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Surprising Direct Mail Marketing Statistics with Paul Bobnak
Direct Mail
March 19, 2024

Surprising Direct Mail Marketing Statistics with Paul Bobnak

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Stephanie Donelson

Paul Bobnak is no stranger to direct mail marketing. We love getting his insights and perspectives on the marketing channel whenever we can so we thought it would be fun to review some of the key findings in our 2024 State of Direct Mail report and ask Bobnak if he found those stats to be surprising or not surprising given the current state of direct mail marketing.

We asked for his take on several statistics, such as:

  • 97% of respondents are satisfied with their data for effective execution of direct mail campaigns
  • Customer retention and acquisition campaigns account for 50% of campaign sends
  • Multi-touch attribution used by nearly two-thirds of our respondents
  • 84% of marketers agree that direct mail delivers the best ROI of any channel used

Let's see what he had to say, as well as get some tips and tricks for how to apply these findings to your direct mail marketing program this year.

It was a pleasure having Paul Bobnak share his insights into what statistics surprised him and how marketers can use this data.

Prefer to read through the transcript instead?

DONELSON: Welcome, everyone. So we have a special guest, in the Lobiverse today, Paul Bobnak. Paul is no stranger to our organization, and it's always a pleasure having him join us to share his expertise and his thoughts on direct mail. So we invited him to join us today to play a little game where we decide if a statistic or key finding from the 2024 State of Direct Mail report is surprising or not surprising. But before we get to that, Paul, do you just mind introducing yourself?

BOBNAK: Sure. And thanks for having me here, Stephanie, I really appreciate it. Yeah, I've been in the direct mail business in one way or another for the last 25 years. For roughly the first 20 that I worked for Who's Mailing What! as a part of the target marketing group. With Nowco Media, and, I ran who's mailing what, which means, like, every day, diving into all the direct mail that came in, getting to know every little bit of direct mail, what it's all about, from a marketing standpoint, from a printing standpoint, talking to customers who want their direct mail intelligence and wanna know what it's all about, and for the last, five or six years, I have been creating, a lot of written content for a lot of different companies, manufacturers, printers, you know, companies in different parts of this gigantic ecosystem of direct mail.

One of the things I still do for, Who's Mailing What!, which is, still very much around and very active, is I host a video podcast series called Meet the Mailers where I talk to people who are in, again, somewhere in this ecosystem, lots of different job roles, sea level practitioners, etcetera, and, getting their perspective on on this great, It's great, you know, business that we're in. So it's a lot of fun.

DONELSON: Yeah. And we've had a lot of people on your podcast before. It's always fun to see our people there. And we get a lot of our examples for our Best Direct Mail Campaigns from Who's Mailing What! So, listeners, be sure to go and check out their website, especially if you want some great tips and tricks. Paul, you write great articles. You've got your podcast there. And we, again, we pull a lot of our mail examples from there because you guys are the masters of collecting it all.

BOBNAK: That's true. We are. Yeah. I mean, the oldest and most comprehensive source of direct mail intelligence.

DONELSON: I think what the search option goes back to like 1985 or so. It's in it's definitely the '80s.

BOBNAK: Before my time, but it's but it's there. And I've seen a lot I saw a lot of it firsthand in the files when they were still around. And, it's, it's interesting. And, I mean, this is one of the great things about the evolution of direct mail. You can see how much change when they have that perspective. It's changed a lot, which is awesome.

DONELSON: Oh, it's like when you see screenshots of websites from, like, 1999 versus 2009. It's like, Oh, there's a reason that took ten years to load.

BOBNAK: Yeah. In some ways, it's like that. In other ways, it's not.

DONELSON: Alright. This is gonna be somewhat like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, where most of the stuff is made up and the points don't matter, except that the stats are most certainly not made up and come straight from our 2024 State of Direct Mail report. Paul, I'm gonna share some of the key statistics from our report on the state of direct mail, marketing this year, and I'm gonna have you tell me if you find that stat to be surprising or not surprising given the current landscape of direct mail marketing. Are you ready to play?

