In the beginning, there was mail…
And the mail was good. Letter and post delivery has a centuries-long history. For much of the last 300 years, it’s been the main, and perhaps most efficient way for people to communicate with each other over long distances. Love letters, packages, bad news, catalogs, job applications, and so many other things were passed from delivery person to depot to station and back again to whomever it was addressed. For many who lived in rural and remote areas, mail was a way to reach out to the world and to get the things that weren’t readily available in the world around them.
But then came the information age.
Then, in the late 20th century, there was email. Email was first a means of electronic communication among the few, often within the same network or institution. Then came the digital age, household Internet, and free email services. Now, almost everyone has at least one email address.
Email is nearly instantaneous. It’s cheap, and for most recipients, it doesn’t cost a thing. An email to your co-worker in the next office takes just as long as to the office in London or Shanghai. 3 words or 3000, pictures, attachments, and the like can zip through space and time.
So, why would anyone still use snail mail?
Email never actually replaced snail mail.
Email can never be tangible. It can’t be glossy or satin, or brightly colored. It can’t be seen peeking out of the mailbox. It can’t be held in the hand, opened, and unfolded. It can’t contain a little gift, or a hand-signed letter. There’s nothing crisp and complete about email; unlike a letter, if there’s something to open in an email, it needs a virus scan first. No one wants to see the black-on-white text of your emails, but that letter with the cool graphics? The postal carrier, your roommate, your significant other, and whoever else can pick it up and look at it.
Email marketing hasn’t replaced direct mail, either.
In fact, direct mail marketing is seeing a quiet Renaissance. This may seem counterintuitive: after all, who reads mail anymore? Everyone who opens their mailbox reads some part of a single direct mail piece, even if it’s just the hook line the envelope before they throw it out. That is a visual-tactile sensory that will stay with the reader, an experience that email just can’t mimic.
On the other hand, does anyone actually go through their spam folder anymore? And how many times have you unsubscribed to an email list simply because you received too many emails?
Sure, email can be sent directly to someone important. If you want to reach the CEO of a company, you can email the CEO directly (if you have her email address). That doesn’t your email will be read by anyone though, or that the title of your email will make it stand it out any more than the other emails.
However, a beautiful direct mail piece may land on her desk, and even if she doesn’t open it, she sees it. She picks it up.
You may be getting less direct mail than you did 15, 20 years ago, but you’re looking at the direct mail you’re getting nowadays because it is specifically targeted to you, highly designed, and carefully planned.
Is Direct Mail always the answer to my marketing questions?
If the question is “How do I become seen by as many people as possible in the most direct way?” then the answer is yes. However, if the question is “how do I hold the attention of the customers I already have?” the answer is…
A good rule of thumb: quick campaign, quick method. Slow campaign, slow method.
Have a flash sale? Want to reach a core group of subscribers or members today? Use email. Are you anticipating more sales over the holiday season? Send a direct mail piece.
Or use both.
You can always send an email blast to your customer list, but if you want to reach just a few of them in certain demographics at certain times, or you want to do a favor for the most loyal customers, consider all the options that direct mail provides. Printing too has caught up with the times, and the possibilities are nearly endless. Now, you can create vivid, eye-catching direct mail packages for small campaigns without having to worry about the ROI on a niche campaign requiring no more technical know-how than desktop publishing.
You always have the option to email your customers, but don’t overlook direct mail and the power of curiosity that makes someone open an envelope.