Does Direct Mail Marketing Work? Not for Those that Despise Junk Mail

  • Posted on: 4 September 2015
  • By: LMP
Junk mail pile

Advertising is a tricky prospect for marketing efforts. It is always a guessing game, even with the most sophisticated tracking tools and analytics software. And, as we discussed in a previous post, advertising to as many people as possible (without precise demographic targeting) may actually deter people from buying your product or service. There is something to be said about annoying customers with a bombardment of unsolicited or unwanted advertising. Much of this advertising comes in the form of junk mail to our email inboxes, but there is another form of annoying junk mail as well. It is called direct mail.

We have all received junk direct mail marketing in the form of brochures, pamphlets, leaflets, coupon teasers, catalogs, postcards, booklets, magazine-style savings clippers, shoppers and a number of other schemes designed to entice us to purchase. Does it really work? The answer is mostly, no, but also yes, if done correctly. Ask any millennial (those born between the mid-eighties and early 2000s) if they appreciate having to throw away heaps of wasted paper that came from the living trees that provide the earth (an in turn, human beings) with much needed oxygen. Most of them will tell you that they can't stand getting that kind of crap sent to their mailbox. Much of it ends up in a waste basket or used as scratch paper.

There are caveats, though. Direct mail tends to still be quite effective for older folks, and in some cases (very rare) direct mail can be attractive to a younger audience. In order for it to be effective to reach people in their 20s/30s, however, it must be extremely targeted. Like, extremely. For example, if the campaign is able to reach very targeted niche groups that are already interested in those kinds of products, services, related lifestyles, etc. then it may work. Someone who is an athlete, for example, probably would take a second look at a direct mailer that is marketing related sporting goods. The chances are better, anyway. This has always been the focus for search engines like Google and social media channels like Facebook. It is why they are so effective, because marketers can be extremely precise and target users based on their interests, which are inevitably discovered through search and Internet browsing history, among other factors. Direct mail lacks this kind of sophisticated targeting. Therefore, it is best to use it when you already know more information about the people that you are sending it to.

In a world dominated by choices and a customer's empowerment to make choices, the direct mail model mostly fails because it is pushing unwanted messaging. The same can be said of text message marketing and telemarketing. People absolutely hate that kind of advertising, especially if the message does not relate to their own interests.

Direct mail still tends to be popular in local advertising markets because of the promise made to hit thousands or even millions of households for a very low price. But if a large chunk of those mailers get thrown away, then aren't you really just flushing your hard earned money down the toilet? Wouldn't it be more effective to advertise your message in a publication that is relevant to the prospective customer's lifestyle, age, income level, education and any number of other factors? Plus, those potential customers that actually choose to pay attention to your message are those most likely to become actual customers now or in the future. They are also more likely to become brand advocates and spread the message to their friends through word of mouth, a priceless function of marketing that saves you big bucks over time.

There are a few kinds of businesses that can still benefit greatly from direct mail sent to every household, no matter the demographic. However, these are the kinds of businesses that cut across all demographic lines such as restaurants (Culver's is one great example of good direct mail marketing). There aren't that many other businesses, though, that can deliver sales to every kind of customer the way food businesses can and that is mostly due to the fact that ALL people eat (not just to survive, but that is one part of the equation for sure). Housing may be another similar example (all demographics of people need dwelling space) So, unless you are a restaurant, real estate group or landlord, direct mail is probably a waste of advertising budget for your business.

Image credit: Dvortygirl via Wikimedia Commons

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