BOBNAK: I'm ready. Let's go.

DONELSON: Alright. The first stat is that 97% of respondents are satisfied with their data for effective execution of direct mail campaigns, surprising or not surprising?

BOBNAK: It's not just surprising. It is totally surprising. When I actually printed out a copy of the State of Direct Mail 2024 report and was going through it. That was, like, the first big shock that I had when I saw that.

Don't know anybody who, you know, really works with a lot of data that, is, you know, satisfied or very satisfied with the data that they get. I think that, you know, people just have a lot of challenges with handling their data. They and day out as part of their job. And, you know, just as far as something else in, I was talking with, a data expert at a, bright large company in, again, in our business.

And, in the course of the conversation, it came out that, something like 40% of Americans who move do not file a change of address notification with US Postal Service, and one of the big things that we all rely on among other tools is the NCOA, National Change of Address database, in order to keep our data up to date. So you're starting, like, really far behind. If forty percent of people aren't bothering to know, you know, let the postal service know where they moved to. So you have to, get that, you know, updated information from somewhere else.

It's just like a real challenge in using a CRM or a CDP or, an automation platform, knowing that your data goes out of date all the time. Right? And, having that as, you know, something to deal with, and you're trying to get insights from your data, and it's just like it's really difficult to do and everything you do depends on that. So that that's that's just really shocked me when I saw that.

On the other hand, I mean, it and it does indicate that there's a lot of people who are happy with what they have. And if it works for them, that's great.

DONELSON: True. I wanna be on those marketing teams because all the organizations I've been a part of, it always feels like our data is lacking or worse, we always felt like, well, we can't really run this campaign because we don't trust the data, so we don't want to send, or do all this stuff with personalization and then have it end up to the wrong person.

BOBNAK: Right. Right.

DONELSON: I would love for those respondents to share their data hygiene best practices with us because, obviously, we're missing something.

BOBNAK: Right. They must be on top of it like 24/7/365.

DONELSON: They've just got a team of people working on it.

BOBNAK: Right. Right. Yeah. A room of people.

DONELSON: But let's look even closer at the data. So we found that the top three data uses are to personalize mail pieces, optimize campaigns, and trigger sends based on behaviors or actions. In fact, 68% of respondents cited personalization as the leading use of their data. Paul, I'm really curious on your thoughts on how personalization efforts have improved over the years, especially with tools like marketing automation and direct mail automation software entering the arena. Do you think today's marketers are leveraging personalization enough and what are some of the ways they can improve their efforts to stand out among their competitors?

Quote about personalization in direct mail

BOBNAK: Right. I mean, from my perspective, again, you know, 20-plus years, it's better than it was. It's better than ever has been, which is great. You know, for years, for decades, really, the, the practice was while we're doing personalization, if we say, to your person's name maybe on a letter or some other piece of, long copy to use their name again.

But then it would be abused. It would be, you know, it wouldn't have that verisimilitude when you're constantly saying, don't you agree, John? Or I really hope you except, this offer, Jane, in a really unnatural way, and that's not really that's not really impactful personalization at all.

So it's really been like the last, you know, I'd say 15 years, maybe a little bit more than that, that the technology, putting that technology into a direct mail piece has really been around where it's really become economical for mailers start considering using it. But even at that, I would say, no. I mean, I see a lot of opportunities for marketers to use it in the mail that I see every day. It's there's just not enough of it, and I look at direct mail that I get personally where I see a lot of missed opportunities.

So, but again, that's a bit, you know, to put a positive spin on that. I think there's a lot of opportunities. They are being missed, and I think that there are certainly lots of, software tools, automation, being one of them where it can really, leverage tracking, you know, that powers personalization.

DONELSON: Yeah. I think it's all about having it sync up with your own data going back to what we were just talking about since, again, apparently 97% of people are satisfied with it. Being able to pull that data in and then feed all those different kind of, like, personalization variables to actually put that in appropriately instead of just getting the mail piece that's, hi, Paul. So Paul, are you thinking about changing your insurance provider? Paul, I'm here to tell you about this amazing thing.

