Why Do Digital Marketers Overlook Direct Mail?

How many of you are purely digital marketers?  How many of you have ever tried direct mail?  

If you answered “yes” to the first question, and “no” to the second, it’s time to think again. You might be overlooking a superbly valuable channel that most of your competitors are also overlooking.

Direct mail is not sexy, so don’t read this column expecting me to tell you it is.  Direct mail is an old-school channel that has seen diminishing usage over the last few years because of rising costs and decreasing effectiveness.  Those two facts are indeed valid reasons not to try it, but I am going to give you three reasons why you should.

1. It’s still more effective than display. Even with decreasing effectiveness, direct mail is still more effective at getting your brand in front of the right people and having them take some kind of action than display ads.  

Direct mail is a less cluttered landscape than display, so you have an easier time standing out.  Display might be better for generating broad reach, but direct mail can eliminate waste just as well, and possibly better than display.  Fraud in online display is more rampant than it is in direct mail, so waste is more prevalent online.  



I grew up in the ad business focused on digital media, but I always knew I could boost numbers using direct mail. Some of the biggest brands in the world still use the channel and have great success.  

2. Your competitors aren’t using it. Most new brands are targeting millennials — and millennials respond to different types of media, if they respond at all.  As a result, most marketers have been trained to leverage online and specifically search as a place to build your brand.  

Direct mail has been left to “stodgier,” non-millenial brands. So, if you test the channel you could see that your brand stands out simply by being there.  Direct mail is a great place to explore creative ideas and delivery mechanisms in a targeted manner.  You can rise above the clutter simply due to the fact that your competitors are not there, so maybe giving it a test makes some sense?

3. Consumers like tangible brands -- and digital is not tangible. Regardless of age, people like to be able to touch and feel brands.  Being an all-digital brand can be hard because it’s harder to trust something you can’t see and touch.  

 Direct mail can be an avenue to send swag, or mail content and brochures.  You can find innovative ways to do sampling.  You can now share video through little embedded video screens.  There are lots of ways to create a digital-esque experience in a direct-mail channel these days.

 And I will say it once again: Your competitors are not there. If you want to truly separate yourself from the pack, take a completely different route.  

Direct mail is just such a media channel.  It may cost a little extra per piece or per thousand people you want to reach, but the ROI should be there if you are creative and innovative in how you deliver your message.  Try something new and don’t be afraid to fail.

My guess is, if you are patient and plan it out, and you allocate the right tools for measurement, you may be pleasantly surprised at the return you could get.

3 comments about "Why Do Digital Marketers Overlook Direct Mail?".
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  1. Josh Davidson from Midroll, February 28, 2018 at 1:43 p.m.

    Personally, I can't stand junk (tangible) mail.  Please make it stop.

  2. Keith Huntoon from LiftEngine, February 28, 2018 at 3:03 p.m.

    Corey, great piece. As someone who straddles digital and DM, we see clients consistently generate positive ROAS in DM that is repeatable and scalable.  Yes, it comes with higher upfront planning and costs, but when done well it works.  A few quick points:  1-Digital and DM deployed to the same people work well together-they are not competitive, but rather, complementary. 2-In a world dominated by Amazon, I'd argue DM is perhaps the best way to differentiate. 3-DM typically provides improved brand loyalty over digital only.  Time and again, clients see higher # of orders and LTV from DM and DM plus digital over digital alone. Josh is correct. Junk mail is terrible but shouldn't be confused with Direct Mail.  When executed properly, DM is never junk mail. You may not respond, but the targeting of audience, creative, offer and time should all be spot on.

  3. Seth Anthony from Varsity, March 1, 2018 at 1:29 p.m.

    Interesting points. As a Milennial, I get very little direct mail marketing, outside of financial services (credit cards, insurance, mortgage refinancing, etc.) I think that if I received a direct mail advertisement for a true product, I might be interested. I do receive some catalogs from brands I've purchased from before and will page through them to see if anything catches my eye.

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