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March 31, 2021

Tired of Lousy Email Open Rates? Here’s Why (and How) to Use Direct Mail Instead

After a year of remote work and social distancing, digital burnout is hitting hard, and with a 14% increase in screen time amid COVID-19, the need to get away from our screens is rising.

While some businesses are using the increased screen time to double down on digital marketing, other businesses are turning to direct mail to gain a competitive edge. And it’s working! It performs so well that 59% of marketers expect to increase their use of direct mail in the next five years.

What does that mean for marketers? You may need to reevaluate your strategy to sidestep screen fatigue. If all your marketing tactics are digital, your message may be falling through the cracks of your audience’s cluttered inbox.

Direct mail is one of the best ways to stand out from all the digital noise.

What is direct mail?

Anything that ends up in a physical mailbox—from coupons for the local pizza restaurant to health care invoices—is direct mail. Direct mail has dozens of uses, but they all boil down to four main goals:

  • Generating leads: On average, people receive over 120 emails every day. The average number of direct mail received daily, in comparison, is two. So it’s no wonder that direct mail has a response rate over 4% higher than email. While email is still essential to most businesses, direct mail gives you the chance to capture the attention of those who aren’t aware of your business in an interactive, memorable way. They may not pay attention to one out of four dozen promotional emails, but that piece of direct mail is hard to ignore.
  • Retargeting leads: In March 2020, over 88% of all online shopping carts were abandoned. Sending direct mail to those who already filled their shopping cart but haven’t purchased (or visited your service pages or partially filled out a form) will give them a physical reminder to come back and complete the action.
  • Retaining leads: With direct mail, you can send previous clients or customers exclusive offers, thank them for their business, and ask for feedback or ways to improve. Not only will this encourage your audience to buy from or visit your business again, but also it will encourage them to spread the word, resulting in more leads.
  • Improving customer communications: Direct mail isn’t just for marketing. Many businesses in the finance and health care industries have to send forms, letters, and invoices to their customers on a regular basis. Often, regulations require these businesses to send physical documents. Even if you do offer a paperless option, some customers prefer getting hard copies.

It’s clear direct mail isn’t just for bills and coupons. It has the potential to help you reach your audience at every stage of the customer journey.

Why is direct mail important right now?

Direct mail has always been effective for reaching leads and customers. But there are a few reasons it’s essential to your marketing strategy now more than ever.

It adds another layer to your omnichannel marketing strategy

Most omnichannel strategies involve a mix of digital channels that reach your audience at a variety of touch points in a variety of ways. Direct mail allows you to complement your digital campaigns with physical, interactive content.

Years ago, integrating digital and direct marketing strategies together would have been nearly impossible. But today, businesses can integrate direct mail with other marketing automation tools, CRMs, and data solutions.

It’s less saturated than digital channels

Between all of the online campaigns companies run—emails, social media ads, chatbots, and so on—we’re all a little overwhelmed by digital marketing. Meanwhile, our physical mailboxes are increasingly empty, leaving businesses the perfect opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

It reaches a wider demographic

Millennials are on Instagram. Gen Z is on TikTok. Boomers and Gen X are on Facebook. Each social media channel attracts different age groups.

While the audience on most digital channels is narrow, almost everyone has a mail or P.O. box. Direct mail allows you to reach people you wouldn’t otherwise reach and provide another touch point to those you’ve already connected with digitally.

It has a higher ROI than digital channels

Like any marketing or communications tactic, there are costs associated with direct mail: printing, design and copy, postage, tracking. But what about the ROI?

It’s high. In fact, over 60% of survey respondents said direct mail had the highest ROI of all marketing channels.

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Because direct mail is less saturated and reaches a wider demographic, that number doesn’t come as a surprise. And with that kind of ROI, those up-front costs will soon pay for themselves.

It automates complicated processes

Direct mail has plenty of uses outside of marketing, too. Many companies in the finance and health care industries are obligated to send mail that includes people’s private information—Social Security numbers, medical history, insurance details, and so on. These businesses must remain compliant with regulations like HIPAA by keeping this information private.

For a long time, this process was manual: Think using only one printer, writing out information, and licking envelopes. But with massive printer networks and new automation tools like Lob, companies can simplify these processes and remain compliant. The bonus? It also helps businesses communicate with their customers more quickly.

8 examples of direct mail

Like the idea of using direct mail for marketing or customer communications but not sure where to start? Take a look at what others have done for some inspiration.