BOBNAK: I've seen it on them. And I mean, you know, there's, like, there is so much data out there that's available. There's, demographic, geographical, behavioral is huge. You know, you look at doing, you know, an RFM analysis which is recency, frequency, and monetary of your data, web activity. You know, there are literally, like, dozens, if not, hundreds of different data points that you can sit down, look at segments from your database, and then say, okay. Who do I want to market to, who are the best-performing ones?

Maybe start with them because you don't necessarily need to do a, you know, a campaign with a lot of personalization to everybody in a campaign. But, look at those high performing ones, high ROI ones first, to start with them, and, and then just leverage the, the data you have on them and put that into your, your headlines, your offers, your images, And also, if you're, really looking at multichannel, is your triggers as well?

DONELSON: Yep. Oh, for sure. And I think we want to toe the line of not over-personalizing stuff too because if it's I get a postcard that's hey, we saw you visit this URL, and here's the image that you probably saw. And it, like, I'm gonna be like, why are you looking that closely? But if it's the image of, hey, looks like you were interested in this, Yeah. I probably will scan your QR code and come back and buy it.

BOBNAK: Mhmm. Right. Right. Exactly. Yeah. It can be intrusive. I mean, there are signs when, I've seen mail pieces where, it's an image where there's, like, a little bit of information there that just seems a little bit too creepy, but...

DONELSON: Who are you? You big brother?

BOBNAK: But, you know, like, everything. And, I mean, this is something we'll we can obviously talk about, and we've talked about in other discussions is you know, the great two rules of marketing.

Rule number one, test everything, rule number two, see rule number one. It's worth testing.

DONELSON: Excellent. Alright. Well, let's keep going with our surprising that surprising game. So next up, customer retention, and acquisition campaigns account for 50% of all campaign sends. Surprisingly or no?

BOBNAK: No. Not surprising. I think it makes sense to always have, you know, part of your budget, part of your spend, every year where you, you know, put a lot of that on the acquisition side. And I think according to this stat in the study. It basically is about the same mixes last year, right, as 2023.


BOBNAK: So, you know, I think like lapsed customers, you know, inactive customers, they're definitely worth reaching out to. It all depends on who you are as a marketer. It depends on, you know, what your overall goals are.

But I wouldn't really spend I mean, I'd be careful about spending too much on that because there are other reasons why people haven't, haven't bought from you in a while. And maybe one of the reasons why is, you know, talk about this in a moment, but, you know, I think it's like retention is something that you really ought to spend a lot more time on because we all know the stats, which are admittedly all over the place, but it costs like five times, six times as much, to acquire a customer as retaining a customer, but why not really put a lot of intention into how you are, retaining customers, on, you know, and it also has a side note too. I mean, you can look at it, for some of this budget again as well.

There are opportunities when you have, some of that budget that you're putting aside for, as indicated by the stats, you know, like, lapsed customers, referral customers. There are lots of opportunities there. So, and ways to reach out to people who maybe they're in your file and they're, you have a good profile of them where you have an email address, well, there are some people who aren't reachable anymore by email.


BOBNAK: They won't even click on look on your email. You just delete it. I'm one of them sometimes.


BOBNAK: But if you reach out to them, when they're deleting the, you know, 500 emails that they'd wanna look at, and you send them a postcard, and you say, hey, remember us, you know, here's 10% off on whatever, or we're having this kind of a sale, that can have a real impact. And it's worth, again, testing that and seeing what works for your audience.

DONELSON: No. I love that. And you kind of lead me into my next question really nicely. So I had sat down with Summer Hahnlen not too long ago to talk about direct mail trends for 2024, and she really zeroed in on customer retention campaigns.

Quote about direct mail for customer retention
A direct mail trend for 2024: A focus on retention. Hear more about it in this panel discussion.

And it kinda sounds like you agree with that as well. We talked a little bit about win-back, but what about referral campaigns? If you were to invest in either a win-back campaign or a referral campaign, which would you do?

