Why Direct Mail Won’t Die

Mail PunchAs you probably noticed, postage rates just increased again, making direct mail an even more costly component of your advertising campaign. As more and more of our media intake goes digital, I hear entrepreneurs ask if paper mail is worth the cost.

To this, I always respond, “Well, you get what you pay for.”

See, studies (such as this one) time and again report that response rates to direct mail trump web, email, sign, and broadcast media. At one of my clients‘ recent auctions, just under 90% of their on site bidders discovered the auction from the mailed brochure; and 11% of the people on the mailing list attended the sale in person.

Can you imagine if that percentage of the people who read your city’s newspaper or listened to your local radio station came to any of your auctions? At that percentage, billboards would bring hoards of people, and internationally-followed web sites would double the size of your town for a day.

So, why does “snail mail” perform so well?

Geography Saturation

If you want to saturate a neighborhood or zip code with advertising, you can try sky writing or door hangers; but no traditional media can be targeted geographically as tightly as direct mail. Even if an entire neighborhood gets the same newspaper, the chances of everyone reading the page including your ad–let alone the ad itself–prove slim. TV, radio, and especially the Internet own even smaller probabilities of interaction.

Trash Resistance

If you mass-delete some emails, you can always rescue valuables from the trash folder or have someone resend. But we take our time with print mail, as bills and official correspondence hide between the Walmart® fliers and the Lowes® tabloids. It takes more energy and time to “delete” a piece of physical mail than an email. The reader just can’t hit a button on the TV remote or keep driving past your sign or click to the next web page. Recipients must interact with your advertising, if even for a couple seconds.

Portable Lifespan

Direct mail routinely holds a longer shelf life than ads from other media. Signs get passed. TV and radio ads end before the entertainment resumes. If you get lucky, emails might get printed or left in the inbox. Newspapers head to bird cages, recycling bins, and trash cans after the next issue arrives. But I’ve got a piece of direct mail in almost every room of my house. You probably have a stack on your desk, too.

Filter Evasion

As much as it would be welcomed, no physical mail box installs with a junk filter. Unsubscribing from a print mail list requires a web site form or phone call. It’s just easier to carry the mail into the house or back to the office for the garbage can. In that time, though, direct mail is all but guaranteed to interact with a human before its demise.

Welcome Interruption

Web ads distract from the content we want or interrupt us getting quickly to the link we just clicked (hence, their poor click-through rates). Email blasts grow as the weeds of our inbox, between the funny YouTube forwards and critical client messages. Broadcast commercials keep us from continuous entertainment. Newsprint and magazine ads make us flip pages for the rest of the story. But direct mail brightens the mailbox filled with bills and gives us something colorful amidst the perfunctory white envelopes.

Tactile Attraction

My mom had to assign days or weeks for us George kids to get the mail. We all wanted to be the ones to first see and report what the mail man delivered. I still like getting the mail–and not just because that’s where the auction fairy drops my pay checks. Most folks still look forward to opening their mail and cognitively flip through things other people paid to send them. Even [paper] junk mail gets a once-over. Instead of reading subject lines, we get a full mailer panel to grab our attention–or a coy, unidentified envelope to snag our curiosity.

Creative Variety

Email, web, and broadcast media all come in one or two dimensions and can, at best, only engage two of the senses. Direct mail can arrive in any number of shapes and include tastes and sounds, smells and textures. This gives the advertiser more ways to capture and hold attention–and make your advertising more memorable than the next item in the batch.

You can’t pay more for other media to have these attributes. You can, however, supplement them with the media that owns them all: direct mail.

I run into so many smart people who tell me that the concept of a Judeo-Christian God is outdated, that modern enlightenment has made biblical faith obsolete or at least the fodder of the uneducated. And while I agree that our culture has exposed religion as just short of pointless, I don’t think we’ll ever outgrow our need to feel the acceptance and warmth of the supernatural.

Like many of my generation, soured by liturgy and litmus tests, I don’t have time for church as a social function, a perfunctory duty, a generational indoctrination. With a heart-beating relationship with Jesus, though, church has become a celebration venue, a family gathering, and a cathartic renewal.

I don’t care how old or smart, rich or successful I become, I will never be able to supplement that wholeness with anything else. It still works for me.

[footer]Photo used by permission with purchase from iStockPhoto.com[/footer]

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