Why the Surprising Rise of Direct Mail Is No Surprise at All

The original target marketing remains underutilized—here’s why brands should check their physical send box

Take a closer look at the performance marketing industry and you’ll notice everyone trying to catch the next consumer headwind and ride every percentage uptick as long as possible. We’re constantly riding a wave of data—response rates, conversion rates, abandon rates—all in the name of better ROI.

Lately, we’ve seen a shift away from paid digital ads toward a new direction: direct mail. But it’s not a surprising change in course once you take a deeper dive into current conditions.

Digital ads have been in the spotlight for years as savvy marketers attempt to make waves online, but they are becoming increasingly ineffective. Firefox and Safari have already done away with third-party cookies, and Google is phasing them out by the end of 2024.

While consumers report increasing amounts of media fatigue, costs to run digital advertisements continue to skyrocket. Last year, some marketers saw spend increases more than double. Meta’s 2021 end-of-year summary showed an across-the-board 24% price-per-ad increase while only delivering a 10% increase in impressions.

Further, Meta recently released second quarter numbers, which reflected their first-ever drop in revenue, anticipating that Q3 could fall even lower this year. Twitter, Google and Snapchat also published disappointing results. The unsettled economy has a part to play in these lows, but performance marketers are catching on to the fact that digital ads are eroding in value, and they’re reinvesting in other, more promising channels.

Formulating a better funnel

When traffic is packed on the highway, you take the road less traveled, right? Direct mail is the backroad to which many advertisers are turning.

The USPS reported that marketing mail volume dropped 15% between 2019 and 2020, while shipping/package volume increased 18%. This reveals people still enjoy receiving mail, but it’s an underutilized tool with less competition in the mailbox.

Consumers are looking at mail longer as well. MarketReach reported that after the lockdowns in 2020, people spent 36 seconds longer looking at their mail during the week and 7 minutes and 12 seconds longer on the weekends.

Traditionally, direct mail has functioned as a top-of-funnel brand marketing tool used to raise brand awareness. But direct mail innovations have turned the tide, and today it has a place in every part of the sales funnel to elicit direct buying responses.

You can now automate direct mail campaigns based on online behaviors—down to the fully responsive, individual level you’d get with digital ads. Visitors on your site for over a minute without converting? They get a postcard the next day. Online shoppers that abandon full shopping carts? Their next-day mailer has a special promo code for 20% off. Clients who’ve spent over $50,000 this year with a birthday or anniversary coming up? They’re getting a personalized postcard “signed” by the whole team.

The integrations that automate these direct mail functions can be hooked up to your CRM directly or linked through a third party like Zapier than can automate the workflow for you by connecting your CRM or website to a direct mail provider. You’ll want to do some research on the connection you choose to ensure you’re linking to a company that’s reliable if (and when) an issue should arise. A good mailer will guarantee 90% deliverability on mail pieces when they provide the list and keeps their printing in-house to ensure quality control.

Ultimately, direct mail still has a place top-of-funnel, but now its efficacies can be applied at scale all the way down the funnel to drive results.

Mailers are driving response rates higher

Direct mail is downright performing better—driving higher engagement rates this year than last—and the data proves it.

Looking at six high-volume mail industries, which mailed 50,000 pieces or more in Q1 and Q2 of 2021 and 2022, we find average engagements per mailer increased roughly 20%.

In this data set, a single engagement includes recipients either scanning a QR code on a mail piece, visiting a website via the unique URL printed on the card or making a call or text to the printed phone number (a unique call tracking number). The total impressions resulted from retargeted digital ads on Google and social media after the mail piece was delivered.

Not only is direct mail engagement trending up, you could argue that the intent built into a single offline-to-online engagement carries 10 times the value of a single online click.

Direct mail has always been an excellent way to get attention and eyes on your message, and now new technologies are making it more personalized, scalable, affordable and trackable. Implementing it now will help you catch the wave to better ROIs before it crests.

Originally published on adweek.com.

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