BOBNAK: Well, I mean, I think I agree with with Summer more than anything else, since we already talked about the win-back and referral. But I really think retention is just criminally missed by a lot of companies as an opportunity. In the nonprofit world, it is really really heavily missed. You know, again, you have all this data, first-party data on your customers. And you could just really, spend the, you know, the time and the the money to analyze these segments, look at what has the best ROI, look at their online behavior, see where they are in, like, their customer journey. Right?

And, and just leverage all that, you know, that past behavior to be able to reach out to them.

Even things like, you know, if they're having a birthday, you know, that any similar past purchases, to what you want to promote now. Again, it's an opportunity to reach out to them.

DONELSON: Oh, definitely. Well, it's interesting you bring up the nonprofit example because I'm gonna give a little shout out to a Denver organization.

We've got a humane society, Dumb Friends League, and donor for them. And they do a great job with their direct mail, actually. They're very good at sending emails very infrequently actually, and it's really only to follow-up with a campaign that they already sent me via direct mail, making sure that I got the letter, making sure that I get their printed catalog like newsletter to wait and see what's going on and, oh, then they'll follow-up with email. So gonna give them a good little shout out that they do it very well. So If any non profits are looking for someone to follow, I would recommend them.

BOBNAK: Very cool. Very cool. That's great.

DONELSON: Alright. So no matter the type of campaign that marketers are sending, there's gonna be some sort of call to action or action requested by the recipient. Most often, we're asking recipients to visit a website. So our next stat is all about that and how marketers are sending people to websites. Either via a QR code or a personalized URL, or a pURL. And pURLs won out. Does that surprise you, Paul?

Quote about QR codes in direct mail

BOBNAK: Yeah. It really does. It shocks me, actually. I mean, because, you know, QR codes have had this, like, big upward curve, since the, since the pandemic, right?

They are functional compared to what they used to be. They are, they make sense. I mean, before a QR code would just go to a, just go to a general website, and now whether you go to, you know, activate an app or open up an app and go to, a landing page. They can go to personalized landing pages.

They're just so functional that I don't understand why more people are using the, you know, it's also easy to use them with the technology. People have, again, that familiarity, which exploded during the pandemic. So it does kind of surprise me that pURLs have ranked first in the results.

You know, they are really precise. You know, you get a lot of great, attribution and tracking from them. Especially when you include UTM tags because you can really, know where a campaign or, you know, the channel that led to that interaction on a website, and that's where the value of them is.

DONELSON: Yeah. Or especially if you're running an AB test, you can add that into the UTM to understand even more granular. Which version of my postcard did better? Which one got people to visit the website more? I mean, honestly, I was super surprised by this stat too. Granted, I'm a millennial. I'm used to opening up my phone. I'm sure if my mom was asked that she'd be like, no, I'd rather type something in on my computer than dare get out my cell phone and scan anything.

BOBNAK: Right. Right. Yeah. I mean, it's it's kind of it's kind of surprising. And I think the last time I in all honesty, used a pURL was probably, at least four or five years ago. It's been a it's been a while when it was a really long pURL. Yes. Of, you know, company name dot com slash Paul or something like that, you know, easy. Yeah.

DONELSON: But again, if it works for, the marketers that we talk to, that's great.

BOBNAK: That's good.

DONELSON: I mean, it's great for them. Alright. Looking at calls to action, we also saw that our marketers were measuring customer activity in a given time period. As a way to measure response in our report. Paul, are there any other methods of tracking that you would recommend? And I'd kind of love to add a second part to this question. I got an interesting answer from Summer a while back when I asked this to her. How long should marketers let direct mail campaigns run before assessing their results?

Quote about using offer codes to track direct mail results

BOBNAK: Wow. Yeah, that's a loaded question, but let me, let me talk about, you know, CTA first. You know, I like precision. Precision is everything to me. So I think, you know, if you're measuring customer activity, that's fine.

