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Does Direct Mail Still Work?

Since the growth of the inbound marketing methodology (thanks, HubSpot!), many companies are leaving traditional outbound marketing behind. They’re swapping cold-calling and spamming out for blogs and downloadable freebies. They’re creating lead nurturing email series instead of billboard ads. They’re actually segmenting their incoming leads.

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All of this sounds pretty dang great, both from the perspective of a business owner and from a customer. No one likes flashy, salesy, in-your-face marketing, but content intentionally created to be beneficial to your customers? That’s something we can get behind. .

Recently, however, a client invested in a traditional marketing strategy often dumped in the outbound marketing bucket: direct mail. Direct mail campaign involves sending recipients postcards in the mail, hoping they’ll read the messaging before they dump it into the trash bin. It’s a classic strategy that banks, credit card companies, and local boutiques have used for decades to spread the word about their services. So what’s the problem?

While the postcard itself isn’t necessarily outbound, most direct mail strategies require purchasing a mailing list of potential customers. Not only does this cost money, but it also goes against the principles of inbound marketing. Your customers should reach out to you, not the other way around. 

So here’s the real question: does direct mail marketing efforts still work in today’s inbound-driven world? Or are you better investing the money into a new blog series or infographic?

Before you decide either way, here are a few things you should keep in mind...

Close up young man opening envelope with paper correspondence. Curious businessman getting paper document by postal service or financial notification at workplace, received notification or invitation

1. Cost vs. Reward

Direct mail marketing campaigns involve sending physical mail, such as postcards or letters, to a targeted list of recipients. The cost of these campaigns can vary depending on factors like the quality of the mailing list, the materials used for the mail pieces, and the professional design services required.

The cost of mailing lists typically ranges from $20 to $75 per thousand records. Additionally, there is the expense of each mail piece, which can range from 20¢ to $1 based on paper quality and ink color.

What’s more, you’ll have to spend money designing the piece professionally (please, please, please don’t design it yourself if you’re not a professional graphic designer), which can cost hundreds of dollars.

So what’s the return on that cost? On average, the direct mail response rate in 2018 was around 4.9% for purchased lists. And that’s the highest it's been since 2003. It might seem shabby, but this number is higher than the results you might get from other marketing media like cold email, social media ads, and paid search. 

But here’s the problem: tracking the results. Unless a customer explicitly tells you that they came to you because of a direct mailer, you can’t know for sure how you got them. On the other hand, with email marketing, you have built-in data that tells you if you got a customer through a social media ad campaign, a search ad, or through email.

It's important to be cautious when direct mail campaigns promise high ROIs, as calculating the ROI for direct mail marketing campaigns is challenging due to the difficulty of accurately attributing customer acquisition to specific mailers.


2. Do You Want Sales Or Leads?

When you buy a list from a direct mail marketing company, they’ll often talk about how many prospects you’ll reach with their list and how many leads those prospects will turn into. They’ll say things like, “If you grab their attention, you can expect more than 5% of this list to respond to you.”

Okay, great. Even if they could make that promise (which they can’t), while a high response rate may seem appealing, it doesn't necessarily translate into meaningful leads or actual sales. Merely getting a response from prospects doesn't guarantee that they are genuinely interested or ready to make a purchase.

To truly assess the effectiveness of a direct mail marketing campaign, you need to go beyond response rates and focus on the quality of leads generated. Without a well-designed lead nurturing strategy in place, those leads may end up sitting in your CRM system, gathering dust and providing no real value to your business.

Our advice: do a short beta test with a small, inexpensive list. See how many of the prospects turn into leads, and how many of those leads turn into sales. That way, you can find out whether you’re just throwing money into the dark or making a wise investment.

A beta test serves as a valuable learning experience, helping you understand whether your investment in direct mail marketing is yielding the desired outcomes or if you're simply throwing money into the dark. It provides an opportunity to fine-tune your approach, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions moving forward.

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3. Do You Want The Emotional Impact Of Direct Mail 

It’s 1995. You’re blasting Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” from your handheld CD player, and you’re about to hop in your Crown Vic to cruise down to the movie theatre for an evening showing of the new hit movie Toy Story.

But before you leave, you walk to the end of your driveway to take a peek in the mailbox. Sigh. Nothing but bills, more bills, and a wedding invitation for that guy from work you don’t like.

Then you walk inside, hop on the giant PC in your home office, and check your electronic mail. To your amazement, you have two emails. You can barely believe your luck! Somebody actually found your email address on the internet and sent you a message? It’s incredible!

Fast forward two decades and the scene has reversed.

We feel annoyance, or even dread, when we see new emails. But if we get a personalized letter in our “snail mail” mailbox? All the sudden, we feel happier than a kid on his way to the new Toy Story movie.

Direct mail now has a significant emotional impact on recipients and can be an effective marketing strategy when implemented correctly. Unlike the current era where email overload leads to annoyance, receiving a personalized letter in the physical mailbox evokes a sense of happiness and excitement.

This isn’t just a chance phenomenon. It’s science. Studies have shown we get a little hit of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, when we see personalized direct mail. It’s similar to the feeling we get when our Amazon package arrives, and it’s something you can use to your advantage. This positive emotional response is similar to the joy experienced when receiving an eagerly awaited package from an online retailer.

The emotional connection created through direct mail is crucial in influencing consumer behavior. We know for a fact from experience that people buy because of feelings, not logic. If your content can create an emotional connection with your customers, you’re much more likely to get a sale. 

This is likely the biggest reason why direct mail campaigns outperform other advertising methods because it has the potential to resonate with customers on a deeper level. However, it is important to implement a well-thought-out direct mail strategy and create compelling direct mail pieces to maximize its impact.

