Is your newest secret weapon old-fashioned direct mail?

For marketers, it’s not always about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes, it’s about rediscovering what made the wheel great in the first place. So let’s look at direct mail.

Long a staple of marketing, especially in banking and financial services, direct mail lost favor over time. It was replaced by more expeditious (and cheaper) channels such as email and social media.

But the pendulum swung back. As time passed, customers weren’t complaining about their outdoor mailboxes being packed with junk mail. Instead, they were dismayed that their email inboxes and social platforms were packed with marketing messages. Then came a pandemic, which made electronic communication more essential and even more pervasive. But it also made those communications less effective.

Should marketers follow the road less taken?

Let’s look at where the pandemic has left us and how we’ve been navigating the “new normal” as guidelines continue to change. Human connection and communication have taken on a more important role. Zoom meetings, grocery deliveries and online shopping and banking have all become ubiquitous, even essential. At the same time, with consumers going to e-bills and companies switching to digital marketing, physical mailboxes are often empty.

All this makes print more powerful than ever for marketingHaptics, the neuroscience of touch, holds that being able to touch something makes us feel differently about it — we place greater value on it. Thirty-six percent of people report having brand recognition after seeing a piece of print; just 18% report brand recognition after seeing a digital ad.

There’s also digital fatigue. According to a study by Sappi, 65% of consumers agree that mail lifts their spirits. Households receive on average just two pieces of mail per day, versus 157 email messages. Plus, with 7 in 10 white collar workers in the U.S. still working from home, mail is a welcome distraction. It’s part of the reason the USPS is consistently ranked as the most popular entity in government.

Survey conducted by Sappi: 975 US adults, primary HH mail checkers (May 11-May 18 2020)

The proof is in the ROI

We can make some reasonable assumptions as to why direct mail is less popular than other marketing tactics, beyond falling out of favor in the digital era. Direct mail is likely more costly than email, there is more room for error when it comes to printing and personalization, and it may be difficult to verify the correct home or business addresses of your targets.

However, data shows us direct mail is worth the extra effort. According to the ANA Response Rate Report, just 38% of marketers report using direct mail in their direct marketing campaigns compared to 82% using email in direct marketing campaigns. However, of those who used direct mail in campaigns, the return on investment was the highest of all mediums at 112% average ROI:

Source: ANA Response Rate Report 2021

Adding a one-two punch for impact.

Direct mail isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. It plays well with digital communication.

There’s a 28% increase  in conversion rate for marketing when direct mail and digital ads are used together as a one-two punch. And consumers say they prefer to receive direct mail and digital over any other media, including social media.

Those facts suggest that if your retail marketing strategy has defaulted to digital only, you’re missing an opportunity.

Tips for increasing direct mail effectiveness.

The 2018 DMA Response Rate Report finds that 80% of sales are between the 8th and 12th touchpoints. Direct mail, as part of a larger physical/digital strategy, can help you increase touchpoints and get the most bang for your buck.

With USPS Informed  Delivery®, consumers can sign up to see your bank’s mail as a scan, in email, in addition to receiving the physical piece in their mailbox. The side that’s scanned is the address side so include key information, including offer and visual, there. The open rate for Informed Delivery email is impressive — 64% to 80%.


Here are some options for investing in direct mail and supplementing the effort with digital:

Mail + Retargeting

  • 96% unique visitors leave your website without purchase/signup
  • 26% will return to your site to take action after being retargeted with display ads
  • Use mail to get them to web and retargeting to get them to return. Explore the technologies available that tie together your physical direct mail and digital.

Flip it; Digital first, followed by Mail/Mail + Machine Learning

Mail to someone who has visited your website — machine learning can be applied to automatically tell you what to mail. Customize and personalize; drop within 24 hours.

Mail with Video

It’s reported that video provides a whopping 88% return on investment. To enhance your video performance, consider QR codes, which have made a comeback, for example, on restaurant menus and other touchpoints. You might also look at video mailers with a built-in player. Especially for high-value targets, they’re an effective substitute to replace in-person meetings with a physical experience and get your message noticed.

Crowe Tax Connect Video Mailer (Source: McGuffin Creative Group)

Personalization/Variable Data

2019 study by Keypoint Intelligence shows that 29.2% of mail recipients are more likely to open and read your communication if it appears personalized and relevant.

Here are some ways to make a stronger human connection with personalization:

  • Don’t just personalize the name — include what you know about them and what they may need. For example, if you are a bank marketer you should provide information on a home equity loan for new homebuyers, or a mortgage if the customer recently married or had a baby.
  • Create a PURL, a personalized URL customized for the recipient. According to the ANA Response Rate Report, for respondents who track direct mail response rates, over half use online tracking capabilities (59 percent), such as PURLs. (The use of codes or coupons ranked a distant second at 29 percent, followed by call center inquiries at 25 percent.)
  • When a physical return to the branch becomes possible, use a tool such as locr maps to map out specific directions to the closest branch. Highlight how close they are to your brick and mortar or partner locations.

Design Tips

You have five seconds to get your mail opened or ditched. Let your design agency bring you more impactful ideas that are right for your specific audience:

  • Make it highly visual; we process images 60,000x faster than text
  • Use either real handwriting or for a human, genuine feel
  • Employ the envelope back as a billboard and the flap side as address side
  • Be creative with paper stocks, dimensions, inks and folds. If your potential customers value sustainability, choose eco-friendly paper stock