Direct mail is a marketing stalwart, and in 2023 it has a fresh identity as a channel that delivers personalized, valuable content throughout the customer journey.
By Matt Bond, SVP, Studio and Print Production Services at Merkle
Let’s do a quick exercise: write down the first five channels that come to mind for “innovative, efficient marketing options for 2023.”
Did direct mail make your list? Probably not – and it’s no surprise. Many people still think of direct mail as it was in their parents’ or grandparents’ generations – thick catalogs and impersonal offers that sat atop kitchen tables, largely ignored, for weeks at a time.
But a lot has changed with direct mail, making it a viable, efficient channel for today’s marketers.
What’s Changed with Direct Mail?
Recent evolutions in the direct mail space have alleviated many concerns that marketers had with the channel in the last decade.
Direct mail is personalized. Mail programs used to be highly siloed and based largely on how a user entered the database. Today’s mail programs are much more dynamic. New technology and automation fuel a consumer-centric approach that uses creative testing, custom personas, dynamic versioning, and digital printing to optimize delivery and content for each unique audience. A more consolidated approach also drives more meaningful insights that brands can apply to grow what’s working and iterate on what’s not.
Direct mail is timely. Traditional processes for getting direct mail to the prospect or customer were lengthy, often requiring 10+ steps after creative development – and many of those steps were manual, leaving room for errors and QA issues. Thanks to dynamic content automation, direct mail campaign timelines can be dramatically reduced from creative to print fulfillment, all while mitigating the risk of error. New technology and digital printing help expedite processes, and marketers can deliver mail to their audiences at a timely, relevant point in their journey.
Direct mail is digitally connected. Direct mail was once relegated to the top of the funnel because breakage in customer tracking introduced noise into campaign reporting, impacting performance metrics. Now, marketers can track the audience journey across online and offline, which unlocks direct mail’s effectiveness throughout the purchase funnel. Beyond obvious options, like QR codes or unique customer codes, identity solutions like Merkle’s Merkury can connect every individual’s journey in a privacy-safe way, making direct mail more measurable and digitally aligned than ever before.
Direct mail is premium. Before direct mail could be personalized or timely, it was largely considered junk mail – it didn’t make the recipient feel special. But now, in contrast to the hundreds or thousands of digital ads a person encounters each day, direct mail feels unique. It feels like an investment made by the brand to deliver valuable, relevant content to help the individual progress on their journey. This investment, in turn, builds trust and demonstrates the brand’s longevity and stability – an important differentiator amid economic turmoil and the rapid rise of nascent online-only operations.
Direct mail is efficient. When combined, the above changes translate to strong efficiency in today’s direct mail. Though direct mail is more expensive than digital channels, that cost is offset by significantly higher engagement. Audiences respond well to the relevant, customized, high-quality mail they’re receiving – and the impersonal catalogs that used to linger on kitchen tables have been replaced by valuable reminders that assist recipients on their purchasing journeys, delivered straight to their door.
Why is Direct Mail a Channel for Now?
Hopefully it’s clear by now that direct mail innovation makes it an attractive channel for today’s marketers. But there are other factors outside of direct mail production and capabilities that makes it even more enticing.
In the early days of COVID-19, direct mail became a bright spot in many people’s otherwise routine, close-to-home schedule. It offered a bit of surprise, a tactile connection to the outside world, and a reason to go outside. A USPS study found that a whopping 71% percent of all consumers are excited to discover what the mail brings every day. Though many pre-pandemic behaviors have resumed, general sentiments over the mail likely haven’t waned – and many people are still spending more time at home with hybrid or remote working arrangements. Direct mail offers a natural, reliable break in the middle of a long day.
The pandemic, along with racial justice movements and growing environmental concerns, also inspired many consumers to rethink the priorities in their lives. As a result, brands started to offer new programs and products that meet the consumer’s evolving needs. Direct mail is a great avenue for delivering information on those new offerings, with more real estate to educate and inform than digital channels.
There’s also less competition than there once was in the mailbox. Many marketers reduced their mailings as digital advertising options exploded and, much to the delight of people across America, moved away from mass mailings. Brands have an opportunity to stand out in mailboxes that are less cluttered than before and infinitely less cluttered than email inboxes.
Finally, direct mail offers some predictability in the uncertain economic environment. Paper prices have stabilized post-COVID, and we know when to expect postage increases. We can currently forecast direct mail costs with high confidence to help brands understand exactly what their budget can deliver, which isn’t always the case with other marketing channels. The Postmaster General is also a proponent of mail promotions and is focused on making those discounts easier for marketers to take advantage of.
Direct mail is a marketing stalwart, and in 2023 it has a fresh identity as a channel that delivers personalized, valuable content throughout the customer journey. Whether you’re a financial services brand with an existing mail program or a retail brand with considered purchases that has never engaged a direct mail program, industry changes and macro conditions make this an ideal time to grow your investment. Direct mail is back – make sure your brand doesn’t miss out on the opportunity.