Over the past decade, businesses have increasingly turned to digital marketing strategies to reach their target audiences. While digital marketing has proven to be effective in many ways, it's still important not to overlook the power of print. A printed mail piece such as a brochure, postcard, or catalog can be much more memorable than even the most sophisticated digital marketing efforts. There are a few reasons for this. First and foremost, a printed mail piece is tangible. It's something that can be held in your hand, touched, and even smelled. This tactile experience creates a deeper connection with the piece and with the brand it represents. This is in stark contrast with an email or social media post that can be easily scrolled past and forgotten.
Printed mail can actually stand out in a world that’s bombarded with digital noise. Consider the number of emails you receive in a given day or how you might scroll through social media feeds while completely ignoring the marketing ads that attempt to get your attention. In today’s electronic era, it’s easy for digital messages to get lost in the shuffle. Meanwhile, a printed mail piece might catch your attention precisely because it's not digital. In addition, well-designed printed mail pieces can take advantage of various design elements that digital marketing cannot. For instance, a printed piece can use various paper stocks, finishes, and inks to create a unique look and feel. Incorporating die cuts, embossing, and other finishing techniques can add dimension and depth to a printed message. Personalization is another way to create a stronger connection with your audience and make a printed piece feel more relevant and important.
Perhaps this is why direct mail continues to play a powerful role in modern marketing strategies. This article explores the impact of direct mail, considers why marketers continue to use it, and discusses how digital integration can further affect a direct mail campaign.
The Power of Print in a World of E-Mail Overload
Recent data from Statista reveals that the American remote worker receives an average of 170 emails per week. Meanwhile, the average household mailbox gets fewer than seven direct mail pieces weekly. To put this in perspective, think about how you’d manage your incoming mail if you received on average 28 pieces of physical mail six days a week. Would you start to feel indifferent if so many brands were sending you printed advertisements? Because consumers receive only one direct mail piece each day on average, brands have an opportunity to use print to stand out and connect with their audience. As a result, it’s not surprising that business respondents to a recent Keypoint Intelligence survey said that their direct mail spend was nearly equal to their digital marketing spend. What’s more, 68% of respondents plan to increase their direct mail spend over the next two years.
Figure 1: Printed Direct Mail Spending Outlook
As marketers continue to compete for mindshare, they must find a way to put that print to work so they can get the most from their investment. After all, it’s quite difficult to measure engagement with static mail. It should therefore come as no surprise that nearly 70% of marketers responding to this same survey are integrating a digital call to action with their printed direct mail. The primary drivers are a need to measure campaign effectiveness and a desire to improve the overall customer experience.
Direct mail and email continue to sit at the top of the list when it comes to the most popular channels used to reach an audience. When marketers are asked why they continue to use direct mail, one of the top reasons is that print is easy to use. It provides a tactile experience that engages the audience in its own unique way. If used correctly, direct mail can be very effective, which might be why over a third of survey respondents plan to make direct mail a priority moving forward.
Figure 2: Direct Marketing Channels and Priorities
The great debate over whether printed or electronic content is better for retention and prompting people to act continues to unfold. The answer often depends on the type of content consumed and personal preferences, but here’s what we do know — when reading content online, our brains are being retrained to skim and scan. Much of what we read on-screen tends to be basic text messages and social media posts that are easy to understand. According to researchers at the University of Maryland, “when people read on-screen, their eyes scan the pages and words faster than if they’re reading from a piece of paper.” Fast skimming of new messages can make connecting with a brand and truly absorbing the marketing message difficult.
Even so, today’s marketers must consider the most impactful medium while also focusing on the media that their customers are using the most. While printed content is potentially more powerful, the massive shift to mobile devices for many daily activities cannot be ignored. Therefore, a mix of communication channels is often the best solution. The nature of the product or service being promoted is another important factor in determining how to allocate media budgets. Large format catalogs may be more effective when selling fine home furnishings or high-end clothing, but quick on-screen marketing messages may be more effective for transactional purchases.
When promoting a brand through print, it is important to remember that a good digital experience is also necessary to complete the sale. In the end, the objective is to offer the customer the best possible experience, regardless of the medium employed. Therefore, integrating digital links with printed direct mail is a best practice. Keypoint Intelligence’s research confirms that 96% of survey respondents are using a call-to-action in their printed direct mail to pull the recipient into a digital experience. On average, those who do include digital links with their printed pieces report a 5.7% improvement in response rates.
Figure 3: Integrating Digital with Printed Direct Mail
Preferences for Direct Mail by Generation
The effectiveness of printed direct mail also has a lot to do with consumer preferences. Research published by the United States Postal Service (USPS) reveals that many people would be disappointed if they stopped receiving physical mail altogether. As might be expected, responses to this question varied by age.
Table 1: Preferences for Direct Mail Vary by Age
Share of Respondents that Would be Disappointed if they Stopped Receiving Mail
Gen Z (Born 1997 – 2004)
Millennials (Born 1981 – 1996)
Gen X (Born 1965 – 1980)
Baby Boomers (Born 1946 – 1964)
Source: USPS’s Generational Research Report
Although the oldest respondents were the most likely to state that they’d be disappointed if they stopped receiving direct mail, the fact is that well over one-third of respondents across all age demographics would miss receiving printed direct mail. This might have something to do with the amount of time we spend online. According to recent data, the average American spends a little over seven hours looking at a screen each day. To put this into perspective, some people spend more time looking at screens than they spend sleeping!
All businesses understand the importance of building relationships with their customers and prospects; the customer experience has become key for success in today’s world. In many cases, though, the different generations will have definable preferences when it comes to communication style. For example:
· Gen Z consumers tend to value authenticity, diversity, and social responsibility. They typically support brands that align with their values and are transparent about their actions and beliefs. Gen Z also tends to prefer personalized and interactive experiences, and they love visual content and YouTube videos.
· Millennials value convenience and efficiency. Brands that offer fast and easy online shopping experiences are more likely to appeal to this age group, so this is all the more reason to integrate online shopping opportunities with printed direct mail. Millennials are social media power users, so printed direct mail that links to Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok may be effective.
· Gen X consumers want brands to be honest and straightforward about their products and services. They also tend to be more skeptical of marketing messages and may conduct their own research before making a purchase. A direct mail piece with a digital link can be the perfect way to quench their thirst for information.
· Baby Boomers often prioritize quality, reliability, and customer service over trendy or flashy marketing campaigns. They typically value established brands with a proven history of providing value to their customers. A solid straightforward direct mail campaign will often serve their interests well. A QR code that leads to customer testimonials can be the icing on the cake for this generation.
The Bottom Line
Direct mail is an essential part of any successful marketing strategy. Consumers of all ages crave a mix of digital and physical interactions with the brands they love, so make sure you’re reaching them across a variety of channels! Investing the time into understanding your audience's needs will help ensure that each dollar spent in direct mail reaches its full potential. When used correctly, the direct mail channel can generate real results — now and in the future.