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The Return of Direct Mail Campaigns

Tanialee Gonzalez
direct mail

From “mom jeans” to vinyl records to reboots of superhero movies, it sometimes seems everything old is new again. Case in point: Direct mail is making a comeback after years in decline.

With the prevalence of email marketing, online advertising and social media, it’s hard to believe there’s still a place in the small business owner’s toolkit for direct mail. But today’s savvy small businesses are reinventing direct mail by connecting their snail mail campaigns with online marketing and promotions.

In this post, you’ll discover:

  • Why direct mail still matters
  • What makes direct mail so effective
  • How you can use direct mail in your marketing efforts
  • How to connect direct mail with online marketing for even better results


The rise and fall of direct mail

The volume of mail the U.S. Post Office delivers has fallen steadily in recent years, from 158.2 billion pieces of mail in 2013 to 149.5 billion pieces just a few years later. At the same time, direct mail B2B and B2C advertising is projected to grow steadily through 2020.

How can both of these things be true at once? Despite the decline in mail overall, the volume of direct mail as a percentage of all mail has risen. With fewer pieces of mail reaching consumers, direct mail pieces automatically get more attention. It’s a lot easier to stand out among three or four pieces of mail than among dozens.

The growth of email marketing has led to “email fatigue’, leaving customers and prospects overwhelmed by the sheer number of promotional emails they receive. Even if they do see an email about an upcoming promotion that interests them, it can slip their mind as new emails keep rolling in. Physical mail, on the other hand, can serve as a tangible reminder to take action, especially when the business ties the mail piece into a digital offer.

Why direct mail is so effective

As mentioned earlier, direct mail now makes up a larger proportion of the mail we receive than it did 10 years ago. Here are some other factors making direct mail an effective marketing tool.

Mail is highly personal. Everyone enjoys getting mail with their name on it. We may groan about the volume of email in our inbox, but checking the mailbox is something most of us look forward to when we get home.

Our brains are wired to respond to direct mail. A few years ago, Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision conducted a neuromarketing study in conjunction with the USPS to see how people respond to both physical and digital media. Here’s what the study uncovered:

  • Participants processed the information in digital ads faster than physical media. However, they spent more time with the physical ads, and remembered the information longer.
  • Physical ads took longer to get a reaction. However, viewing physical ads generated a stronger emotional response, and triggered activity in the part of the brain that conveys “value and desirability.”
  • The study concludes that combining both digital marketing and direct mail will optimize the strengths of each format and deliver the best results.


It helps highly regulated businesses market to prospects. Certain industries, such as law, finance and healthcare, have restrictions on the types of online advertising they can do. As a result, incorporating direct mail and other traditional media into their digital marketing efforts can help them more effectively reach customers.

Connecting direct mail campaigns with the online experience

Online marketing enables even the smallest business to narrowly target the specific customers they want—and today direct mail does, too. It’s always been possible to customize print marketing materials by demographic or neighborhoods, but now you can also customize mail pieces down to the individual level using variable printing.

Variable printing pulls information from your customer database to include on each print piece. You can select which data fields you want to modify. For instance, you might send one offer to people who bought from you within the last 12 months, another to prospects who haven’t yet purchased anything, and another to loyal customers who have made a purchase in the past month.  

You can even use variable printing to customize images on your direct mail. For example, suppose a pet store is sending out direct mail promoting flea and tick products. It could customize mail pieces for cat owners with the image of a cat and specific products for cats, while dog owners would get mail featuring dogs and canine products.

1.      Use direct mail to drive action

What do you want to accomplish with direct mail? Each piece needs a specific call to action. Here are some examples of things you might want recipients to do:

  • Visit your business in person
  • Visit your website
  • Call your business
  • Follow your business on social media
  • Attend an event at your business


2.     Use direct mail to make an offer

Develop an offer based on the action you want recipients to take, and that will motivate them to act. Here are some possibilities:

  • A free trial of a service
  • A free sample of a product
  • A free gift redeemable in-store
  • An invitation to an event
  • A discount code
  • A gift certificate or gift card
  • A thank you message
  • An appointment reminder


Thank you messages can help boost customer loyalty, whether or not they’re paired with an offer. For instance, take a look at this thank you mail piece from online photography marketplace Unsplash.

There’s no special offer here, but Unsplash sent some cool swag—two stickers—and a handwritten note thanking the photographer for sharing their photo on the site. Even if Unsplash already thanked this photographer via email, the direct mail piece will really make an impression (and motivate the person to keep sharing photos on Unsplash).

