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Direct Mail
August 10, 2023

A Conversation With Lob Leadership on Consumer Insights on Direct Mail

by 
Stephanie Donelson

We recently released our 2023 State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report that dives deep into data around consumers’ preferences when it comes to direct mail marketing. We didn’t just guess what consumers want from direct mail, we partnered with Comperemedia to interview over 2,000 US consumers aged 18+ to find out. 

After conducting our research and publishing our results, we wanted to hear from industry experts at Lob and get their take on the findings. 

We sat down and discussed three of the key findings from the report and what marketers can do with that data to improve their direct mail marketing campaigns to meet consumers’ expectations. 

Meet our panel

Summer Hahnlen, Direct Mail Expert in Residence

Tyler Dornenburg, Senior Director, Business Development

Dave Krawczuk, VP of Print and Mail Operations

Quick question for our panel: What statistic from the 2023 State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report surprised you the most and why?

Hahnlen:  “80% of consumers share direct mail with their friends and family, making it more viral than you may think.” This number seemed high at first glance, but when thinking from a “focus group of one” perspective this makes sense. Couples, partners, and families often consider purchase decisions as a unit - even when it’s an item for one person in the unit. Also, people like to verbally process their thoughts, making direct mail powerful from a multi-day consideration period as well as an extended brand awareness perspective.

Dornenburg: “64% of consumers say that direct mail has inspired them to take action including exploring websites and reviews or making a purchase.” When I see statistics like this, I like to ground them in a reality that’s easier to digest. For example, when I buy something on Amazon and it has thousands of reviews at, let’s say, 4.9 stars - my reaction is typically, “Wow - it’s tough to get five people to agree on something simple, I can’t believe that thousands of people think this product is almost perfect.” In this case, I think it’s incredible that more than six out of every 10 people surveyed felt that direct mail had inspired them to take action. That’s powerful. Particularly for marketers who have had to become more and more comfortable with digital channels delivering poor results and low conversion rates.  

Krawczuk: The most surprising statistic to me actually was from the 2023 State of Direct Mail report that showed that only 34% of marketers could determine ROI on their direct mail campaigns. Direct mail has evolved significantly to give marketers tracking opportunities so I would think that their ability to do attribution and calculate ROI would be at the forefront of their marketing plans. 

Keen insights on our key findings

Let’s dive into the good stuff: the data and our own leadership team’s take on those key consumer insights.

Stat: 64% of consumers say direct mail has inspired them to take action. Actions cited included visiting a website, shopping at a physical location, and making a purchase. 

Question for the panel: What do you think it is about direct mail that makes it such an action-driving marketing channel? 

Hahnlen: It’s tangible and stands out in a digitally exhausting world. The consideration period is 17 days vs just a few seconds (or 24 hours for email). Even brand recall is improved because a prospective customer must physically interact with the offer vs. dismiss it on a screen.

Dornenburg: People in the industry love this example, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it: what household, family, or individual doesn’t have a drawer in their house for their direct mail? What about a piece of mail on your refrigerator door right now? You can’t say the same thing about other channels, they don’t have the staying power. You don’t allow them into your home and save them if they’re relevant to you. So maybe you get a message in a digital ad, but you keep the physical postcard with the same messaging as a reminder to take advantage of a deal or offer. This is the direct mail difference.

Krawczuk: Direct mail is one of the few marketing mediums that a brand has to engage with their customers through all of their senses. Sight, sound, touch, smell, and yes, even taste! No other medium can even touch that. It also gives the marketer a personal one-on-one audience with them. When you connect with your customers on that kind of a personal level, done right, you have a much higher chance of eliciting the response you want. 

Question for the panel: What types of CTAs or offers have you seen work really well on direct mail marketing campaigns? Either examples from your mailbox or from our customers.

Hahnlen: I recommend a brand be specific about the action they want a customer to take.  Examples like “Call Now,” “Visit our Website,” and “Schedule an Appointment” generally work well. I also recommend a brand uses a sense of urgency - but be careful to align that sense of urgency with a legal disclaimer that actually has an offer ends date in the near future. (For example, I just received an offer that said “Limited Time” but the disclaimer end date was 12/31!)

Dornenburg: Ok - can I start out with what I don’t like to see first? What really grinds my gears is brands that use a false sense of urgency to incentivize you to open their mail - i.e. “urgent” or “response required” - this immediately eliminates any trust I may have established with this brand and if they are new to me, then it’s going straight in the trash. Sunk costs. What I LOVE to see is a mailing that says “Hey Tyler - Remember when you visited our website? Well there’s a store opening two miles away from your house and if you use the code below, you’ll get 20% off in their first week of business. When you get there, try on these items that you left in your cart.” Wow - that’s customized, that turns me from a casual observer into a customer.

