HubSpot misses the mark on calling direct mail “interruptive”

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Is it simply HubSpot preaching to its digital marketing choir?  Is it ignorance?  Or both?  Or, perhaps, it is simply a case of Hubspot tooting its own inbound marketing horn under the guise of an editorial.  Whatever the situation, it was extremely off base during its attack on the US Postal Service’s “Every Door Direct Mail” campaign to increase the use of direct mail via small businesses “micro-targeting” potential customers.

Brian Halligan, founder of HubSpot and MIT senior lecturer, wrote on his Inbound Internet Marketing Blog:

“Consumers are continuing to ignore these interruptive communications, and much of the junk mail people receive ends up in their trash bins. The fact is, traditional marketing strategies that businesses have long adopted — including direct mail — are less effective now that the Internet has changed the way people research and shop; it’s the other marketing tactics that adapt to these changing buyer behaviors that are gaining traction among marketers.” – Dear US Postal Service: Please Stop Encouraging Direct Mail, HubSpot, March 22, 2012

What is wrong with this statement?  Let me count the ways!

The Internet is Much More Interruptive

Direct mail is “interruptive communications?” What an amazing, inaccurate, and perhaps ignorant, statement.  Interruptive compared to what?  Internet pop up windows (or, more infuriating, those pop-unders)?  Ads getting in the way of my use of the Internet on almost any site I visit?   Email spam?   Twitter and LinkedIn spam?  Or those disruptive floating messages begging me to order a white paper, take a “survey” that is really a sales pitch, or subscribe before they let me read “free” articles?  And direct mail can’t adapt?  It has, and does.  Every day.  (Update: Marketing guru Denny Hatch published an excellent article about “ Is Chasing Me All Over the Internet!” on April 3.  An inbound marketer might find “remarketing” an excellent way to drum up sales, but I find it creepy, and yes, extremely interruptive and invasive — akin to trying on a pair of shoes at a store, and then having the salesman follow me around town for a week.)

I use ad blockers everywhere I can, but many of these interruptions still sneak through or force me to interact, wasting precious time.  Companies do not spend billions of dollars every year to block direct mail as they do spam.  You really can’t be spammed with direct mail, as it’s damned expensive for the marketer.  Spam is extremely cheap, and wastes millions of worker hours each year.  Personally, I have spent uncounted hours during my Internet existence cleaning out spam folders and setting up systems to keep it at bay.  These systems largely work OK for my personal or corporate email systems I control, but I still need to scan my spam folders in case something important got misclassified by the antispam software.  Yahoo Mail is another story all together — Spam City!

Then there are the email “opt out” systems I need to navigate; many of which do not work as legally required, or force me to remember some password I last used 5 years ago.  And there are companies that do not offer such a mechanism embedded in their emails; they wrongly think they have a legal existing relationship with me because I registered software in 2007 to get a rebate, or for some other ridiculous reason.  Sage Peachtree is the most recent offender in my personal experience (which I reported to the Federal Trade Commission after they ignored my repeated requests to opt out via email to their customer service department).  More wasted time.  Undoubtedly, this amounts to many, many hours collectively over the past decade.

Consumers Prefer Direct Mail and Trust It More

Direct mail is not “interruptive” — it takes 5 seconds to deposit unwanted postal mail into the recycle bin — the real 3D one in my house.  And it is very effective for small businesses to target and blanket their local neighborhoods, which is exactly what the USPS is promoting with this campaign; I’m guessing HubSpot missed that part.  “Inbound Internet” marketers like Mr. Halligan cannot say that his methods can be as effective in this regard.

In fact, 50% of consumers prefer direct mail to email according to a study conducted by marketing services firm Epsilon, and 25% found it more trustworthy:

“Of the 2,226 U.S. consumers surveyed for the third Consumer Channel Preference Study, 60% said they enjoy checking their physical mailboxes, highlighting what the study refers to as an ’emotional connection’ to postal mail.” DMNews, December 1, 2011

Attitudes toward postal mail and email

Trust Levels in online channels and mediumsSource: Consumer Channel Preference Study, Epsilon Targeting, 2011

Halligan may be an award-winning Internet entrepreneur, but apparently doesn’t think much of “marketing integration,” although he pays some lip service to it in his article.  News Flash!:  Some of the most successful campaigns utilize a mix that includes direct mail.  Everything does not have to be a new, shiny object to attract attention and generate revenue and sales, nor necessarily fit on an iPhone screen.

Spray and Pray Inhabits the Internet, too

Direct mail is still very powerful. What is going away (thankfully) are the “spray and pray” advertisers who thought direct mail was taking an ad and sticking a label on it, and perhaps buying lists that had no correlation to what they were selling.  And, yes, those same types of people now inhabit the web, email, mobile and social media worlds.

Real direct marketers who use marketing science, analytics, internal “house lists” and demographics always knew better, and are still extremely effective.  And they realize they can be more effective when using a measurable mix of every marketing channel available — including Uncle Sam’s post office.

By the way, I recently received a $50 AdWords certificate from Google in my “snail mail box.”  Maybe HubSpot should tell Google that direct mail doesn’t work before it “wastes” more money!  But, I doubt Google will take note, as any successful business knows it needs passive (inbound) and active (outbound) marketing to be successful, in a myriad of forms.

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.

One Reply to “HubSpot misses the mark on calling direct mail “interruptive””

  1. This gem crossed my path a couple of days ago… Apparently, HubSpot uses the US Postal Service for marketing. Believe it. This from Bettina Horvath of in How to take Inbound Marketing off the screen and blow minds:

    It happened while collecting snail mail, yes the variety you get via the post office. The only type of snail mail I get these days are statements that need to be filed so I usually only collect it once a month or so (from the post box). Turns out, I should do this more regularly. I found a slip telling me to collect an item that’s too big for the box.
    That was intriguing. I didn’t expect any item bigger than a standard envelope. So I went inside to collect my item – a box from ….. HubSpot!!! I stood there and wondered, what? HubSpot? What on earth would they be sending me? I talk to them a lot in various ways but nobody ever mentioned anything along the lines of “I’m going to send you this in the mail”.
    Not waiting to get home I ripped the thing open and guess what, there’s a little present in there, a lovely orange beach mat (orange is their corporate colour and is also one of my favourites) and a handwritten card.
    Yes, a handwritten card. Just savour this moment if you will. When last did you receive a handwritten card?
    It said: “Bettina, Thank you so much for the kind words you said on Facebook about HubSpot. It really made our day. Hopefully this small thank you gift will make yours a little brighter.” [Insert sound a blown mind makes]

    So, although HubSpot did not use Uncle Sam’s mail service for prospecting, it certainly did for retention and engagement.

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