The ritual of gathering mail has not changed much over the years. In a typical scenario, a mail carrier delivers the mail to a residential or office mailbox, and the recipient of the mail must then decide what to do with it. Professional organizers suggest that direct mail essentially falls into two categories — the pieces that are discarded immediately and those that are kept and dealt with. In many cases, this means that the life span for junk mail is short, perhaps lasting only long enough for the recipient to walk from his or her mailbox to the front door. When it comes to the mail that is opened and dealt with, people have become more discerning over the years. In addition, the narrative that accompanies the sorting process has changed.

Aware of the power of technology and data, educated consumers and business owners are now putting more thought into their mail sorting efforts. With some promotional direct mail, the recipient might acknowledge that the piece serves a purpose, yet discard it anyway because it is not interesting or engaging. Other pieces might be discarded due to improper targeting. Suppose a loyal customer receives a piece of direct mail from a well-known brand, but it is targeted toward a prospect rather than an established customer. The recipient might then think, “I’m familiar with this brand, but they don’t seem to know me because they don’t acknowledge my loyalty.” Once again, that mail piece will miss its mark. And every once in a while, a piece of award-winning direct mail might cause the recipient to wonder why all mail can’t be done so well. Right now, you’re probably wondering… what IS award-winning direct mail? We’ll explore that shortly.

Direct Mail Experiences a Resurgence

Several studies indicate that direct mail is on the rise after years of reluctance to use it as a marketing channel. The lessons we learned from the pandemic suggest that B2B and B2C organizations need to rethink how they connect with their audiences. Direct mail creates a tactile, tangible experience that can evoke emotion by putting the brand in the hands of its customers. According to a 2020 USPS study entitled COVID Mail, people's spirits were lifted when they received physical mail. In addition, over half of respondents reported that direct mail made them feel more connected to the sender.

What Makes Direct Mail Effective?

The direct mail channel has been proven to stand out, providing differentiation from the never-ending stream of digital messages that are delivered on a daily basis. As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that direct mail response rates have held steady over the past several years. Armed with this knowledge, you might be tempted to flood your audience with more direct mail… but not so fast! Just because direct mail has rediscovered its place at the marketing table doesn’t mean you can ignore the components that make it successful in today’s multi-channel world. So what makes a piece of direct mail successful, or even award-winning? Award-winning direct mail starts by developing clear answers to the following questions:

  • What is your goal for the direct mail campaign?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What other marketing efforts are you conducting that direct mail can complement?
  • How do you want your audience members to respond to the direct mail you’ve sent them?

A Direct Mail Usage Report from USPS Delivers and Forrester Research asked marketers to address some very similar questions in 2020. After being given a long list to choose from, the majority of marketers stated that their primary objectives for using direct mail were to spark interest and trigger purchases. Marketers’ responses also revealed that email was their number one go-to for coordinating and complementing online efforts with direct mail. Desired actions in response to direct mail included website visits, program sign-ups, store visits, and, of course, purchasing a product or solution.

When it comes to the delivery of direct mail, each organization will have its own unique objectives, audience members, and desired actions. The important thing to remember is that direct mail will not be effective unless all of these unique components are well-understood. Once they have established the answers to these basic questions, marketers will be well-positioned to create meaningful and compelling offers. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying — persuasive offers are not the products and services of a brand owner. A powerful marketing message paints a picture, so the intended audience will understand the benefits they will gain if they act on the offer or lose if they do nothing.

FOMO Marketing

According to Eventbrite, fear of missing out (FOMO) is an epidemic that 69% of Millennials have experienced. As humans, we have an innate desire to be in the know or part of the action. Simply put, we don’t want to be left out. FOMO marketing is a concept that builds on this desire to be included. Although FOMO marketing historically worked best in the digital world, the sheer volume of digital messaging causes many of today’s emails and digital ads to come and go without notice. Direct mail, meanwhile, provides a deliberate physical experience. Thanks to ongoing advancements in production inkjet printing, highly effective direct mail with FOMO messaging is finding its way into more and more mailboxes with great success.

Limited-time sales and coupons can create a sense of urgency, or FOMO. Recent research suggests that consumers are more likely to engage with a direct mail offer that includes a coupon or opportunity for savings. Keypoint Intelligence’s most recent Annual State of Marketing Communications survey clarifies this point. When respondents were asked about the techniques that made them most likely to engage with a piece of printed direct mail, the use of full color was the top response, followed by the inclusion of coupons. Nearly a quarter of these consumers had made a purchase in response to a direct mail piece in the past 12 months.

Figure 1: Actions Taken in Response to Direct Mail

So what has changed, and why has direct mail become hot topic? It is likely that technological advancements have revived a traditional marketing channel and created new opportunities. Offset printing presses were once the only affordable means for producing cost-effective direct mail, but this is no longer the case. Thanks to improved image quality, better inks, drying systems, and a much-improved library of paper stocks, today's digital production inkjet presses are a vital asset to marketers. The vast advancements in direct mail printing make it easier than ever for marketers of all sizes to take advantage of its unique qualities.

The Bottom Line

All brand owners are keen to increase market share, attract new customers, and retain existing customers. All of these goals are equally important, and concentrating on one at the expense of another is like a parent admitting that he or she has a favorite child. With ongoing advancements in production inkjet technology, marketers can now use direct mail to support multiple objectives. With today's technologies, you can target your messaging to the right audience, appeal to their needs and interests, and have a direct impact on your bottom line.

Karen Kimerer of Keypoint Intelligence has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She has developed a systematic approach to these opportunities, addressing the unique requirements of becoming a leader in our changing industry. She is well-versed in 1:1 marketing, web-to-print, direct mail, book publishing, supply chain management, data segmentation, channel integration, and photo products.

Eve Padula is Senior Consulting Editor for Keypoint Intelligence’s Production Services with a focus on Business Development Strategies, Customer Communications, and Wide Format. She is responsible for creating many types of content, including forecasts, industry analyses, and research/multi-client studies. She also manages the writing, editing, and distribution cycles for many types of deliverables.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.