Despite previous cries of millennials being industry killers, haphazardly and indiscriminately giving the proverbial axe to anything from beer to fabric softener to chain restaurants, they may provide the greatest reviving shock to the direct mail industry. Objectively speaking, it doesn’t make much sense: how could millennials, who are predominantly defined as digital natives with multiple social media and email accounts, tech-savvy, and reluctant to talk on the phone versus sending an email, be the savior of an advertising channel that some say dates back to 1000 BC?

It’s because — or in spite — of this digital inundation that makes millennials the prime candidates for direct mail offers. Maybe it’s because of their upbringing around technology that makes direct mail something of a novelty. It could also easily be that millennials, being penny pinchers themselves, recognize the effort and exclusivity that comes with a printed communication. But perhaps the biggest boon direct mail offers is its ability to create connection without contact; something that’s become increasingly crucial during the pandemic.

There are plenty of theories and factors as to why mail continues to make such an impact in ROI. The tactile nature of mail connects with the human brain in a way that digital content can’t, which results in a significantly higher emotional connect and message recall. The amount of mail received vs the amount of email received creates an environment in which mail is perceived as being more valuable and urgent. Promotional emails are often caught by spam filters or deleted within seconds of receiving, while the life span of physical mail averages around 17 days. But regardless of the reason why, evidence proves that millennials value mail.

Millennials + Mail = A Winning Combination

The USPS has found that 90% of millennials find direct mail reliable, with 62% sorting, opening, and reading their mail for more than 13 minutes, making them the generation that engages with mail the most. In fact, according to data from MarketingCharts, 75% of millennials find that the mail they receive is valuable, and 90% of millennials prefer direct mail over email when talking about promotional items.

Compared to older generations, millennials have reported being “happy to receive” coupons for local businesses, promotion mail from companies they’ve purchased from in the past, and promotion mail from companies they know but don’t typically buy from. Importantly, two out of three millennials have taken action after receiving the mailing. Even when shopping online, 73% of millennials use direct mail coupons, and a Valassis study states that 72% of millennials say print ads spur them to make online purchases and millennials are 24% more likely to show their mailed offers to others.

The marketing efforts millennials receive via other channels, like email and social, are shown to become more effective when mail is added to the mix, with 60% of consumers also more likely to make a purchase of an item or service they first experienced digitally after seeing it mimicked again in mail. Including direct mail as part of any multi/omnichannel strategy has proven to increase response in all channels. PFL’s The State of Multichannel Marketing 2020 states that 84% of multichannel marketers say that direct mail improves their overall campaign performance, and that campaigns with direct mail compared to those without receive almost a 20% lift in ROI. Yet, only 44% of multichannel marketers report using direct mail, making it an under-utilized tool that resonates with a large audience.

What’s even more intriguing than millennials preferring mail over email is how the pandemic has actually helped with response rates. According to Pitney Bowes, more than half of millennials think receiving mail is more important than ever. In the RARC report: Millennials and the Mail, a staggering 87% of millennials reported that they like receiving marketing mail, impacted at least in part by the increase of millennials working from home. Millennials’ affection for mail during lockdown and quarantines may partially stem from having a trip to the mailbox register as one of the more exciting parts of the day.

Direct mail reported an eight percent jump in effectiveness from 2019 to 2020, marking the largest gains in overall effectiveness in any channel. A research compilation on why direct mail volumes continued to soar during the pandemic, when many advertisers were pulling back, found seven out of 10 saying they would rather get mail over email. Meanwhile, 92% of consumers say they prefer looking at direct mail when making shopping decisions, and 76% of those who used direct mail to make a purchase say they would strongly consider doing repeat business with those brands, altogether leading to purchases that are five times larger than what is seen from those who used email.

The millennial preference for mail is a place to start when “saving” the direct market mail industry, but it can’t be done by preference alone. Marketers still need to find the sweet spot when it comes to frequency, messaging, and channel mix to continue mail’s relevancy with younger generations. Personalization continues to resonate with consumers and spur action (it’s a fun aside to note that 67% see physical mail as being more personable), while offer relevancy keeps open rates high and brand loyalty strong as additional campaigns are sent out. PFL’s report states 82% of brands that use integrated, branded, and personalized direct mail report that the channel is effective at marketing to consumers, making it the most effective channel for reaching target audiences. Yet, it also warns that data accuracy, understanding audience needs, and branding are the top factors that will make the message effective.

It’s up to marketers who understand the value of mail to save the industry with smarter marketing, but if they’re looking for a place to start, there isn’t a demographic more willing to tear open the envelope than millennials.

Ashley Leone is marketing and corporate communications coordinator at IWCO Direct, where she researches and writes for a variety of channels on a range of topics, including millennial marketing trends and purchasing habits. She can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.