Millennials Get Direct Mail: USPS Claims They Prefer It Over Email

Here’s a shocker: That Millennials, who barely look up from their smartphones, even in the bathroom, prefer direct mail over email. That’s the premise of a quirky little white paper from the U.S. Postal Service.  

The USPS claims that 64% of Millennials “would rather scan for useful info in the mail than email.”

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom and numerous other studies. For example, Adestra recently found in a survey that email is the overwhelming choice of all age groups for receiving business communications — 78.8% for Boomers, 77.8% for Millennials, and 60.7% for teens.

Direct mail, cited by only 3.8% of Millennials and 2.9% of the teenage consumers, is fourth on the list. And while Baby Boomers lead in this regard, only 8.4% of them cite snail mail as their favorite medium.

So one can be skeptical. Why not? The USPS, that grand old institution, delivers paper mail. So it publishes a report purporting to show that Millennials prefer direct mail.

Now you could ask why that is any different from an email service doing a survey showing that young people like email. It depends on the methodology, and that’s where the USPS fails to deliver.

Unlike Adestra, which had its methodology right up front, the USPS offers little or no explanation as to where it got this material. But here’s one clue:

To support its assertions, the USPS “relied on other studies to develop an infographic to reveal in more depth what Millennials think and do about direct mail,” Lauren Flanigan recently wrote for The American Genius. 

She added that the study had created a backlash. “No, no, no,” wrote Derrick Southerland in a post. “Don’t listen to this. Millennials DO NOT WANT your stupid garbage filling up their mailbox. Every piece of junk mail makes them hate you more!”

Tut tut, Derrick. Don’t you feel the same way about the clutter in your email inbox?

But now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s see what the USPS has to say. It admits that email delivers the highest marketing ROI—122%. – and that the return for direct mail is only 27%. But that’s roughly the same as The ROI for social media (28%), the USPS continues. And paper mail has a higher response rate — 5.3% — than the 0.9% reported for digital channels, it adds. 

The study also states that almost half of Millennials ignore digital ads, compared to 15% for direct mail. And it shows that 77% pay attention to direct mail advertising, 90% think it’s reliable, 57% have purchased in response to direct mail and 87% like receiving direct mail. They beat out other age groups across the board.

Perhaps more importantly, The USPS partnered with the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University’s Fox School of Business to study ad responses. They found that while people process digital ad content more quickly, they spend more time with physical ads.

What’s more, physical ads “triggered activity in a part of the brain that corresponds with value and desirability.”

And participants had a stronger emotional response to physical ads, and remembered them better, the USPS writes.

Perhaps you dismiss these findings as the ravings of a financially devastated organization. But what if there were just a sliver of truth here? Does it mean we are annoying Millennials with the sheer volume of email, and perhaps with irrelevant content?

It’s possible. But there’s an easy remedy. To win Millennials with email, make sure “you’re providing value that they can’t get anywhere else,” Antoniya Koleva Zorluer recently wrote on “Make them feel special by sharing exclusive tips, tricks, tools, discounts, or information only via email. Give them an opportunity to ask a question to your CEO directly via email. Give them edge others won’t have.”

Zorluer added that you should also push the idea of exclusivity in your call to action: “Email marketing to millennials can’t be just an invitation to read your new blog post — it needs to give them something they can only get through your emails.”

All of this commentary misses one thing — that it’s not either/or. Email and direct mail work well together — one reinforces the other. Send out an email advising the consumer that a package is on the way. Then, after it arrives, gently remind them with an email or two.

Granted, you don’t have as much control over the timing of postal delivery as you do with email or social media. And you may have to tone up your cross-channel attribution. But you can get it to work. Then, and only then, can you claim to be a true omnichannel marketer — to Millennials.  

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