Why Direct Mail Still Works in a Social Media World

MailboxMany purveyors of social media have declared that traditional marketing is dead. In their minds, direct mail was the first casualty in the battle between viral and old school sales tools. Their rally cry “Stop marketing and start engaging” is gaining traction as companies seek new ways to generate revenue without increasing costs.

The idea of going viral in a social media world is appealing. It’s easy to imagine your company racking up page views on YouTube, tweets on twitter, and posts in blogs around the world. It is only a matter of time before mainstream media picks it up and your shopping carts and cash registers are filled.

I can imagine winning the lottery, too.

While stories of viral marketing entertain, most don’t offer tangible results. You know where I’m going, but I’m going to say it anyway. The purpose of business is to serve customers at a profit. Borrowing a phrase from our viral past, “where’s the beef?”

Social media is a great add-on to a solid marketing plan. When it is done well, companies are humanized and approachable. There isn’t a down side if the plan includes maintaining or enhancing the brand while continuing traditional marketing.

Unlike social media, direct mail is tangible.

You can hold it in your hand; you don’t have to store it in your head. Catalogs can be marked, post-noted, and shared. They have a longer life than a video, tweet, or post.

Direct mail can be personal and convenient.

Admittedly, many companies blast out mailing with little thought to the people opening the mailbox. They target a demographic and send thousands of pieces to uninterested parties. They can do this because it is profitable. A 1-3% response rate usually exceeds the breakeven point. (BTW, for catalogs selling “collectibles”, living in a rural area doesn’t make me interested in knick-knack dust collectors. You can stop mailing me your books.)

Sorry, I needed to get that off my mind. Some companies do it differently. They use direct mail to engage their customers. American Girl is one that immediately comes to mind. My 10-year-old daughter watches the mail daily looking for anything American Girl. She can recognize their catalog and magazine from 100 feet. Their website is bookmarked under her computer login and their books are dog-eared from multiple readings. How can any parent say no to a company that inspires a child to read historical fiction?

Direct mail is measurable from concept to completion.

How many catalogs or postcards does it take to breakeven? When will the return from the mailing peak? How long is the tail? (Some catalogs generate orders years after they were mailed.) Almost any question you have about a mailing and its return on investment can be answered with analysis.

Social media is exciting, fun, intriguing, and should be included in your marketing plan. It is not a replacement for direct mail. Beware anyone who tells you differently.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Paul Ardoin

    I agree that direct mail is still effective. Just as importantly, the buzz and hype around social media and email marketing has led to increased noise in those spaces, and reduced noise in direct mail (and print advertising too).

    As the director of marketing for a B2B software company, I want good value for my marketing dollar. Right now, advertising via print and direct mail means competing with fewer vendors for prospects’ attention, and usually paying less than I would have five years ago.

  • Anna Barcelos

    Great blog post Deb. I also work for a traditional business that offers direct mail as one of the solutions to B2Bs. Our customers still use it as their main marketing channel for the reasons you’ve listed above. Integration is key with all the channels to make direct mail even more powerful, and that’s what we are working to educate our customers on.

  • Debra Ellis

    Paul, Good point on the reduction of noise. Less means more opportunity to catch that elusive attention span.

    Anna, it’s good to know that some marketing firms are still guiding their clients towards a multichannel experience. Listening in the social media world makes one wonder if everyone has left an effective tool behind.!

  • Bill V

    So the reasons DM is better are the same reasons DM has been used for years. In other words, no apparant threat.

    [That being said, I think I will post this story on one of the social media sites I belong to]

  • Debra Ellis

    Bill, thank you for stopping by and commenting. DM works as a marketing tool because it is effective at generating a positive return on investment. It has an arsenal of proven tactics that motivate people to buy. I don’t view it as a threat to SM or SM as a threat to DM. They are different tools that work together to create a unique customer experience.

    Please feel free to post it on any or all of the sites you belong to. If you would like to share your information, maybe we could connect.

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