I like offer codes. You know, it's really old score offer codes. Coupon codes, because it's up besides every other way of reaching, it just adds that extra level of precision to it.


BOBNAK: Depending on the audience, and the industry, I think dedicated phone lines what, you know, is really also really interesting, because you have phone tracking software. So you can you know, again, to who is calling. And this is where the audience comes in because there are certain audience cohorts like seniors. My dad is, you know, in his early nineties, and he's not online anymore. He was briefly years ago, but not anymore, but he'll call to respond to a direct mail offer. It's useful to have those again knowing where your audience is.

And, you know, as for the other one, you know, depending on, yeah, I think it depends really on a lot of factors like you know, what type of campaign it is that the marketer is running, what the response options are you know, you, if it's something like a quick sale, something like that, you, you know, have, like, a really small window to take action.


BOBNAK: But I mean, if you're tracking everything, you have, like, a real-time dashboard to look at, that's really helpful because you know, it can give you, like, a really, a good idea of all the of all the, you know, mail as it's being interacted with.


BOBNAK: And, I think, though, you know, I mean, I've heard all kinds of numbers thrown all over the place. I mean, as a ballpark, maybe thirty days.

DONELSON: Okay. Yeah. She said I think she said 45 to 60 days, but I think that brings up a really valid point because, you know, a lot of the mail I get, it's I have two months to act on it, and I put off things. So when I know that that sale ends, let's say April 20, I'm gonna wait until April 19 to make my purchase. And so they might not really be able to track my data until, you know, two weeks after or, like, after it's shipped and they fulfilled the order, what have you, but really just being able to watch it and seeing, okay, do I need to bring in other channels to support this direct mail campaign to get people to take action as soon as possible.

BOBNAK: Right. Right. Yeah. I mean, if you have, like, again, if you have, like, your tracking, like, through your, CDP or your CRM or your automation platform, and you're tracking all these responses in, hopefully, your mail gets dropped, you know, on your, your, you know, mail by date. Right? And that happens, then you just start seeing, like, the spike of responses and then you see a drop-off. And at that point, if you've done enough of them, or enough campaigns that are similar or they're going to, you know, a specific audience cohort you look at that and you see, okay. Well, the responses dropped off the edge of Eric at that point, then you say, well, we kinda know what the response window will be for this kind of campaign to that audience, and you adjust accordingly.

DONELSON: Yeah. I love that. I think that's one step that that's a lot of marketing teams, you know, we're strapped for resources, we're strapped for time. We get a campaign out the door, but we don't take that time to create those benchmarks. And, okay, what are the results? And here's the CTA we used. Here's how they could redeem it. What kind of reaction did we get to using that? And just being able to then plan for future campaigns like, oh, no, this type of campaign needs a lot longer lead time or this type of campaign, we expect to see results within five days. If not, they're not taking action.

BOBNAK: Right. Right. And I mean, that's, again, it goes back to, well, like you said, that, you know, sometimes it's with the CTA. If you just leave them few options, like, you know, you have to scan this QR code or else, QR codes or die. That's great, but you might get people who are, you know, you do that around the holidays or something like that. That's not really probably gonna work, you know, with were, you know, vacation times or whatever. So you have to really put a lot of thought into all that.

DONELSON: I love that. Alright. So we're already talking about results and tracking them, and that leads so nicely to our next stat that's all about attribution. So the 2024 State of Direct Mail report shows that multi-touch attribution is used by nearly two-thirds of our respondents. Paul, are you surprised by that?

Quote about multi-touch attribution tracking for direct mail marketing

BOBNAK: No. No. I'm not surprised by that. You know, I love it because it's it's really just so important to track the entire customer journey. And I think this, you know, it just indicates that, you know, all these different channels where customers go and use, you know, for marketers, it shows, you know, like a bigger picture of all that. And where the, you know, the role of this for each channel, where the value in each of one you know, live, you know, lies.


BOBNAK: And then how they can figure out, like, which channel they wanna optimize. Again, you know, you have all these patterns that come up when you do a campaign, and you might see that there are, that there are gaps maybe channels that aren't, hit as hard by, the responding, customers, and then you can make adjustments from there.

