Why Direct Mail Works

If you’re part of the direct mail industry, you’ll quickly learn there’s a common pattern of questions you will hear from agencies and other marketers. In fact, we ask this same question ourselves sometimes:
“Why direct mail???”

That’s a powerful thing to ask a direct mail company isn’t it?

“Why direct mail” is a great question deserving of a great answer. In fact, it’s deserving of a great conversation.

For the sake of brevity, we’ll share our take on this subject and hopefully it will spark many fruitful conversations. Here goes…
In a UK study, 71% of college students reported having to take a break from social media. IRL (in real life) experiences are highly sought after – even if they’ll inevitably be shared via Instagram later.

Direct Mail is Your Brand IRL (In Real Life)

We live in such a digital world, don’t we? Is it really all that surprising that the average American spends 5.4 hours a day on their phone?

In real life, the average person spends 30 to 40% of their time talking about themselves. But online that number jumps to 80%. Can you imagine how tiring it must be to maintain an online identity every day – for hours a day?

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Millennials and Generation Z have been craving time away from the screen.
In a UK study, 71% of college students reported having to take a break from social media. IRL (in real life) experiences are highly sought after – even if they’ll inevitably be shared via Instagram later.

But what does that tell us?

People want both the tangible and intangible. They want to see and hear the crunch of the gravel as they hike or bike a trail. And they also want to prove to their online followers that, yes, this thing actually happened – and it was amazing.

Which brings us to our point. No, direct mail isn’t an amazing hike. Nor is it that trip to Costa Rica captured so beautifully on Insta.

Direct mail is the IRL counterpart of your online identity. A person could see your cosmetics brand 20 times on YouTube. Ten different YouTubers singing the praises of your award-winning self-tanner.

But until they spot you at Sephora or hold something in their hands from you, to them, you’re an intriguing concept. In fact, 82% of Millennials view messages printed on paper as more trustworthy than digital messages.

In the emerging field of neuro marketing, there is evidence that points to the unique way print media impacts parts of the brain that control how we feel and how we commit information to memory. Paper-based advertising requires less effort to understand, seems more “real” and generates more emotion.

A 2015 study by Canada Post showed that direct mail marketing requires 21% less cognitive effort to process and elicits a much higher brand recall than digital media.

This doesn’t mean that brands should think of print media as a better option to digital. But what it does mean is that a media mix without print, direct mail specifically, is a deprivation of something vitally important – that IRL manifestation of your brand.

Direct Mail Cuts Through the Clutter

There are a lot of assumptions marketers make when it comes to what kind of media to use to target younger shoppers. One of the easiest, and most misguided, assumptions is that direct mail is irrelevant with Millennials.

In the words of Dwight K. Schrute III…

Studies have shown that 90% of people ages 25 to 34 find direct mail reliable, and 87% like receiving it. They also spend an average of 5.8 minutes sorting their mail and 8.3 minutes opening and reading their mail. By comparison, this is longer than both Generation X and Boomers spend sorting and reading their mail.

So why would marketers ever assume direct mail is irrelevant with Millennials?

Part of the reason comes down to tunnel vision that sometimes happens with digital media. But what marketers have been discovering over the last few years is that, although Millennials and Generation Z are in fact digital natives, most digitally engaged consumers are experiencing digital fatigue.

So, if you’re a marketer and you’re noticing your open rates and click-through rates slumping a bit, it may be that your recipients are dealing with a lot of clutter in their inboxes or are simply overwhelmed with digital ads.

Direct mail is a solution to this problem because it arrives less frequently but has a lot of staying power in that a great looking postcard with a good offer may stay on their desk or kitchen counter for several days.
There is also not nearly the amount of marketing mail today as there was ten years ago so it’s very easy for brands to stand out in the mailbox.
In the United States, 58% of survey respondents reported receiving advertising mail from E-Retailers.

Direct Mail Gets Results

This is the thing we are most excited about in our corner of the print marketing industry.

Direct mail gets results and is becoming a go-to favorite for E-Retail. In fact, in the United States, 58% of survey respondents reported receiving advertising mail from E-Retailers. You yourself may have even noticed new brands in your mailbox from Thirdlove, Harry’s, or MVMT. These are brands that have done excellent work online – especially appealing to younger age groups. But they also know direct mail works and makes their brand really shine, visually, which is why it’s a favorite.

We mentioned 58% of U.S. survey respondents reported receiving advertising mail from E-Retailers. Of that 58% figure, 51% of the respondents visited the e-retailer’s website and 44% made an online purchase.

The Data and Marketing Association (DMA) statistics on direct mail look impressive too. These are survey questions asked of marketers and agencies annually. According to the DMA Response Rate Report, direct mail response rates come in at 9% for a house list and 5% for a prospect list.

To put these rates into perspective, the DMA reported that response rates for email, paid search, online display, and social media were 1% or less.

It’s certainly encouraging to see stats like that for direct mail, though we do caution clients not to use these as benchmarks. We’ve seen a lot of variation across many industries – but one thing we do know is that if you have the right kind of message and your targeting is spot-on, you’re golden. This is why we’ve worked so hard to get the targeting portion of the equation down to a science.

Everyone Has a Different Reason for Choosing Direct Mail

We gave you just a few reasons why most marketers choose direct mail. Your reason may actually be very different.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the advantages of a great direct mail campaign can’t be overstated – it perfectly complements everything you’re doing online and offline.

If you’re exploring the idea of integrating direct mail with your digital and offline media, we can help guide you. And if you already love how direct mail is working for your brand, we want to hear about it. We may have a few ideas to try out to keep costs lower and optimize your targeting.

In the meantime, check out our success stories and learn more about how brands are using direct mail and finding success.

“Millennials’ complex relationship with their cell phones is driving the experience economy”, Quartz
“The Neuroscience of Everybody’s Favorite Topic”, Scientific American
“Smartphone Screen Time: Baby Boomers And Millennials”, Provision Living, 2019
ANA/DMA Response Rate Report, 2018
IPC Cross-Border E-Commerce Shopper Survey, 2017
USPS Fall 2018 Mail Moments
“5 Myths About Millennials and Mail”, USPS Delivers
Justin Restaino, “Millennials Prefer Direct Mail,” NMP,
“Do Direct Mail Campaigns Still Work?” Divvy
“Direct Mail vs. Social Media | Q&A Showdown,” Divvy