Does direct mail have a place in the digital world?

We often see articles proclaiming that certain forms of marketing are ‘dead’ and that others, such as digital marketing are “the future” of marketing. The latest claim is that “SEO is dead”.

All such bold statements are taken with a pinch of salt here at C4B Media. But they do get us thinking.

The marketing boffins would have us believe that over the next few years, such is the all-pervading power of digital, traditional advertising and direct mail could disappear completely.

Before we go further, some stats: over £1 billion has now been spent on UK mobile advertising alone. By the end of 2014 it will tip £2 billion. A YouGov report also predicts that by the end of 2014 nearly half of UK households will have a tablet computer, while Cisco estimates that video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic by 2017.

Whichever way you see it, the trends are obvious: digital technology growth rampant and digital marketing will grow with it.

To give this some context, as little as 10 years ago SEO was a new phenomenon. It was adopted widely, but considered by many an unfathomable form of wizardry, understood only by a new breed of internet geeks.

Yet today, while still a key element of many digital marketing strategies, SEO is no longer the domain of specialists alone, and indeed is seen by some as redundant, as Google has made ‘relevant content’ the core criterion for page rank.

With inbound, social media, content marketing, remarketing, PPC, blogs, audio and video among the standard tools now employed by digital marketing professionals, it’s tempting to think that ‘traditional’ methods of outbound marketing such as direct mail, telemarketing and display advertising have had their day.


But have they?


While many digital marketing tools and methods are still evolving, direct mail is one of the oldest, simplest and most enduring of all marketing forms. Dating back to the Ancient Egyptians, most of the types of direct mail that we see today (e.g. DM letters, leaflets, postcards, catalogues etc) originate from the late 19th century.

Paradoxically, the very technologies that helped direct mail reach its peak popularity in the mid-20th century, because they helped marketers create ever more pinpoint targeted campaigns, also led to its decline. Computers helped us target more accurately, but at the same time introduced new and better ways of getting our messages out.

In the face of overwhelming arguments against direct mail, is there still a place for it in today’s digitally dominated marketing mix?

Here are 5 reasons why you should consider including an element of direct mail in your mix next time you look at your marketing budget:


  1. Killer marketing campaigns work in any form

The basic ingredients of killer marketing campaigns have not changed much – it at all – over the decades. With the application of skill and creativity, these ingredients will yield returns no matter what the medium:

  • Correctly targeted audience
  • Compelling, need-based, tailored message
  • Strong, incentivised and often time-constrained offer
  • Clear, concise call to action


  1. Digital ‘drowning’ syndrome

A key problem with digital technology is that what works in its favour also works against it. It’s so easy to use that anyone can do it – meaning that digital communications are everywhere. Accordingly we all have ways to avoid them.

Emails are easily blocked, avoided, missed, lost or drowned out amongst the rest of the “online noise”. Spam folders can block everything other than ‘white listed’ domains, for example.


  1. The impact of mechanics

Despite its shortcomings, research shows that direct mail still has the power to influence purchases when it is properly targeted and impactful. A well-designed, differently innovative and ‘mechanical’ direct mail piece will at worst generate interest and at best generate a response.

A two part DM campaign whose first drop requires the recipient to take an action in order to receive a benefit via a second drop, though expensive, may be remarkable enough to make the desired impact, especially where the product is a high-ticket item or the client relationship cycle is a long one.


  1. The joined-up theory

Direct mail works well as part of and in conjunction with other marketing media such as email, telemarketing, advertising or PR. This is joined-up approach is known as ‘integrated’ because it consistently and repeatedly pushes the same message, each time reinforcing the same benefits.

Again the approach favours the big ticket selling, deep-pocketed marketer because of the obvious cost, but multi-channel integrated marketing that gets the sales message across again and again is still possible for those with comparatively low marketing budgets.


  1. Beautiful simplicity

Physical, printed direct mail is one of the simplest forms of marketing. Done well, the simple things often work best. The simple physical mail piece also lends itself to one of the most natural human emotions: anticipation.

People actually like to open mail (and parcels), and in the world of B2B marketing, the mail piece has become a rarity. So envelopes mostly get opened, even if the offer inside is not relevant.

But in some cases, it is, and will continue to be.

Our view at C4B Media? There’s room for every type of marketing medium, channel and activity in the marketing mix. As ever, what you decide to do depends on your journey: what you are trying to achieve with your marketing, and how much you want to spend on doing it.

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