Woman putting piece of mail into computer inbox

Direct mail marketing in the 21st century

By Cathy Planchart, Senior Project Manager

Direct mail has been a marketing strategy for centuries.¹ Catalogues were the first type of direct mail.² They were used to create awareness, provide information and generate sales. Today, direct mail remains an effective marketing tactic to accomplish these same goals. With so many other marketing avenues available these days, direct mail continues to be a valuable strategy. And this is where direct mail performs best in 21st century marketing: as part of an integrated communications plan employing both traditional and digital channels.

For example, on a recent Monday, I received an email from Efficiency Maine encouraging me to switch to an electric heat pump for low-cost heating and cooling, highlighting available rebates and tax credits. They provided a link to find an installer and encouraged me to “act now” while funds are available. Two days later, I received the same information on a direct mail postcard, which included a QR code to go to the Efficiency Maine website to learn more. This one-two punch is a great multi-channel strategy, communicating with a target audience in two different ways. Recipients are sure to read at least one of the communications, and, in my case, both communications, which served to reinforce the message.

Effectiveness of digital versus traditional mail

Scientists have studied human behavior when interacting with digital versus traditional mail to determine which is more effective. In my experience with Efficiency Maine, I left the email in my inbox to perhaps reference later, but to be honest, I seldom go back to old emails, even when I don’t delete them. But I kept the email because I know I should switch from my oil-fired hot water baseboard heat to an electric heat pump at some point. However, I am not yet “in love” with heat pumps, so I threw away the postcard immediately.

Almost two weeks later I was at a friend’s house and saw the same direct mail postcard from Efficiency Maine sitting on his desk! He saved the postcard, because the “boiler” at his office will need to be replaced soon and he may consider a heat pump. What did he do with the email? He deleted it immediately. Scientific research has proven the following points about direct mail versus email.

  1. 70% of direct mail gets opened, and 79% is read for one minute or more³ while the average email open rate across all industries is 21.33%.
  2. Direct mail’s average lifespan is 17 days while email has a lifespan of just a few seconds.
  3. Research has proven physical advertisements are more effective in leaving a lasting impression than digital and are more trusted.
  4. Studies have shown it is easier for people to digest information in physical form, versus on a screen in digital form.
  5. Direct mail stands out as unique and refreshing in our highly digital world, where our mailboxes are less crowded than our email inboxes.

A winning combination

What Efficiency Maine’s combination of direct mail and email did was raise my awareness of an alternative to using expensive fossil fuels to heat my home—and the campaign provided resources that Efficiency Maine offered. As for my friend, the communication also created awareness of a potential solution… and awareness is the first stage in the sales funnel. For this reason, when direct mail is used as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy, it remains a valuable tactic to increase awareness, engage customers and develop a sales pipeline. Rest assured; the effectiveness of this centuries-old marketing strategy continues to endure well into the 21st century.

MKP communications inc. is a New-York based marketing communications agency specializing in merger/change communications for the financial services industry.