Of course, sometimes you want your direct mail/online marketing campaign to do more than just make the recipient feel good about your business. Here’s an example of a marketing email that aims to drive a customer into a store to redeem a limited-time discount.

To sweeten the pot, the retailer followed up with a direct mail piece offering additional savings in-store.

If the email wasn’t enough to motivate the recipient, the mail piece serves as an added incentive—as well as a reminder the recipient can keep on hand.

How to use direct mail at all stages of your sales process

Combining online marketing with direct mail can work no matter what stage your prospect is in.

At the beginning

Send direct mail to brand-new prospects to build awareness of your business and create engagement. For instance, here are some ways a new restaurant could use direct mail to create awareness with local residents:

  • Send an “invitation” to local residents in your target market announcing the restaurant’s upcoming grand opening.
  • Tell recipients if they visit your website and sign up for emails, they’ll get VIP alerts and offers—plus 10 lucky subscribers will get their entire meal on the house during the grand opening.
  • Once people sign up for emails, continue to engage them with an email campaign.
  • If customers don’t respond to the email offers, send them another direct mail piece after you’ve opened. Include a discount offer or 2-for-1 coupon.


In the middle

Sometimes prospects express interest in what you sell, then they get busy and drop the ball. Direct mail can be a great tool to “nudge” prospects along the sales funnel. Here’s how a home remodeling business could move a prospect along the pipeline:

  • A homeowner visited your website and filled out a lead form. You called them twice and emailed them three times, but they never returned your calls or emails. You can send them a direct mail piece that looks like a personal note card.
  • Remind them that they contacted you and make it easy for them to take the next step: “You told us you’re interested in kitchen remodeling, and we’d love to help. To set up a free in-home estimate at your convenience, just call XXX-XXX-XXXX. Too busy to call? No worries: text us at XXX-XXX-XXXX.”
  • If they still doesn’t respond, put this lead on the back burner and re-contact them in three months.


For loyal customers

You can use direct mail to drive online customers to buy in-store or just get customers to buy more. To do this, send digital and direct-mail offers based on past purchasing behavior. Here’s an example of an email a friend of mine received from a local business:

Because this is a loyal customer who has made lots of purchases, the business tapped into her past purchases and followed up with a direct mail piece inviting her to an in-store event:

Most likely, this piece was customized with the image of a young mom (my friend’s demographic).

If your goal is to drive the recipient to your website, direct them to offer-specific landing pages using QR codes and/or URLs. Your direct mail piece should include a QR code they can scan or a URL they can input to go to a specific landing page on your website to get more information, make an appointment, redeem an offer or make a purchase. (Make sure the landing page is focused on a specific call to action. Here are some tips for creating an effective lead generation form.)

You can create different landing pages, URLs or QR codes for different pieces of direct mail (such as different customer segments or ZIP Codes) to track which pieces were most effective at driving traffic to your website.

Don’t forget to make sure your website is mobile friendly  so all of your visitors can see what you have to offer, whether on a desktop or a smartphone.

Direct mail still matters

No matter what your goal is, here are some tips to help ensure your direct mail gets the recipient’s attention.

  • Postcards ensure recipients see your message even if they don’t open the mail.
  • Use bold, simple copy so recipients can see the offer at a glance.
  • Focus on the benefits to the customer.
  • Consider oversized or odd-shaped mail pieces to stand out from ordinary letters.
  • Keep the branding in line with your business in terms of colors, fonts, logos and images.


Over to you

While direct mail lacks the wide reach of online marketing, one thing is certain: people still open their mail. If you do direct mail right, it’s an opportunity to create unique, engaging campaigns that stand out from the pack.

Direct mail can be a valuable addition to your inbound lead generation efforts when it’s combined with a well thought out online marketing plan. Learn how lead generation software can streamline marketing activities like mail campaigns so you can grow your company!

 

Image Credits
Feature Image: Unsplash / Chris Blonk
Image 1: via Rainier Ridao on Unsplash
Image 2-5: screenshots/photos via author, October 2018

Author information

Tanialee Gonzalez

With a background in sales, education and photography, Tanialee pulls from a diverse background of skills in her current role. As the Product Marketing Manager for Lead Advertising Solutions at Web.com, Tanialee is the junction for content and customer initiatives in this department. When Tanialee isn’t coordinating marketing solutions for Web, you can find her hanging with her dogs or capturing life’s beautiful moments around Austin.