Direct mail in a digital world: Why it’s still relevant and increasingly important

As marketing channels come under increasing pressure to get and retain a customer’s attention, the medium with the highest cut-through rate is direct mail. Research by Australia Post (PDF 298kB) shows that more than 90 per cent of Australians read their mail, 60 per cent read it thoroughly and 54 per cent store it for later reference.

Direct mail is still relevant in the digital world as it provokes a response through other channels. A recent survey from the International Post Corporate (IPC) found that 44 per cent of regular cross-border online consumers made an online purchase as a result of receiving direct mail from an online retailer.

Customers don’t perceive a brand experience in individual or siloed marketing channels. They expect a consistent, personalised message at every stage of their journey and this makes it tough to find out exactly which channel triggers the final purchase decision.

“Mail is still, and perhaps increasingly, an important part of the mix for a multi-faceted marketing strategy,” explains Australia Post’s Product Specialist Damien Gesterkamp.

“It now provides the same valuable benefits as digital channels from specific targeting to testing, measurability and a proven ROI. But we also know that the overall response is greater when it’s coupled with other channels. For example, brand recall is 40 per cent higher when direct mail is followed up with an email.”

Timing, audience and the offer itself all impact the overall effectiveness of any multichannel campaign. “When mail is well targeted and well written, it gets much better cut-through,” confirms Gesterkamp.

The renaissance of direct mail

Rather than being responsible for its demise, data is instead fuelling the re-emergence of direct mail by informing a more personalised, focused effort and ensuring the best use of marketing budgets.

Australia Post's research (PDF 298kB) consistently shows direct mail is effective across all age groups and demographics, for three key reasons.

First, it’s tangible. You can hold it in your hand, which gives it value, trustworthiness and substance. You have to physically engage with a piece of mail by opening the envelope or plastic seal to read it.

Second, receiving mail is rare these days so your message is more likely to be noticed in an empty letterbox than an overflowing Inbox, even by younger audiences. “Our research found that 77 per cent of millennials pay attention to direct mail,” notes Gesterkamp.

Third, a well-executed direct mail campaign can make the recipient feel valued. This is an emotion the not-for-profit sector draws on for both acquisition and retention campaigns.

“Personalised mail evokes an emotional response,” explains David Thomas, founder of Bug Communication, a brand agency that specialises in not-for-profit marketing. “When they’re holding your message in their hands, you’re already part of a more connected customer journey.”

He says mail is still the primary channel for donation campaigns for major not-for-profits, from World Animal Protection to Anglicare. “Even for a younger demographic, an eDM is seen as another piece of junk mail. But they love getting real mail because it’s a novelty.”

Thomas adds that globally the response rate for not-for-profit campaigns is 20 to 30 times higher using direct mail rather than email. “The numbers skew a bit when online fundraising platforms are used for event donations, but they are much harder to convert into regular giving.”

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Direct mail is a two-way street

According to Thomas, it’s much easier to target and personalise a direct mail campaign these days. “We’ll tailor the opening paragraph to acknowledge regular givers or high net worth donors, for example.”

Thomas recently worked with Vision Australia to create an emotionally powerful campaign that asked its direct mail recipients to write a birthday card (which they provided with reply paid envelopes) to a sight-impaired 13 year-old girl who was writing her first book.

Donors were asked to write large enough for her to be able to read the message thus creating an emotionally-charged response to the cause. Australia Post then delivered the thousands of birthday cards from Vision Australia’s mailing list to the young girl.

“It was a feel good moment for everyone involved and a memorable way of creating a brand experience,” says Thomas.

When direct meets digital

With an increasing need for multichannel engagement at every step of the customer journey, we’re likely to see a closer interplay between direct mail and digital marketing. There are many sophisticated digital tools ready to make this connection simpler.

Senders can now use variable data printing to avoid the generic ‘Dear Resident.’ Personalised QR codes take customers to the exact web page they need and also provide analytics on the sources of lead generation.

Australia Post’s Campaign Targeter is one such example. It enables precision targeting and greater certainty, and is already being used by over 4,000 organisations across Australia including an online-only book retailer. When the retailer decided to run a targeted acquisition campaign with A/B testing, it turned to direct mail.

“Using Campaign Targeter, we were able to overlay our own book delivery data with the retailer’s customer base to help them identify specific geographies with potential for growth,” explains Gesterkamp. “They targeted 200,000 households with two different offers that were coded to test which worked better for conversion to their website.”

It’s just one example of the increasingly sophisticated measurability and targeting direct mail can offer today. This is why direct mail has survived the shift to digital and will continue thriving as it spurs deeper digital engagement and conversion in an age of personalised marketing. 

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