Direct Mail's Place in Today's Marketing Strategies
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It was generally thought in the late 1990’s that the curtain was falling on the era of direct mail marketing. How, people thought, could that comparatively expensive and time consuming approach to marketing survive against effective email or online strategies? Well, there’s no simple answer to that question, as direct mail has certainly evolved significantly since the late 1990’s. Perhaps then, in some ways direct mail as we previously understood it hasn’t really survived. But just as the doomsayers who predicted the destruction of radio by television were ultimately proven wrong, so those who saw no place for direct mail within modern marketing have subsequently had to reassess their position. Ultimately then, there are a number of very good reasons for the survival of direct mail marketing in the modern, online era and the purpose of this article is to shed some light on its enduring success and how it has developed to be a necessary and complementary part of any successful modern marketing strategy.
Originally email marketing was very effective, punching well above its weight when on a cost to introduction or sale basis. As with all marketing techniques though, its initial success has been significantly tempered by increased consumer awareness of the commonly used email marketing methods. Small, batch style mail-shots from personal sounding email addresses with ambiguous subject matters, now no longer receive the attention they previously would have. People quite simply don’t bother opening marketing emails or have their junk filters discard them automatically. Furthermore, the online world is now generally seen as a place strewn with pernicious advertising, spyware and “pop-ups” that will damage or at the very least, slow your computer. Direct mail marketing however, suffers no such problems and as such, direct mail marketers are finding that people are more likely to pay attention to direct mail material now than they were several years ago. So the technique is essentially benefitting from email marketings’ negative image.
Collaboration and Traffic Building
The idea that email and direct mail marketing are stand-alone strategies has long since passed. In its place, modern marketing strategies tend to take a more collaborative approach, maximising the benefits of each. A prime example of this is exploiting the power of direct mail marketing to drive traffic to websites, thus reaching prospects whose first port of call would not naturally be the internet. Search engine advertising and email marketing, although a powerful tools, don’t reach the majority prospects searching for a service, especially in industries which don’t traditionally have a strong web-presence. Most business who previously put a very heavy emphasis on direct mail though (such as mail-order shopping) naturally now have an online store or at least an online catalogue. As such, the ongoing necessity of using direct mail to drive traffic to those sites is self-evident.
Smarter Direct Mail
Just as consumers are always getting savvier, direct mail marketers are constantly developing smarter ways of using the medium to get better results. It wasn’t long ago that people would expect to receive reams of useless junk-mail through their door, most of it fairly uninspired and highly unlikely to get any sort of a response. Nowadays however, the thought that goes into an effective direct mail campaign is phenomenal but nonetheless, is time very well spent. Most areas have been vastly improved over the years but worthy of mention here are: smarter landing material, which, similarly to an internet landing page is the first thing that the reader will see and will probably determine whether your pack goes straight into the bin or not. Better printing techniques, have allowed more specialised formats, which are more personalised and therefore, more likely to solicit a response. And finally, highly targeted packs, often including material from inter related companies and sent to highly selective recipients, are reducing costs and increasing success rates.
Better Direct Mail Lists
You could be sending out ten pound notes but frankly, if you’re sending them to the wrong people you may as well be burning them. As such, direct mail list suppliers have spent a lot of time and money on increasing the quality of their lists. The result of this is that direct mail lists now contain more reliable information and the details on them are better profiled. Profiling is especially important in list creation and over the last decade the software upon which it relies has come along in leaps and bounds and direct marketing companies now have very powerful profiling tools at their disposal. That software helps in two ways: firstly, by analysing your sales data the software will ascertain who you should be targeting for the most effective return on your direct mail campaign. Then, secondly, the profiling software can match your ideal sales prospects to the suppliers’ database. Naturally, the more effectively this process is managed, the better the results will be.
The biggest (and oldest) barrier to direct mail success, is still just getting people to open the damned envelope. To get over this problem direct mail marketers constantly need to think of new tricks in order to get people reading their marketing material. One option which is very much in vogue at the moment is using handwritten envelopes. It’s a simple trick but, of course, is very labour intensive; so is best used in small mail batches with carefully selected recipients. However, it is generally agreed that you can increase the response rate many times over, just by handwriting an address. Why? Well perhaps it’s a psychological cue - when was the last time you didn’t open an envelope with your handwritten name and address on it? Most people would usually open them first, shunning everything else that looks like a bill or bank statement in favour of the more personal format. Other techniques, like sending free CD’s or using clever keywords on the outside of the envelope are also helping to ensure that direct mail marketing continues to get good results.
The Future’s Bright
The points discussed in this article highlight a few of the reasons why direct mail is as useful a tool as ever. It’s not just lip-service either; by every key performance indicator, direct mail is still as popular and successful as it’s ever been, if not more so. The ability of the medium to survive in an era where more and more marketing becomes virtualised is testament to its commercial value. Perhaps this enduring success is because prospects naturally respond better to physical marketing material that can be held and touched; perhaps it’s because prospects trust the information more than they do emails. In the end though, who cares? Any marketing man will tell you that if you’re smart, you use whatever works. And direct mail, undoubtedly, still works.