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What Is Direct Mail Marketing?

Discover the power of direct mail with Lob. Get strategies to improve response rates, avoid pitfalls, and target your audience effectively.

Mass media messages used for advertising are sent to large groups of audiences. The key to successful direct mail marketing campaigns is choosing the best route to reach your current and potential customers. Of all the different forms of direct marketing, direct mail marketing is widely used and very effective when done right because it works. 84% of marketers indicate that direct mail provides the highest ROI of any of their current channels. Whether you're using direct mail as part of your omnichannel marketing strategy or as a standalone tactic, learn all about direct mail marketing, including the benefits, a comparison to digital marketing, and common dos and don'ts.

Table of Contents

What is direct mail marketing?

Direct mail marketing is any physical correspondence sent via various postal services directly to customers' mailboxes as a means of advertising or communication. Direct mail can take on a wide range of form factors and makes use of various media.

Examples of direct mail marketing include:

  • Postcards
  • Catalogs
  • Booklets
  • Checks
  • Self-mailers
  • Flyers
  • Coupons
  • Sales letters
  • Free samples

What is direct mail?

Let's back up for a second, and before we go further about using direct mail for marketing, let's answer the question: what is direct mail?

Direct mail is physical mail sent to a specific person or audience. Direct mail can be used for marketing, but it can also be classified as operational mail or mail businesses, and customers rely on, such as explanation of benefits letters, invoices, bills, or statements, compliance-based communications, or privacy notices. Some brands strictly use direct mail for operational reasons, some use it for marketing, and some send a bit of both.

But we're here to answer the question: What is direct mail marketing?

Direct mail marketing vs. digital marketing

Although digital marketing has been all the rave since the advent of the Internet, social media, and mobile technology, it's not a replacement for direct mail marketing. At one time, the use of direct mail was more of a challenge due to printing costs, a lack of quality items, time-consuming workflows, trips to the post office, and tracking the return on investment (ROI).

However, sending direct mail and other old-school types of marketing using new technology have become much more manageable. Printing, packaging, addressing, mailing, and tracking can be handled using online direct mail platforms that automate everything for you. Direct mail automation allows you to ramp up efforts and scale your marketing beyond what was ever possible before by increasing efficiency and reducing redundancies. And when you combine direct mail with your other digital marketing tactics, it increases the effectiveness of your other channels. Did you know that direct mail has a 13x (130 percent) higher response rate than email, which triples if the customer has already bought from you?

Benefits of direct mail marketing

There are many reasons why incorporating direct mail marketing into your omnichannel marketing strategy can increase the effectiveness of reaching potential customers.

The following statistics about consumers say it all:

  • 98 percent get their mail the same day it's delivered
  • 67 percent feel mail is more personal than the Internet
  • 58 percent look forward to discovering new mail

74% of marketers in the 2023 State of Direct Mail report that direct mail marketing returns the highest conversion, response and ROI of any channel they use.

Direct mail marketing is creative and versatile

When creating direct mail, you're only limited by your imagination (and maybe budget). You can take several approaches to attract recipients' attention. Some companies use mailers that look like personal handwritten letters, so it's less salesy—others design oversized, colorful mailers that give their direct mail a more professional or crafty look. From simple service flyers and product catalogs to origami-esque brochures and pop-up 3D cards, no matter which form factor and creative you choose, ensure that it's relevant and appealing to your target audience.

Direct mail marketing is tangible yet cost-effective

Direct mail marketing comes in all different types of formats, shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Unlike other forms of marketing media, direct mail can be designed to appeal to the many senses of recipients. Physical mail entering a home or business is usually kept for future use as well. The ROI for direct mail marketing beats paid search and online display, which is very cost-effective when done right.

Direct mail marketing is more personable

Unlike many other marketing tactics, direct mail marketing allows you to connect with your audience on a personal level. You can personalize your mailings using data about your target audience—developing customer personas is a must. You can target customers based on things such as recent purchases, important milestones, including birthdays and anniversaries, and other data-driven events. Personalization helps you to build relationships and deliver the kind of customer experiences consumers expect.

Direct mail marketing is easily tracked

Tracking and measuring direct mail marketing ROI helps you prove your efforts and deliver tangible results to the business's bottom line. There are many tactical ways to track direct mail campaigns, including coupon codes, QR codes, unique phone numbers, and URLs to websites and landing pages. It's been reported that 75 percent of people who make purchases based on direct mail go online to find more information. Direct mail KPIs should become part of your overall marketing reporting dashboard to measure how it works in conjunction with your other online and offline channels.

Direct mail marketing complements digital marketing

It's crucial to take advantage of an omnichannel marketing approach to reap the most from your marketing efforts. While some may treat direct mail as a stand-alone strategy, it's more effective when combined with digital marketing. Plus, with today's marketing technology and automated direct mail marketing platforms, it's easy to execute omnichannel campaigns so you can combine the power of direct mail marketing with digital channels to ensure you reach the right person at the right time and on the right channel.

Direct mail marketing builds brand trust

Direct mail often outperforms email, leading to purchases that are five times larger. That's not to say you should limit the use of email. Ideally, you want to combine direct mail and email to maximize your marketing efforts.

Common, costly mistakes of direct mail marketing

As easy as it is to implement direct mail into your marketing strategy, it's not foolproof. Common direct mail mistakes can cost you customers and money.

