Direct Mail Marketing Is a Magical Unicorn

I recently got a postcard featuring “President Trump’s coronavirus guidelines for America.” Maybe you did too?

Anyhow, I decided we should talk about it, because the government is shockingly on-trend.

There has never been a better time to do direct mail marketing.

In fact, over the last few years, even digitally savvy, direct-to-consumer brands such as Casper, Harry’s, Wayfair, Rover, Quip, Away, Handy, and Modcloth have begun targeting customers via the mail.

Here’s why:

Direct mail is effective, especially for younger audiences, because they associate it with nostalgia and not junk (like their email inboxes).

A semi-recent study found direct mail campaigns generate purchases five times larger than email campaigns. As Pete Christman, the head of acquisition marketing at the shaving company Harry’s, which counts on mailers as part of its marketing says, “People…get hundreds of emails a day, but they only get ten pieces of a mail a day, if that many. From a numbers perspective, email is a much noisier environment.”

Direct mail is cheap, because online advertising has taken a bigger share of the pie.

As brands have shifted their spend online, the cost of print has dramatically fallen because there are less brands competing over the space. Globally, the luxury industry spent over $1 billion on digital ads already back in 2016, a 63% increase since 2013, while spending on magazines declined 8% over the same period, per Zenith.

Direct mail outperforms other channels.

Advertising cards, catalogs, or flyers made 31% of baby boomers purchase a service or product. In this case, direct mail outperformed online consumer reviews, recommendations from friends and family, TV ads, email, and other marketing channels.

Direct mail works for both prospects and customers.

In 2018, the average response rate of direct mail amounted to 4.9% for prospect lists and 9% for house lists. Compared to the 9% house lists response rate, email, paid search, and social media have only a 1% response rate.

And the pièce de résistance: more people are home right now.

Due to COVID-19 everyone “non-essential” is stuck at home right now so direct mail will reach them where they are spending the majority of their time. (By the way now is a great time to maximize your digital ads’ desktop placements – rather than mobile – for the same reason).

Let’s take a look at how to maximize your direct mail campaigns:

1. What matters most is your list.

75% of your success will come from how effective your mailing list is, another 20% will depend on how compelling your offer is, and the remaining 5% will come from everything else (design, copy, images). So spend the most time on getting your list right based on your mailer’s objective.

2. Make something people want to put on their fridge.

Like the President’s postcard, which included a list of ways and instructions to avoid the virus, the best direct mail pieces are those that people will actually find useful, helpful, or entertaining. Your goal should be to create something memorable that they’ll hang on to rather than toss in the trash. Here are a few ways to accomplish that:

  • A checklist
  • A coloring book page
  • A math brain teaser such as a Sudoku
  • A scavenger hunt of things they might have access to such as Netflix shows
  • An “identify that flower, animal, etc” puzzle
  • A Madlib
  • A bookmark
  • A comic
  • A menu of goods
  • A calendar
  • Actionable tips
  • Birthday cards
  • Literally look at what is on your refrigerator to get more ideas

Whatever you do, personalize it. Addressed mail is much more likely to be read and noticed than door drops.

3. Include a compelling offer.

Have a clear call to action that includes a coupon and your website. Coupons can cause a rise in oxytocin levelsPsychology Today has reported that shoppers prefer to buy products they have coupons for, even if it means spending more money on a product because it provides “smart shopper feelings.” And 57 percent of shoppers will buy from a company for the first time if they are presented with a coupon.

4. Use a classic one-page flat or postcard format.

There are a ton of different formats you can use: a postcard; a one-pager; a foldable; a catalog. But according to the DMA, one-pager flats have the best response rates at 6.6%, followed by postcards at 5.7% and letters at 4.3%.

If you need to add a little razzle dazzle, this medium is one of the rare places scratch and sniff technology can be included (gosh what a 90s throwback that is, but 90s are more in right now than they’ve been in a while). Scent is a surprisingly powerful marketing tool: The American Marketing Association reported that an attractive scent can entice customers to stay up to 44 percent longer in a business, and another study found that when major retailers used scent marketing in their stores intent to purchase increased by 80 percent.

Though obviously ideal for selling perfumes, deodorants, and more, it could also be used to evoke a sense of nostalgia by creating a sniff identification game featuring smells of the ballpark, grandma’s chocolate chip cookies, etc or just include your store’s signature smell.

5. Deliver on a business day.

Since people don’t expect to receive pieces of mail on Sundays, make sure to deliver everything on business days.

6. Read it, read it again, read it again!

You’re probably used to working in an editable environment because the Internet has spoiled us in that way. Proofreading is extra important. Ensure you look it over once with fresh eyes the next day, as well as a colleague.

7. Pick the right sending platform.

If you have a list of leads you can use USPS (as long as it’s still around), and pay only about $2 per sheet. You can use their Every Door Direct Mail tool to send mail to different customers in different areas.

If you need help building a list of leads to mail to you can try a more expensive service like PebblePost.

Or you can make your brand part of a bigger folder of mail with other brands using something like Share Local Media which charges a minimum of $15,000 for 30,000 envelopes, a cost that’s split between the companies in the mailer. 

Regardless, start with a small send – something like 20% of your list – to see what the response is like before you broaden your campaign.

Now that you’re equipped to send direct mail that’s beloved and not ripped, check out the key to surprise and delight marketing.

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By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.