• Research shows that people have always loved direct mail — it’s personal, memorable, and shareable. • That said, direct mail needs to keep evolving to meet the new standards of relevance and engagement that consumers get through digital channels. • When done right, direct mail can influence consumers and disrupt their buying behaviors as much as, if not more than digital.

After a year of being locked down, shut-in, and socially distanced, it’s hardly a surprise that direct mail is seeing a surge in its already impressive popularity.

I cherished the walk to my mailbox during the height of the pandemic — some days it was the only time I left the house — and with so little to look forward to, direct mail was exciting.

But the numbers tell us people have always loved direct mail — it’s personal, memorable, and shareable. It might be having a bit of a moment thanks to COVID, but it’s really just a boost on an already successful format.

That said, direct mail needs to keep evolving to meet the new standards of relevance and engagement that consumers get through digital channels. 

Direct mail can meet these expectations and be as powerful and disruptive as an email campaign — sometimes even more so. But old perceptions need to be smashed — Direct Mail 2.0 is here.  

In fact, if you’re going to capitalize on the direct mail moment, build sustainable campaigns, send effective promotions, meet consumer expectations, and disrupt the mailbox, you need to treat it a bit like digital.

Shifting expectations

Every January for the past five years, I’ve read at least one blog that’s listed personalization as the big trend in marketing that year. It is hardly a trend anymore; it’s now an expectation.   

According to Epsilon research, 80% of respondents to their survey want personalization from retailers. They want it across the entire customer experience — many will even pay a premium for personalized products or services.    

Most telling of all, they want it so badly they’ll provide their data. Accenture found that 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience, and 91% are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers.

The cost of getting personalization wrong is high. In one survey, more than half of respondents said they’d unsubscribe if they found the personalization too creepy”— with  38% saying they’d stop doing business with that company altogether. 

So, online experiences and email marketing have raised the bar for personalization but also exposed a sensitivity to feeling surveilled — and there’s often a fine line between the two.

Direct mail presents an opportunity for a win-win scenario. The keyword is relevance. Consumers want relevant messaging, not invasive personalization. When direct mail is done right, it can influence consumers and disrupt their buying behaviors as much as, if not more than digital. Print and digital tactics working in unison can be a potent combination.  

Dispelling some myths

There are a lot of myths and outdated perceptions about direct mail. They’re what often stop marketers from seeing its value and potential as a disruptive, engaging channel. I want to tackle four of the major myths associated with direct mail:   

  • It’s too old school. Consumers don’t agree; 70% of consumers we surveyed said they find coupons in printed sources, including the mail, before going to the store. The methods, technology, and data available to modern direct mail campaigns are cutting edge. 
  • It’s only for older consumers. Our survey showed that millennials and Gen X are as engaged with direct mail and inserts as baby boomers. In fact, Gen X might be more engaged. Sixty-six percent of millennials said they read print ads and inserts, and 74% of Gen X said the same, while 68% of baby boomers said the same. Of those who have read direct mail within the last month, 58% of millennials and 62% of Gen X made a purchase as a result of it, compared to 46% of all shoppers.
  • It’s boring. As with all marketing, direct mail is as boring as you make it. But with the right tools, smart targeting, and a deep understanding of your audience, it’s impactful and engaging. The numbers show that direct mail inspires action. The value will come from capitalizing on this engagement by meeting consumer expectations in the mailbox. 
  • It takes months to plan a campaign. This doesn’t have to be the case. With access to the right data-driven insights and a partner to provide strong end-to-end execution, you can see impressive response rates from direct mail quickly and affordably. 

Meeting consumers’ digital expectations on their doorstep

So, how do you create an effective direct mail campaign that delivers the personalization and relevance consumers desire? How long does it take, what factors do you need to consider, and how do you avoid being intrusive?

Fast, economical, and high-value direct mail campaigns require careful planning. Data is unquestionably the fastest path toward a strategy for maximum response. Let’s look at a few ways data-driven insight and direct mail can help you produce campaigns that get results:

Go local

Direct mail is an ideal medium to drive neighborhood-level impact — from ramping up regional brand awareness to driving traffic to a particular retail location. Consumers respond to local relevance more  — 66% of consumers say direct mail makes them aware of neighborhood stores, restaurants, and services (to say nothing of triggering interactions through promotions). 

This is particularly powerful in the community-minded context of the pandemic, as consumers — either through solidarity or shelter in place restrictions — look to support neighborhood stores. Simply put, there’s never been a better time to use direct mail with localized messaging and reach. 

An address is one thing; connection is another 

Localized targeting helps speak to people in a specific area, but instead of talking to everyone in the household the same, you can tailor content around specific personas or age groups.

For example, many millennials are Hispanic, as their average age is 29.8, according to the Pew Research Center. Direct Mail can find and talk to this valuable audience segment and vary creative by factors such as country of origin and primary language and acculturation, to name a few. 

The 2020 Valassis Consumer Intel Report highlighted that 82% of millennials use coupons they receive in the mail, making this market segment perfect for a promotion or discount that can be redeemed in a local store. 

Pinpoint consumers who are ready to buy 

Direct mail is a convenient, tactile prompt that can trigger customers to act — particularly if incentivized with a promotion or discount. Incorporating purchase intent data into your direct mail campaigns means you can ensure you’re only reaching out to those ready to buy. 

You need to play your hand carefully. Get the timing or the targeting too right, and you risk  making your best customers uncomfortable. In practice, that might mean offering promotions around products they’re likely to enjoy rather than products they’ve bought before. Generating these insights requires deep analysis of the online and offline intent signals of consumers — an experienced partner can help you spend less time uncovering them and more time activating them. 

The best of both worlds

Direct mail campaigns often see the best results when they’re part of a broader omnichannel strategy. Forty-six percent of consumers say they are encouraged by direct mail ads to go online for more information about the advertiser, while 41% claim a direct mail ad encourages them to go online to purchase from that advertiser. 

When operating outside of silos, digital and direct mail campaigns can work in harmony to deliver outstanding results. The same success can’t be achieved using separate print and digital agencies. By combining the two, you can drive the consumer online using direct mail, or you can remind customers who are engaged with digital to look out for upcoming deals in their mailbox. You can also use testing in digital campaigns (such as A/B testing or subject line optimization) to fine-tune the creative and messaging you use in direct mail campaigns.

Direct Mail 2.0

Direct mail has a key role to play as part of any emerging omnichannel marketing strategy. Just as spammy email blasts are evolving into personalized, highly targeted, customer-centric engagements, direct mail is transforming into a specific, high-impact channel that cuts through the noise.

The next era of direct mail (Direct Mail 2.0 for those of you keeping track) is about mirroring the data richness and enhanced experiences offered by digital campaigns and building on the ongoing success of the format in a far less saturated, far more personal environment.

Discover why direct mail is more attractive to consumers than ever before and how you can harness its power with Direct Mail 2.0. 

Download the “This Direct Mail Moment” ebook.      

Karen Law has more than two decades of experience in data-driven, customer-centric, and multi-channel solutions for some of the world’s largest advertisers. She contributes to sales coaching, and development. Today, she helps develop strategic go-to-market strategies for the consumer packaged goods, grocery, mass, ecommerce, and drug industries for Valassis accounts totaling more than $150 million.