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Is direct mail a waste of money nowadays?

Direct mail isn’t dead. A bunch of stuff came through my letterbox this morning, and I read at least one of the pieces. And that was relatively untargeted stuff. When you send out direct mail, it’s to an expensively-assembled and potentially great mailing list, right? So direct mail can still produce results. The problem is that most of us have forgotten what makes it work.

Here’s what happens. We’re all assuming that the best place to acquaint people with our company and our offers nowadays is our website. That’s almost certainly a fair assumption. So we then make the mistake of using every medium to drive people to the website. And that’s where things start to go wrong.

The problem is that people find it very hard to “switch media”. Email them a URL, or show them a link on a web page they were reading, and they’ll click on it. Give them a piece of paper with a URL on it and tell them to type that into their browser though, and that’s a different matter. Unless the offer really is stunning, the best you can probably hope for is that they’ll put the piece of paper to one side and look up the website when they’re next online. Even if they’re reading a magazine in front of their computer, it’s more likely they’ll want to finish the magazine than stop what they’re doing and switch to a PC to look up something.

Sending someone to your website is not an appropriate action to request from a piece of printed material. Compare it to a telephone call, if you like. You would use the call to tell someone about your offer, not to suggest they visited your website. You’d get a response from them verbally too. Similarly, your direct mail needs to explain everything, in isolation. Response might need to be by mail too. Don’t use the existence – and effectiveness – of your website as a reason to be lazy and fail to tell the whole story in print.

Whether even the best direct mail still represents a good return on investment is another matter.

2 thoughts on “Is direct mail a waste of money nowadays?”

  1. Good to hear that conventional marketing techniques aren’t dead just yet! There are synergies between on-line and direct mail: a well designed landing page for an on-line promotion with a call to arms, special offer or new product catalogue request, incorporating a simple form, could also be used as an effective direct mail shot with a bit of tweaking. Keep it corporate with a precise message and make it as easy to want to respond as possible. When you’ve done all that, have a think again about whether you really want to post it or would it be better to send it digitally now that you’ve revisited your landing page.

  2. That’s a really good point actually Chris. As you know, I’m an advocate of the wonderful world of digital marketing but I also think sometimes people are too tempted to apply a successful tactic across every medium they use just because it worked in one.

    There are things that should be universal; your cornerstone message for instance or your specific product related messages. And there are things that are not universal and the tactical application of a marketing medium is one of these.

    I often feel the same when I see things like ‘’ proudly emblazoned on the side of a stand at a trade show. It presents a barrier that the potential customer has to overcome before they can find out more.

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