Krawczuk: A campaign is only as good as the offer to the recipient. The two most important factors are timing and relevance. Hit the right person at the right time with the right offer and you will have an extremely successful campaign. The best way to do this is to do homework up front about the recipients of the message. I once did an automotive campaign that went out to people whose leases were about to come due. Timing - these people are in the market for a new vehicle. The brochure that was sent to them included imagery of the ACTUAL vehicle they had, and then showed them some comparable vehicles (keeping the customer) and then some aspirational vehicles (upgrade your current vehicle). People love to have confirmation of the purchase they made, and if they had a good experience, they will continue to look at your organization for future purchases. 

Stat: Nearly two-thirds of consumers say they receive the right amount of direct mail.

Question for the panel: What marketing channels do you think are overly saturated or overwhelming consumers with marketing messages? How can direct mail play a role in alleviating that saturation?

Hahnlen: Email is out of control. And the larger the brand, the likelihood of a more siloed employee environment and less collaboration on touch limits and rules around communication hierarchy. The last brand I worked with just enforced a touch limit of 11 per month after they performed an analysis on all the teams outbounding. No surprise, some customers were getting 25-30 emails a month!

Dornenburg: I think the easy answer here is emails because we are all so buried in lists we signed up for (or didn’t sign up for) decades ago and it is so hard to sift through the noise. But I think my most ignored channel, and it may be yours too, is display/banner advertising. Not only are they intrusive, but the ad platforms know you’re not going to click on them unless they force you to, so they make them as difficult as possible to avoid - following your clicker down the screen, taking over the article you’re reading. It’s maddening. But it’s the only way for them to prove their efficacy through views and clicks. Meanwhile, you can be gathering the exact same behavioral data, using the exact same pixels, and piping that user data into a direct mail workflow with a higher conversion rate. The thing is, most people don’t know that the tools exist to create parity between these channels. Enter Lob.

Krawczuk: The easy one here is email because we all experience that every day in our own personal lives. It seems to be the channel that some marketers just can’t give up on no matter how bad the return. By extension - most digital channels are just so saturated by ineffective marketing slogans, people just tune them out. This is why it’s so important to make the personal connection with your customers. If you show you care about them, they will care about you. 

Question for the panel: What marketing channel do you feel is the most complementary to direct mail?

Hahnlen: When done in a mindful and omnichannel focused way - email is the best partner to direct mail. These channels can leverage a similar look and feel, as they are not bound to character limits. I love to see a brand use our webhook functionality to send an email within 12 hours of a direct mail piece arriving in a recipient’s home - either referencing the mail piece or leveraging the same offer, look and feel, and personalization.

Dornenburg: Look, I’m a big believer in direct mail - but I also recognize that it is a piece of a broader omnichannel approach. Using direct mail as a standalone approach is as bad of an idea as using email, text, search, display, or any other channel on their own. In my opinion, you want to be constantly experimenting to see where each channel belongs in your user journey, but ultimately each channel is important in its own way and should be used in a thoughtful orchestration. 

Krawczuk: Used properly - they all are. You want to always have “Top Of Mind Awareness.” To do this you need to work having consistency of your brand across all of the channels. Have a vision, stick to your brand's guidelines and people will begin to recognize your brand without having to read things. Just make sure the impression you leave with them is a positive one. 

Statistic: 54% of consumers agree they are more likely to purchase from a brand that prioritizes sustainability

Question for the panel: There’s no beating around the bush: direct mail is a paper-based industry. How do we set up our customers for success when it comes to sustainability goals? 

Dornenburg: I would recommend that customers look for companies that are sustainable by design and not sustainable as an afterthought. From day one, our leadership ensured that Lob made every effort to create balance around our paper consumption and carbon footprint. This is not something we did to attract customers and this is not something we did when we were big enough to be under a magnifying glass. Doing the right things means doing it when no one is looking and Lob has been prioritizing sustainability for the 10+ years that we’ve been in business, long before the rocketship growth we’ve experienced in recent years. I would be doing the program as a whole a disservice if I tried to describe all of its components here so I’ll just recommend those who are interested in it should visit: https://www.lob.com/sustainability 

Krawczuk: The direct mail industry has been at the forefront of sustainability for decades. We realized that it was in our best interests to create a sustainable product. We participate in sustainable forestry, we offset carbon emissions to have zero carbon, we’ve removed and improved the manufacturing process to make things more reusable and recyclable. And we’re not done. We always look for improvements to the process to make this the best process available. And finally the really cool thing - paper DOES actually grow on trees! :) (and we plant more than we use every year!)

Thank you to our panel of direct mail experts for sharing their opinions on the findings in our 2023 State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report.

Discover the key findings in the 2023 State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report

Get access to the full report to uncover all six key findings when it comes to how consumers’ preferences and behaviors with direct mail, plus a plethora of other relevant data, such as bonus sections by industry and age demographic. Download your copy!