Not having a marketing goal

As with anything you're trying to accomplish, direct mail should not begin without a carefully defined goal of what you want to achieve. The best plans include SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals. Your direct mail metrics should be precisely defined, reasonably attainable, and relevant. In addition, the goal must be appropriate and able to be measured within a set amount of time. A high-level direct mail marketing goal might include acquiring new customers, improving customer retention, increasing sales, etc.

Poor use of design and materials

Developing a direct mail piece without proper expertise can have detrimental consequences. For one, you could lose customers if your design comes across as unprofessional. Second, you could lose money trying to correct any mistakes you may have made after the fact. As such, it's essential to invest in a direct mail platform that makes every step of the design and creation process as easy as using an HTML template.

Mailing to the wrong audience

As mentioned previously, direct mail is the opposite of mass media marketing, so you should always customize your direct mail for the intended audience. You may think it's better to send your promotions to everyone in hopes that you get enough responses to make it worthwhile. Nothing's worse than someone receiving a piece of mail that's not relevant to them at all. The funds spent on printing, packaging, and mailing would be wasted on those who probably won't benefit from what you offer. In addition, focusing your list on the wrong audience means you miss out on those most likely to become loyal customers.

Having no offer or CTA

It's important to generate brand awareness by sending out marketing materials. You want targeted audiences to know that what you offer may serve some need or solve a problem. However, if you don't include an offer or encourage them to take a specific action, more likely than not, they'll do absolutely nothing. Your direct mail piece starts with a goal and should directly tie the offer or call to action to accomplish that goal. So, be sure to clarify what you want the recipients to do and make it easy for them to do that. Don't forget to personalize the mailer to make it all the more compelling and relevant.

Failing to follow up

Sending out direct mail is just one part of your marketing strategy. Depending on your goal, you may have sent promotions that require customers to contact your company to make an appointment, set up a demo, or do something else that involves communication. In other cases, a customer may still be going through the buying decision and require more information. The worst thing you can do is spend time, energy, and money sending out a marketing piece only to slack on following up on customer phone calls, emails, and other messages. Poor follow-up can leave a bad taste in a customer's mouth, and they may run right into the arms of your competitors.

Not testing or tracking

As mentioned, while talking about SMART goals, measuring your direct mail marketing campaigns is one of the critical aspects. When you put out a direct mail piece, you should do two things to ensure your efforts are worthwhile. A/B testing works wonders when trying to determine what methods work best in terms of getting customer responses. You might run a test on mailer size, message on the outside of the envelope, or special offer. One approach may work significantly better than the other, but the only way to know is to test it out. Tracking your direct mail is the best way to measure the ROI and determine if you need to make changes for better results.

How to improve direct mail marketing response rates

We've answered the question of what is direct mail marketing, but what about optimizing the channel to get better results? In addition to avoiding the common mistakes people make, there are a few things you can do to increase response rates. You can combine many of these suggestions to maximize campaign outcomes.

Select the correct mailing list and clean it up

While many companies focus their direct mail marketing efforts on customer acquisition, it pays to use direct mail for up-sells and cross-sells, as well as to retain your current customers.

When targeting potential customers, make sure they're on a list of those who have expressed interest in your offerings. You can purchase mailing lists (e.g., Data Axle USA, DirectMail.com) or compile lists based on specific demographics related to your company's products and services. You can also take advantage of the USPS Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) program to target customers based on demographics. In addition, you can perform bulk address verification using tools to ensure your list contains valid and up-to-date contact information so you can ensure the mail you send gets delivered with minimal to no waste.

Personalize your direct mail marketing with compelling offers and CTAs

It can't be emphasized enough that the advantage of direct mail lies in its ability to personalize. Personalization goes way beyond just using a consumer's first name. You can now personalize a plethora of things about your direct mail from using consumer data, imagery, PURLs (personalized URLs), and so much more.

You can also use best practices for direct mail copywriting to maximize response rates. If you need more guidance on achieving your goals through offers and CTAs, you can check out the best practices for direct mail calls to action.

Track and measure the performance of direct mail marketing campaigns

Once you've planned, designed, and sent out your direct mail, monitoring how the campaign performs is imperative. Most understand how marketing plays a massive role in a company's success. Unfortunately, many skip the last step, not realizing that all they've put into marketing ends up being like the blind leading the blind. Tracking and measuring your direct mail marketing campaign will inform you of how well it's performing and if anything needs to be adjusted if it's not working. In the long run, tracking helps you make better business decisions, especially as market and economic changes influence consumer behavior and buying decisions. Here's a look at how to use tracking to optimize your direct mail marketing campaigns.

Final thoughts about direct mail marketing

Direct marketing helps your brand stand out from the crowd, as consumers are constantly bombarded with advertising. Despite recent trends that have led marketers to focus on online advertising, the use of direct mail marketing improves brand awareness, has a higher ROI, and is more cost-effective. Plus, direct mail can serve as a complement and boost to other marketing channels, further increasing your online traffic and leads. As part of an omnichannel marketing strategy, direct mail helps you avoid oversaturated channels, email fatigue, and other marketing roadblocks, especially during peak times of the year, like around the holidays. Key points to consider when implementing direct mail into your marketing mix: target audiences, use the correct mailing list, avoid costly mistakes, optimize campaigns, test response rates, track overall efforts, and adjust marketing as needed.

At Lob, we offer many solutions for product managers, developers, and marketers tailored to the financial, insurance, healthcare, and retail/commerce industries. You'll find direct mail automation and real-time global address verification services developed to take your direct mail marketing to the next level. Contact us for more information and to schedule a demo with a Lob expert to see what automated direct mail marketing can do for your organization.

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