Is Direct Mail Marketing Dying?

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On May 17, 2010, DMNews mused: “Is Direct Mail on its Deathbed?”: As consumers communicate more via e-mail, the US Postal Service is considering cutting Saturday home delivery altogether.

I was at an Atlanta DMA meeting a few months ago when many people were complaining and fretting (and some almost having conniptions) about the possibility of the loss of Saturday delivery, and the potential negative effects on their business. Frankly, I didn’t get it. I hail from Canada where there has been no Saturday delivery for decades. Business still works there.

As Ford Prefect told Arthur Dent: “Don’t Panic!” (yes, an obscure Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference I haven’t been able to work into a blog entry until now). Companies will simply need to rejigger how they staff and fulfill orders without Saturday delivery.

Potential Reason to Panic!: The more important conundrum, I thought, is how these companies are going to survive and thrive, since many of their competitors are moving to alternate marketing delivery methods that don’t include using a postage stamp.

Direct Mail has paid much of my grocery bill over the years. However, direct mail as we historically know it is dying in the USA. Then again, many companies thought direct mail was personalizing one letter or postcard for all and shooting it out with a figurative shotgun (or a blunderbuss) at passing geese and hoping they hit something: “spray and pray.” Some companies, such as much of the cable tv and consumer telecom industry, still use that approach.

Direct mail cannot be a stand-alone thing any more. It needs to be an integral part of “Integrated Marketing,” and scientifically delivered via sniper rifle: consistency of message and the complementary use of media. Direct mail, when properly implemented, can still be a powerful way to acquire new customers and increase revenues from existing customers.

Those companies that insist on the old model will be regretting it. The fat lady is warming up for those that depend on these for survival or growth:
– catalogs
– post cards and self-mailers
– non-targeted non-CRM databases
– one-way marketing messaging instead of two-way conversations
– “junk” mailers
– companies not adding the 5th P (People) to the existing 4.

Going forward, companies succeeding with direct mail will need to be more like scientists than the creatives, accountants or direct marketing wannabe advertisers that have dominated the industry.

Jonathan Blaine

I've always called myself a "Marketing Guy." If I had a brand and logo, perhaps that would be my slogan. Measuring ROI is huge. Just because you're now using "new media" does not mean marketing fundamentals should be discarded. Customers' desires do not change. I'm a "right-brained creative analytical" guy (if you can fathom such a thing) who looks at a project several different ways. My first instinct is usually the correct one. I'm a "doer," and often a "diplomatic fixer;" someone who gets things done and still gets a thrill out of customers actually buying something because of something I mailed to them, or an ad I placed. Most of my success has come from strategy, writing, how ideas are presented to the potential customer and the actual thoughts that somehow originate within the ether between my ears. As a fan of DM guru Denny Hatch, I believe that the brand should never outweigh the message, and that art should never win over copy. The mix has to be “just right.” And continually tested. I have solid ryttan, err, written and verbal communication skills, and a reputation for consistently producing cost-effective quality work.

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