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Has direct mail had its day?

I recently attended the On The Edge digital marketing conference in Bristol, so it’s an interesting contrast to write about something perceived to be at the other end of the marketing spectrum – good old-fashioned direct mail.

Direct mail is sometimes spoken of with a bit of snigger, almost like it’s a guilty confession, the fear that it will be considered “so very 90s”.

Yet there are some good reasons to use direct mail, and I believe it has every right to be in today’s communications mix.

Less is more 

There’s certainly less post being sent overall, thus the opportunity to grab attention and ‘share of voice’ through the medium is probably higher than ever.

It is versatile 

You can mail all sorts of things with a few exceptions (the Royal Mail website has a list of prohibited items). B2B direct mail doesn’t have to be bland. Be creative; think about all five senses and appeal to as many as possible.

It is engaging

Putting the product into your customer’s hands is a classic sales approach, touch brings reality and engagement.

That’s what a physical mailing can do too whether you’re actually sending a product sample, swatch pack or conveying your service quality in another way.

It is not an interruption 

Emails can nag, tempt and interrupt, with their pop-up message on arrival. Direct mail brings no such pressure. It can be opened when the recipient chooses, which means they are more receptive to whatever has been sent.

It is visible

If nothing else, the recipient is likely to open and scan it so at least your message will have been seen or the recipient may pass it to another colleague or department, extending its reach, whereas probably 70 per cent of e-mails are deleted unopened.

It has longevity

If the mailing is informative, useful, well targeted, interesting, quirky and good quality (and those are the challenges for marketers) the chances are it will be kept to re-appear months later.

It is cost-effective

Postal increases aren’t a reason to stop direct mail. Are you really baulking at spending perhaps £1, when the recipient could have a key influence on sales? Put it in perspective against exhibition or advertising costs for example, and remember digital marketing isn’t free.

It supports other communications 

This is the important one. Digital marketing doesn’t spell the end of ‘traditional’ marketing communication methods; it just gives more options for campaign integration, for example blending e-mail, direct mail, advertising, video and web.

With QR codes or dedicated URLs to measure actions, measurement is better now than it has been since the days of response postcards and fax-backs.

At the On The Edge digital event one of the speakers gave a perfect example of how direct mail and digital media can work together, to brilliant effect: video brochures. 

These are printed brochures into which small screens are inserted, so the recipient can not only read the message, but watch it too. 

As you’d expect, there’s a price tag, but for companies targeting a smaller number of clients with a high lifetime value, the ROI could make sense. An architectural practice which used the approach apparently secured 18 appointments out of 30 mailings, an impressive statistic.

One thing’s for sure – a mailing like that won’t quickly end up in the bin.

Annette Harpham is a chartered marketer and principal of SharpEdge Marketing, a marketing consultancy and outsourced marketing management service which specialises in B2B, manufacturing and construction marketing. She is also a member of the CIMCIG committee.

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