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