New Wave DM: Direct Mail Now Seen As Part Of Omnichannel Strategy

It’s time to look in on email’s sister medium -- the one fondly known as junk mail and snail mail: direct mail. 

It has a lustrous heritage, having been sent in one form or another since colonial times.

But now it is being seen as a performance-marketing channel in the modern sense, according to Delivering Performance: Direct Mail In The United States 2023, a study by Winterberry Group, presented by the U.S. Postal Service. 

“While marketing practitioners have long been migrating spend to performance-oriented digital media channels, a growing number are coming to see direct mail as a powerful tool for delivering curated, personalized messages and content on the basis of data triggers — helping support customer acquisition, incremental sales and other key marketing objectives,” says Jonathan Margulies, managing partner, Winterberry Group. 



That said, spending has dipped slightly this year to $39.36 billion, down from $41.70 billion in 2022. It is up from the $38.70 billion seen in the pandemic year of 2020, but down from a high of $43.18 in 2019. But mailers expect to spend at comparable levels going forward. 

Postage has grown by 2.7% since 2019 and now makes up 48.4% of the average direct mail spend. Rising postal costs are seen as one of the factors limiting direct mail investment. 

But direct mail (or DM) is increasingly being viewed as part of an omnichannel strategy, one that should include email in our view. Here is how brands are managing the change:

  • We are taking steps to better integrate direct mail with other marketing channels, and are seeing benefits from doing so — 39%

  • We are taking steps to better integrate direct mail with other marketing channels, but are not (yet) seeing benefits from doing so — 20.2%
  • We are leveraging identifiers to drive direct mail targeting, and are seeing benefits from doing so — 19.2%
  • We are leveraging online identifiers to drive direct mail targeting, but are not (yet) seeing benefits from doing so — 9.8%
  • We are taking steps to dissolve organization “silos” in internal teams, technology platforms and other resources historically used to manage separate channels—4.0%
  • We are interested in increasing our use of online and offline markers to support direct mail targeting — 3.8%
  • We are increasing our efforts to personalize and target all addressable channels — 3.6%

Meanwhile, 37% of the marketers surveyed say their improved ability to activate omnichannel campaigns will be a core driver of their increased direct-mail spend over the next year, topping any other factor. 

The sectors seeing omnichannel as a significant factor in driving DM investment/strategies are insurance, retail, retail/consumer products and travel/hospitality. 

What are brands using direct mail for? They cite:

  • Customer acquisition (at scale and/or among specialized target audiences) — 45.4%
  • Win-back of lost customers — 18%
  • Re-targeting customers — 11.8%
  • Driving prospects to our store — 7.8%
  • General customer retention/loyalty — 5.6%
  • Driving prospects to our website — 4.8%
  • Brand awareness — 3.4%
  • Transactional communications — 3.2%

This answer suggests that companies are mailing cold to people, something that would be seen as questionable in the permission-based realm of email. 

But consumers now seem to welcome it, in contrast with earlier times.

 “In a marketing world where digital channels tend to be the default, we are seeing savvy marketers add direct mail to their omnichannel campaigns because its tactile nature makes it more memorable and generates much higher response rates than digital channels,” says Tom Foti, vice president of product solutions, United States Postal Service.

The study is based on interviews with thought leaders and on a survey of more than 500 enterprise and middle-marketing and agency executives that use direct mail. The research was conducted between November 2022 and March 2023, with updates completed between May 2023 and August 2023.




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