Discount and referral codes

Bed, Bath & Beyond, the king of 20% off discounts, doesn’t send coupons just for fun. They send them because they work.

You can retarget your audience or encourage brand loyalty and repeat customers the same way by offering discounts and referral codes. Consider pooling resources, and partner with another company that has a similar audience in a co-marketing campaign to maximize your reach.

Free gifts and samples

Products that must be smelled or tasted can be difficult to promote well. (We’re looking at you, perfume commercials.) Why not generate leads by sending your audience gifts or samples? Function of Beauty, a customizable shampoo company, mailed postcards with samples of three of the fragrances customers can choose to add to their shampoo, eliminating a barrier standing between them and the Buy Now button.

Infographics

Got a product or service that people are unfamiliar with or wary about? Maybe you’re offering a new benefits package or you’re seeking donations for a foundation. Send a postcard or letter with an infographic documenting all the details. The stats and charts will help you catch recipients’ attention and earn their trust.

Letters

Direct mail isn’t just for marketing! Got documents and forms to send? Direct mail isn’t just for marketing! JustFix.nyc, a nonprofit organization fighting displacement in NYC, uses Lob to send tenant letters directly to their landlords. Health care provider VillageCareMAX uses Lob to send thousands of monthly care plans to their members while complying with HIPAA regulations.

Testimonials

People trust other people more than they trust businesses when making purchase decisions. Build that trust and generate new leads by sending customer testimonials to those who haven’t yet purchased a product or visited your storefront. Make the testimonial the main focal point of the direct mail, and consider using (with permission) a headshot of the person you’re quoting to humanize your direct mail.

Address verification

One major problem in the home-sharing and hotel industry? Scammers. Booking.com and CouchSurfing both use Lob to ensure that addresses (and the people who own them) are real.

Nonprofit Fundraise Up had a similar issue. They were losing potential donors because of incorrect or misspelled addresses. They used our address-verification tool to simplify the donation process, ultimately increasing the number of donations received.

Checks

Sending checks in the mail can be risky and time-consuming, especially if you’re licking envelopes and addressing them by hand like MuckRock founder Michael Morisy. Now, MuckRock has automated its process with Lob to verify addresses, then send, track, and monitor checks automatically.

Maps

Going local? Send a postcard with a map to show your audience just how close your restaurant or storefront is to their specific home address or office and increase foot traffic.

How to get started with direct mail

You’ve brainstormed with your team and settled on an idea. Now it’s time to bring it to life! Be intentional with this process so you can see the best results.

1. Create your budget

Creating a budget up front will help you put parameters around your direct-mail campaign so you can manage and increase ROI.

So how much should you spend on direct mail? It depends. The majority of marketers allocate between 10% and 50% of their marketing budget to direct mail, but that can translate into massively different numbers from business to business. As you sit down with the decision-makers, you’ll need to go over the costs associated with direct mail:

  • Copywriting and design
  • Postage and material
  • Employees’ time
  • Automation software
  • Etc.

If none of your marketing technologies offers budgeting resources, check out tools like Allocadia or templates like this one from HubSpot. If the budget you come up with makes you queasy, check out our post on how to lower direct-mail spend.

2. Invest in the right direct-mail platform

Manual address verification for direct mail takes a lot of time. Too much time. It also leaves a lot of room for error.

B-Stock, an online liquidation solution, knows this all too well. In their industry, one incorrect address could result in valuable items being undelivered, wasting massive amounts of money and time. So to improve the reliability of their deliveries, their customer support team reviewed and corrected addresses ... by hand.

The system wasn’t scalable, so B-Stock switched to Lob. Our direct-mail platform automatically handled these verification tasks, saving the company.

There are plenty of direct-mail platforms out there, but they’re not all the same. Here are some things our platform includes that we think are essential:

  • Address verification
  • Campaign automation
  • HIPAA-compliant mailings
  • Tracking and analytics
  • Affordable, bulk pricing

3. Integrate direct mail into your current systems

Make sure direct mail is closely integrated into the rest of your marketing initiatives and automation software. Otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with time-consuming miscommunications and inconsistent messaging. Lob, for example, integrates with platforms like Marketo, Blockspring, Zapier, and Salesforce.