To achieve this, several key elements need to be considered when crafting a direct mail piece:

1. Personalization

Tailoring the content to individual recipients enhances the emotional impact. Personalized messages, such as addressing recipients by name or referencing specific interests, make the communication more relevant and engaging.

2. Creativity and Design

Captivating visuals, compelling copy, and creative packaging can capture attention and elicit positive emotions. Eye-catching graphics, color schemes, and innovative formats make the direct mail piece stand out and leave a lasting impression.

3. Storytelling

Crafting a compelling narrative that resonates with the recipient's aspirations, desires, or pain points helps establish an emotional connection. Telling a story through the direct mail piece can evoke empathy, inspire action, and ultimately drive sales.

4. Call to Action

Including a clear and persuasive call to action encourages recipients to take the desired next step. Whether it's visiting a website, making a phone call, or redeeming a coupon, a well-crafted call to action guides recipients towards the intended conversion.

5. Follow-up and Integration

Integrating direct mail with other marketing channels, such as email or social media, enhances the overall impact. Following up with recipients through multiple touchpoints reinforces the emotional connection and keeps the brand top-of-mind.


4. Need Make It Personalized or Forget It 

When it comes to direct mailers, personalization is key. Many people tend to overlook generic mailings filled with coupons and discounts. We know there’s nothing worse than finding your mailbox stuffed with $5 pizza coupons and oil change discounts.

And, more often than not, that’s exactly what we find. Maybe that’s why 70% of people “hardly ever even look at their junk mail.” Don’t be responsible for junk mail. Create something customers want to read, something that sets you apart from the sea of spam.

One effective approach is to use standalone mail instead of shared mail. Standalone direct mail refers to personalized pieces of mail that are exclusively from your company, without any other branding or messaging. While shared mail, like Valpak and Red Plum, offers a broad reach and low cost, standalone mail allows for one-on-one communication, resulting in higher response rates.

As far as pros and cons go, shared mail has the bonus of being low cost and providing a broad reach, whereas standalone mail provides an opportunity for one-on-one communication with your prospect, which can lead to higher response rates.

However, both types of mailers suffer from the flaw of being direct mail sent to a purchased mailing list. This is the equivalent of “spray and pray” marketing: you’re just sending stuff out into the world and praying something hits.

Instead, be more precise and personal.

Use your customer relationship management (CRM) system to keep track of your clients’ birthdays, important dates in their lives, or important holidays. Then send them personalized postcards with their address handwritten on the front and a message handwritten on the inside.

That’s a much more effective “direct mailer” than a list of addresses you purchase online, and it helps build lasting relationships with potential customers.

While digital marketing has gained prominence, direct mailers can still be impactful when executed with personalization and relevance.

So... Should You Do It?

Back to our direct mail-loving client. He was dead-set on the idea that direct mail marketing campaign would boost traffic to his site better than any inbound marketing strategy. The man was ready to stake his next year’s mortgage payments on a shot-in-the-dark mailer list he found online. It took a lot of work to convince him otherwise.

He said, “But the direct mail company said its response rates are through the roof compared to other forms of marketing. It grabs their attention and it gives my prospects something tangible to hold onto, rather than some digital email.”

“That’s all true,” we told him. “So how about this: why don't you mail all of your prospects glitter bombs? Those are tangible, and it's sure to get their attention.”

Okay, we didn’t really say that. Instead, we gave him the same advice we’re about to give you:

If you want to use direct mail marketing as an element of your overall marketing plan, so be it. Just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. It’s difficult to track the ROI of direct mail marketing campaign. And even if you do find success after a direct mail campaign, you won’t necessarily know that’s the reason why.

Instead of buying prospect lists online, spend your time and money making personalized standalone pieces like postcards to send to directly to prospects and clients you already have. Include beneficial content your customers will actually enjoy reading. Don’t make it all about you.

Outside of that, put your time and money into easier-to-track marketing, such as search ads, social media campaigns, or even try email marketing using the StoryBrand way. The numbers might not seem as impressive, but at least you’ll be able to measure their effectiveness. 


Create an Inbound Marketing Strategy that Provides an ROI!

In conclusion, direct mail marketing continues to be a powerful tool in today's digital age. While it may have evolved and integrated with online strategies, it remains an effective way to engage with your target audience and drive results

However, it is important to approach direct mail as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. Integrating it with other channels such as email, social media, and content marketing can amplify its impact and provide a cohesive brand experience for your audience.

So, does direct mail still work? Absolutely! But only if executed strategically.

In conjunction with other marketing efforts, direct mail marketing can still  deliver exceptional results and contribute to your overall marketing success.

To ensure the success of your direct mail campaign, it's crucial to integrate them into a comprehensive marketing strategy. Utilizing the power of storytelling marketing, you can connect with your customers on a deeper level and drive conversions.

If you want help with your modern marketing efforts, sign up for a free strategy session here. Whether you're looking to enhance your direct mail campaign or develop a comprehensive marketing strategy, our experts can provide valuable insights and guidance. Sign up for a 30-minute call today and unlock the potential of your marketing efforts:

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In just a 30-minute call, you will receive incredible value—whether you hire us or not!

Moreover, managing and tracking the effectiveness of your direct mail campaign can be challenging without the right tools. With GrowthStack CRM, you can streamline your marketing efforts, track campaign performance, and gain valuable insights into customer behavior.

Remember, marketing doesn't have to be overwhelming.

Let us help you build a sales-driven system that maximizes the impact of your direct mail campaigns and other marketing strategies.

Sign up for GrowthStack CRM now and experience the benefits of modern, data-driven marketing.

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