opt-out box during a recent online purchase. You might say we’ve arrived in a world where so-called junk mail holds a strange appeal.

Plus, some customers have legitimate privacy concerns about how their data is collected and used. Because direct mail is not as invasive, by comparison, it may be how some customers prefer to interact with a business.

How should a business use direct mail marketing today?

If, like some business leaders, you are worried about current economic conditions and are wondering what role marketing should play in your immediate future, now is not the time to stick your head in the sand. In fact, direct mail marketing is an easy effort you can make to proactively cultivate customers. Because digital marketing is so prevalent, direct mail marketing may help businesses rise above competitors and stand out in a crowded marketplace.

As Jim Cota reminds us:

Many of your competitors will cut their budgets. A less crowded advertising marketplace allows you to purchase more awareness for the same budget.

If there is less “noise” in the market, you can increase your reach and engagement.

By being present, you’ll demonstrate your company’s staying power and build customer trust.

To make the most of direct mail marketing this year, businesses should also consider the following strategies:

  • Personalize in every way. Use the recipient’s actual name (not “Current Resident” or “Homeowner”), but also tap into the troves of available data and target customers based on their interests and purchase history. That’s one way to increase engagement.
  • Don’t ditch technology: While you’re kicking it old school with direct mail, you can still use QR codes and other technological developments to create an interactive and memorable experience for customers.
  • Integrate with digital marketing: Direct mail isn’t just an alternative to digital marketing; it might be best used in tandem with digital efforts. Consider retargeting ads and multi-channel approaches that reinforce your brand’s message.
  • Test, measure, and refine: We say it all the time. Evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts, then adjust and try again to more quickly achieve the results you want.
Just a few examples of direct mail campaigns we’ve produced for clients
such as INvestEd, Harrison Steel, and Complete Office Supply.

The window of opportunity for direct mail to work might be small, but so was the thermal exhaust port on the first Death Star, and that worked out well for the good guys. Take sales opportunities as they come, whether you discover or create them, and make a lasting impression on your audience.

Direct mail marketing might seem like a blast from the past, along with bottled milk delivery and calling a number to find out when a certain movie is playing at the megaplex near you, but it still holds significant sway. Personal connections with customers are hard to create in any medium. As consumer behavior shifts and privacy concerns grow more serious each year, businesses should make direct mail marketing at least a small part of their overall plans. New methodologies do not necessarily negate the effectiveness of older methodologies.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold and take some calculated risks to get the results you’re after,” Cota says. You might only have a few seconds to make an impression, which means the writing and design in direct mail marketing must be exceptional. Those happen to be two of Rare Bird’s specialties. We’d be happy to talk with you about how we can help.