DONELSON: You're totally right. Yeah. It's looking at, are you budgeting the right marketing channels? Because, like, I always say, I'm pretty sure set this in every conversation we've ever had that's recorded. Marketing is about delivering the right message at the right time on the right channel, and that's gonna change. We really do have treat our customers as individuals, how we can segment them by, you know, behaviors, demographics, what have you, but people change and how they're gonna take action changes and we need to do our due diligence in making sure that we're understanding them and what channels they want to be communicated with on.

BOBNAK: Mhmm. Yeah. And I mean, I would say, like, even even for me, I mean, I interact with mail in a different way than I did five or you know, certainly ten years ago. To me, that's it: QR codes or die for me. So, you so, you know, that's the that's the, the last that's the last, channel for me when I respond.

DONELSON: Yeah. Alright. So I would love to wrap up our chat with our favorite statistic from the report and one that has increased year over year as we've done this report. So 84% of marketers agree that direct mail delivers the best ROI of any marketing channel used. Are you surprised? Not surprised?

BOBNAK: No. No. I'm not surprised. I mean, I think, you know, the previous studies, the past couple, state of direct mail reports have shown that you know, it's climbed every year. You know, 67%, 74%, I think. Right?

DONELSON: Mhmm. 67% to 74%.

BOBNAK: That's that's amazing. And I think it just reflects, you know, that there's been a, a change, a, a positive change a growth and how marketers recognize that, you know, male performance better, when you put the right investment into it to be more efficient to be more impactful, you know, with the right tools, and that's what it all comes down to. Again, it's kind of, like, it works really well with the 97% of people who are happy with their data. Again, you know, it's like more and more, marketers are really understanding what they have to do in order to compete. And what you have to do to compete is have the right tools. To be able to optimize your entire, you know, direct mail chain and that's the key to it.

DONELSON: Alright. Well, that leaves us off on a really nice note, but I do wanna open it up and ask do you have any last words of wisdom for us as it relates to the state of direct mail marketing this year?

BOBNAK: Well, My first piece of advice is for people to download the study, and if you wanna print it out, I printed mine out because, I there's just so many great stats in there to really, absorb and think about ways that you can be doing, you know, your job better at bringing more value, to your company or your nonprofit, with the stats that are in there and really starting to think about things differently. You know, I think that it it shows that you know, direct mail has this power, and marketers are really beginning to again, like what I said before, go back to when I go back to that before is, under, you know, they have the confidence that direct mail is a high performance channel, that there's, you know, it has a lot of value in driving response and conversion rates. And retaining customers, one of my, you know, my favorite, one of my favorite uses, and it's all made possible when you have the right investments that you make. In, the right platform to make mail your mail campaigns as, efficient and as relevant as possible.

Quote about the power of direct mail

DONELSON: Okay. We're putting that on a nice little quote block and sharing that all over social.

BOBNAK: Oh, absolutely.

DONELSON: So, cool. Paul, as always, I have to thank you so much for your time and sharing your direct mail expertise with us. It is always a pleasure chatting with you and That's it. From you.

Same here.

DONELSON: If anyone was interested in following you or reading more of your content, where can they find you?

BOBNAK: Well, I'm in a lot of different places. I can be found I write a course for and do these videos, for, who's mailing what, who's mailing what dot com. I write for mailing dot com for the blog there. And, otherwise, I just love to talk about direct mail. So hit me up on LinkedIn. That's really the easiest and best place to do that. There's a lot of great direct mail chatter there, and that's where I am.

DONELSON: Thank you so much for joining us. And like Paul said, if anyone listening, if you want your own copy of the 2024 State of Direct Mail report, please just visit law dot com and go to our resource center. Otherwise, thank you so much for joining us. We hope you learned a lot about the stats that are shaping the state of 2024 or shaping the state of direct mail for 2024. Thank you so much for joining us, and we'll see you next time.

BOBNAK: Bye. Thanks.

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