Does Direct Mail Still Work?

A famous publicity stunt by Toronto-based ad agency Lowe Roche shows the power of a direct mailer. They parked a late model Porsche in front of various high-end homes in an affluent Toronto neighborhood, snapped a photo of the car with the house in the background, and converted each photo into a personalized ad that they dropped into the homeowner’s mailbox.

The ad’s only text? “It’s closer than you think.”

Sounds like a cute idea…but it actually worked. A full 32% of the homeowners proceeded to visit Porche’s website after receiving the ad. That’s incredible, especially since even a 2% response rate is generally considered impressive.

In the initial post in this series, we discussed whether print works at all. But now let’s talk about delivery methods. In today’s virtual world, does direct mail still work?

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and state that I believe that direct mail is one of the most effective advertising channels—at least when used correctly.


The Shocking Truth

It may seem that high-tech is the way to go in the marketing world. But direct mail has several benefits over digital options.

Direct mail is delivered directly to the recipient, and is therefore highly persuasive. About 42% of people read—or at least scan—their direct mail, while emails only have an open rate of about 18%.

Not only that, but direct mail is also physical, so you are getting people at one of the few times of the day when they are NOT staring at a screen. After all, the average household receives 157 emails a day, but only two pieces of direct mail!

Then there are the demographics reached through direct mail. Over 40% of all Americans over 65 do not use the internet regularly, which means that virtual marketing campaigns don’t sufficiently reach them. As for younger consumers, who you would assume would prefer to receive emails rather than mailers, many are suffering from digital fatigue and may actually respond better to information received in the mail than those in higher age brackets.

So does direct mail still work? The answer is a resounding yes. Response rates for direct mail have actually increased in recent years. Direct mail can actually have an ROI of 29%–when it’s done right.


Making It Work

So why is direct mail often seen as ineffective? Because in many cases, it’s poorly done and therefore never even gets opened. Keep these components in mind when developing your next direct mail campaign to generate an excellent response.

  • Amazing targeting. Sometimes businesses will buy huge lists, or use generic USPS lists. This does nothing more than blanket the world’s landfills with useless paper. Instead, take the time to carefully pare down your list until only your target audience remains, and your budget will automatically expand so that you can pull off an incredible direct mail campaign. The NFL took advantage of this concept with their Trojan Ball campaign, where they carefully chose potential advertisers to surprise with this creative bait-and-switch.
Written on the side of this box was the following message: “Inside is the ball that 28.5 million US Hispanics TRULY identify with.” While recipients assumed they would be receiving a soccer ball, they were surprised with a football instead. The intention of the ad was to educate CEOs about the importance of football to the Hispanic market in the US – thereby encouraging these key brands to invest in the NFL.
  • Fantastic copy. Direct mail is all about getting recipients to take the next step, which means that the outside of the envelope or mailer must intrigue them enough to convince them to open or read the rest of it. The Call to Action must be flawless, and the rest of the copy must be clean and enticing.
The writing on this simple mailer is clean, with a clear CTA and an enticing offer.
  • Personalized. Generic is easy to skip. Personalized, hard to skip. Use their name. Use their picture. Use their house (like Lowe Roche did). Use whatever you can! The more personalized the better. KitKat nailed this with these fantastic cards that mimicked delivery notices. Bet everyone who received one actually read it and got the message… 

  • Luxurious or interesting. Make it a pleasure to hold, to look at, and to play with. Amex does a great job of this, sending multi-page glossy mailers that make its customers feel like VIPs. In a different way, this mailer by Skoda Yeti ingeniously shows its customers how easy its “park assist” feature is.

  • Impossible to miss. Although it’s sometimes pricy, you may want to consider using “dimensional mail,” or mail that is not flat and therefore catches the eye. After all, if you send your prospect—say, the CFO of a software company—a letter, you have a good chance of it being intercepted by the secretary. But if you send a package, especially if it’s a fascinating-looking package, especially if it looks personal or maybe even like a gift… it probably has a much better chance of getting there. ADT successfully did this with a pop-up box that they slid under the door of apartment owners in Santiago, Chile to warn recipients about the dangers of a home invasion.
Security company ADT distributed this mailer, which expands into a box after being slipped under a door. It reads “BREAKING INTO YOUR APARTMENT IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK.”

Even if your dimensional mail is smaller, it can still pack a punch. The World Wildlife Fund sent out some unique candles to various corporations to raise awareness about the importance of turning off lights to conserve energy. When the yellow candle was removed from the box, it gave the impression of windows darkening in an office building.

Keep in mind that it’s important to pair your direct mail campaign with email marketing when possible. In fact, consumer spending tends to increase by 25% when the two marketing strategies are combined. A strong marketing campaign incorporates both digital and print, and even the mailer itself may point consumers to opportunities to engage with your company digitally as part of its CTA.

In short, direct mail is a fantastic marketing method that has definitely not become obsolete. Just do it right, and you’ll see your ROI soar.

This is part 2 in a series that addresses various marketing media that might seem old-fashioned, irrelevant, or ineffective. But when used correctly, they work very well — maybe better than more trendy marketing media. This post examines whether direct mail is still effective. Part 1 asked the same question about print in general, and Part 3 about billboards and other outdoor ads. See all the articles in the series here.