Look at all the systems currently in your marketing tech stack. How can you integrate direct mail into your current systems? Here is how two companies did it:

  • Saylent, a business intelligence and data analytics company, built Lob’s direct-mail automation software into their own proprietary platform.
  • Couchsurfing, on the other hand, eliminated clunky, manual direct-mail processes and replaced them with Lob’s API.

Whether you’re building direct mail into your current systems or replacing outdated ones, integrating direct mail will be essential to effortlessly keep your marketing automation in sync.

4. Start small, scale later

Whether you’re a startup or a corporation, remember that it’s okay to start small with direct mail. This approach will help you see what works so you know when to double down on direct-mail efforts to increase ROI.

If you’re a local business, starting small may look like sending out 500 mailings in one month to the households right around your storefront. If you’re a national business, this may mean testing a direct mail campaign on 10,000 households in one or two cities. Either way, track your results, and consider running A/B tests. When you start seeing ROI, you can decide where to target your efforts and begin scaling your campaigns.

5. Get personal with names and information

Trust is the fifth most important buying criteria according to an Edelman survey. If your audience doesn’t trust you, your bottom line will feel it.

So how do you build trust with direct mail? By getting personal. It may seem simple, but including a recipient’s name and other information on your direct mail will help build a relationship with them. Businesses that don’t personalize their marketing risk losing 38% of their customers.

With tools like Lob, the personalization process can be automated so you can get personal and build trust without spending extra time.

6. Focus on where the recipient is in the customer journey

It would be a bit strange to send a “10% off a first-time purchase“ coupon to everyone on your target list, including those who have already made a purchase before. At best, they’d give it to a friend. At worst, they’d toss it and feel like your brand knew little to nothing about them.

Instead, segment your target list based on where they are in the buyer’s journey. Then you can send direct mail unique to each segment that is more relevant and drives higher engagement.

How? Let’s say you’re an ecommerce platform. Your direct-mail campaign could look a little like this:

  • Awareness stage: A “15% off your first purchase” coupon sent to households that have not purchased from your store or put anything in a shopping cart
  • Consideration stage: A personalized “that would look great on you” postcard to remind those who have put items in their shopping cart to complete their purchase
  • Decision stage: A personalized thank-you card with a unique referral code they can share with their friends to earn rewards points to put toward a future purchase

Direct mail that is specific to the customer journey is likely to drive engagement rates, build rapport, and encourage word-of-mouth marketing.

7. Weave direct mail in with your other marketing initiatives

The best omnichannel marketing strategies are holistic. They are highly targeted but use consistent messaging across all platforms and collateral.

There are two key ways to make sure your digital-mail marketing is aligned with other campaigns and customer communication:

  • Make sure your direct-mail development happens upstream at the same time as your other marketing and communications initiatives to ensure that they’re treated as a single cohesive campaign.
  • Find a direct-mail API that allows direct mail to be automatically triggered by specific (and often digital) events like abandoning a shopping cart or requesting an invoice.

Keeping these two things in mind will help you create a cohesive campaign at the start rather than scrambling to coordinate your initiatives later.

8. Optimize your process and budget based on your results

Want to get more buy-in for your direct-mail campaigns, scale them, and boost their ROI? Of course you do! Start tracking your results immediately so you can continuously optimize your process and your budget.

Not sure how to track direct mail? Here are some tips:

  • Determine your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Your KPI could be someone making a purchase or a customer filling out their medical forms. Your KPIs will help you determine what success looks like.
  • Decide how you’ll track these KPIs. Adding unique QR codes, URLs, and phone numbers for recipients to visit will help you see where people are coming from.
  • Monitor your results. Check your results regularly, and create monthly reports to get a bird’s-eye view of what works and what doesn’t.
  • Optimize. Does a “$10 off” coupon perform better than a “10% off” coupon? Great! Use that information to reallocate budget or get more buy-in from the decision-makers.
  • Repeat. We suggest reevaluating your direct mail results monthly or quarterly to continuously discover new ways to optimize your processes and your budget.

As long as you’re continuously optimizing your processes and budget, your results will continue to get better over time.

Direct mail is becoming more relevant every year

Millions of people started working remotely in 2020, and 80% of employers plan to keep it that way—which means many people will be stuck to their screens. Nondigital marketing and communication strategies that break through the digital noise will become increasingly essential over the coming years.`

Luckily, direct mail can blend perfectly with the marketing you’re already doing. And with advanced technology such as Lob, direct-mail campaigns are becoming less expensive and more effective every year.


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