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Direct Mail is Having a Moment. Incorporate it Into Your Mix

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Snail mail never really died. It just went back into its shell during the digital advertising boom. During the pandemic, letter-writing and sending cards became popular. Beyond that, however, multi-location brands are seeing that the good old-fashioned postcard or direct mail may have value.

In fact, 58% of marketers have more marketing budget allocated to direct mail in 2023 than in 2022. Close to 60% of brands that use direct mail report solid ROI. When mail is included within a larger campaign, the ROI improves by 12%.

Engagement rates with paper-based marketing can reach up to 96%. Advances in printing and personalization enable marketers to be more targeted and specific in their communications and can be used to drive traffic to storefronts — both physical and online.

Total mail volume for 2022 was 33.5 billion pieces — slightly lower (0.4%) than 2021 volumes.

Direct mail is rumored to have roots in ancient Egypt, but fast-forward to the 1960s when printing technology enabled the industry to scale. Prior to the birth of the Internet, direct mail marketers filled consumer mailboxes with catalogs, credit card offers, and a vast area of clever configurations.

Now, direct mail is part of the entire marketing mix. Advances include:

  • The ability to hyper-personalize messages, including the ability to cost-effectively send mail to just a small handful of people and target specific offers and creative treatments to different personas.
  • Triggered mail programs use customer data to send paper messages around key life events, expiration dates, or online shopping or browsing behavior.
  • The widespread use of QR codes drives traffic from paper to screen.
  • The rise of “automated gifting.” Companies like Sendoso use cloud-based platforms to enable sales executives and marketers to send messages and treats to prospects and loyal customers.

Joy Gendusa, founder of PostcardMania, reports revenue growth of 20% year-over-year and sales of close to $100M. She says, ” As humans, our brains are hardwired to process tangible and material stimuli better.” Her company sets up automated programmatic campaigns, triggered by special life events, in-store behavior, and online browsing and buying behaviors.

Among the challenges that direct marketers face are rising postage costs and sustainable business practices that frown upon paper waste. Many professionals now work from home and may not want their personal mailboxes filled with business communications.

But, for multi-location consumer marketers, direct mail can effectively add to the marketing mix.

  1. Ensure your database is clean and up-to-date to eliminate wasted printing and postage. Personalization gaffes can also harm your brand, so quality control is key.
  2. Think creatively about formats and messages. The possibilities abound, from simple postcards to three-dimensional mailers to elaborate configurations that contain embedded video.
  3. Attention spans are short, so keep messages simple and direct, as with online communications.
  4. Pay attention to timing and integrate your mail with online behavior to create a seamless experience.
  5. For multi-location brands, direct mail can create a more personalized and responsive local experience for shoppers and browsers. For example, birthday and loyalty specials, announcements of local events, and even a simple thank you from a store manager for repeat or large purchases can make the recipient feel connected and valued, building brand loyalty.

With the volume of e-mails steadily climbing and the steady stream of social media messages continuing, reverting to an ancient tactic can potentially be adapted to a breakthrough modern strategy.


Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.