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Is Direct Mail Dead?

In the age of digital marketing, you might think direct mail is dead. After all, if most people are spending their time online, wouldn’t it make sense to advertise there? And does anybody actually pay attention to advertising they receive in the mailbox these days?

We’ve compiled all the facts and figures we could find about direct mail marketing and whether it’s still relevant in a digital and personalized world. Let’s find out if direct mail is thriving or if it’s going the way of the dinosaurs.

It’s True, Mail Volume is Declining…

According to the USPS, total mail volume has declined by 29.85% since 2006.1 But just because the number of pieces is down doesn’t mean direct mail is in decline.

While there are several reasons for the decline in mail volume (i.e. online bill pay and more sophisticated targeting methods), the fact that there are fewer pieces in mailboxes is actually a good thing for marketers. Less clutter means there’s more opportunity to stand out and less competition for attention. Both of these things give you a much better shot at achieving your marketing goals.

Graph - Decline in Direct Mail

But Direct Mail Response Rates Are On the Rise

Direct mail is the most effective marketing channel for new customer acquisition and customer retention. For proof of that, just look at the average response rates for direct mail in the United States. House lists boast a 5.1% response rate on average, while prospect lists receive an average response rate of 2.9%. That’s a 54.55% increase since 2006 for house lists and a 70.59% increase since 2006 for prospect lists.2

How does that compare to digital? Email and paid search offer a 0.6% return, while display ads average a response rate of 0.2%. And social media falls right between those two numbers at 0.4%.3 While digital may be great for remarketing and spreading brand awareness, it’s clear that direct mail is better at driving new and returning business.

Graph - Response Rates Rise

Direct Mail Connects with Your Audience

Unlike digital, direct mail helps you connect with people on multiple levels. Here are just a few ways direct mail makes it easier to relate to your audience.

It’s Personal

Personalization isn’t just something you can do with your digital channels – it works for direct mail, too. Tailoring your message to specific customers makes your piece more engaging, and it’s pretty hard to miss your own name as you scan through your mail.

Adding a name to your direct mail piece can increase response rates by 135%, according to a 2017 study.4 And the DMA stat book reports that targeting on a 1:1 level increases response rates by at least 50%.2

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It’s Engaging

Because we spend more time interacting with printed materials than we do digital, we react differently to them. This is supported by neuromarketing, which is the study of interactions between our brains and marketing messages. Research shows that holding a physical mail piece triggers desirability and improves a prospect’s perception of your brand. And a 2017 USPS study found the parts of our brains that control motivational response are 20% more engaged when we view print advertising.5

Direct mail is also memorable. Studies show brands that advertise with direct mail make more of an impression on customers and are more likely to be remembered than those who don’t. In fact, the USPS reports that brand recall is 70% higher when customers are exposed to direct mail as opposed to digital.5

Sending direct mail can also get you in front of customers when they’re in a good mood. According to the USPS, 55% of people said they “look forward” to seeing what’s in their mailbox.6 And 56% stated that receiving and reading mail is a “real pleasure.”6 Spam emails don’t put anybody in a good mood.

It’s Trustworthy

Studies show that consumers are more likely to trust direct mail and the companies that use it over anything digital. In fact, 56% of people feel that print advertising is the most trustworthy form of marketing.7 Direct mail also feels more credible because you can open it at your leisure, and it’s not as in-your-face as display ads or emails.

Need another reason why you should use direct mail? Almost 50% of all emails sent each day are spam, and constantly bombarding people with advertising they didn’t ask for doesn’t exactly build trust.8 Plus, there’s no chance of having your identity stolen or downloading a virus when opening a piece of direct mail.

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It’s Tangible

Another benefit of direct mail is that you can hold it in your hands. You can use special coatings, papers, magnets, games, and other interactive elements to grab your audience’s attention as soon as they receive your piece. Or you can include promotional credit cards or small gifts they can go out and use immediately. No digital channel can offer this degree of tangibility or make such a persuasive appeal to the senses.

Direct Mail Gets Attention

How many emails and display ads do you see each day on average? Studies show that over 269 billion emails are sent around the world each day.8 And we encounter around 63 display ads daily as we browse the Internet.9 Overwhelming, right? On the other hand, the average person only receives around 2 pieces of mail on a daily basis.10,11

Less mail to sort through means prospects are more likely to take the time to read your piece. And when consumers give you their full attention, there’s a better chance they’ll notice your offer and quickly take advantage of it. In fact, the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) reports that 79% of consumers act on direct mail immediately, which is much higher than email’s 45%.12

Most unsolicited emails end up in the digital trash can pretty quickly, but that’s often not the case with direct mail. Get your offer to the right person, and your piece can easily outlast the few seconds devoted to most spam emails.

Direct Mail Stats

Direct Mail + Digital = The Perfect Marriage

Direct mail is also the perfect complement to your digital marketing channels. In fact, mail paired with digital advertising is proven to produce 28% higher conversion rates.4 Following up a direct mail piece with an email (or an email with a direct mail piece) increases the impact of your marketing and helps keep you top of mind.

Using direct mail as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy can also improve response rates. Studies show campaigns that paired direct mail with digital ads saw 118% higher response rates than those that only used direct mail.4 Plus, the DMA reports that direct mail can lift response rates for other channels by a whopping 450%.12

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Direct Mail is Alive and Well

Direct mail continues to be one of the best ways to get your marketing message in front of prospects. It offers response rates that are far superior to even the most successful online advertising, and you don’t have to compete for precious attention in the hectic online world. Plus, direct mail boosts the effectiveness of your other marketing channels and offers extensive personalization options to connect with prospects.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that direct mail marketing will continue to thrive. At $38.5 billion, direct mail will account for the largest portion of local advertising spend in the United States in 2018.15 Plus, direct mail advertising is projected to continue growing through 2020 for both B2B and B2C marketing.16

While it may be tempting to focus solely on online marketing, it’s clear that tried-and-true advertising channels like direct mail can pay off in ways digital just can’t.

Graph: Direct Mail Growth
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