Thursday, March 4, 2021

Diversifying with Direct Mail


Diversifying with Direct Mail

Direct mail is the steady hand every digital marketing campaign needs to boost performance

By Christopher Karpenko

Tera Vector/Getty Images

Marketing has always been about getting the right message to the right people at the right time, no matter the medium.

Digital tactics, such as social media, online search, display ads, and email, have added layers of precision to this tried-and-true mission. They allow marketers to home in on the best message for their target audience and automate delivery timing for optimal exposure.

Rather than putting more resources and energy into the same digital channels and hoping that results will improve, marketers should try sistering digital tactics with physical ones.Some of these digital channels perform well across the customer journey, helping brands build awareness and consideration, influence conversions, and earn loyalty. But many others see drop-offs in effectiveness at various stages. In fact, a 2019 report by London Research and dotdigital shows that social media is highly effective for building brand awareness but less effective for converting leads into customers. While 59 percent of respondents noted social media as most effective at building visibility and awareness, only 32 percent said it was most effective for converting customers.

Direct mail reaches prospective customers in a different space: their physical home.

Its effectiveness is fairly stable — and builds up steadily — across the customer journey. According to the same London Research/dotdigital report, 13 percent of businesses see direct mail as most effective for building awareness, 19 percent for engagement and nurturing, 20 percent for converting, and 25 percent for retention and loyalty.

By combining this steady strength with the most effective digital channels at four stages in the customer journey, marketers can gain a boost for their campaigns that drives more action. Here's how:


Stage 1: Awareness

Introducing a brand or a new product to a fresh slate of prospective users calls for a wide reach. That's why respondents in the London Research/dotdigital report note that social media is most effective for building awareness. But social media posts offer limited space and time to tell a brand story.

To engage consumers, brands can pair introductory posts on social with direct mail. In doing so, marketers can tell the story of a new-to-market brand or exciting new product through an in-depth brochure or catalog that pushes users online with personalized URLs.

According to a case study from Aircards, a company that builds augmented reality (AR) experiences for brands, the private financial- and investing-advice company The Motley Fool wanted to increase awareness with an existing customer base around the launch of a new service. Together, they created a postcard that recipients could scan to connect to an engaging AR experience. The campaign saw a 40.3 percent engagement rate.


Stage 2: Consideration

After gaining some recognition in the market and piquing people's interest, a brand needs to position itself as the right solution to address prospective customers' needs. Regular, noninvasive interactions can help with this positioning and keep consumers engaged. That's why many marketers turn to digital display ads. In fact, research from eMarketer shows that U.S. marketers will spend more than $134 billion on digital ads in 2020, and they are projected to spend about 21 percent more in 2021.

But data from the London Research/dotdigital report shows that these ads aren't necessarily the most effective channels on their own. Only 15 percent of respondents called it the most effective for engagement and lead nurturing.

However, paired with direct mail, which 19 percent of respondents called effective, a brand can turn curiosity into active evaluation and push a prospect further down the funnel toward conversion.


Stage 3: Conversion

Once consumers are considering a brand, it's time for marketers to transform those interested leads into customers. At this stage, many marketers turn to paid search advertising. After all, when customers are nearly ready to buy, many conduct an online search to find the best option.

Marketers can match paid search advertising with targeted direct mail follow-ups. Paid search advertising is a top-ranked channel for converting customers, with 31 percent of respondents in the London Research/dotdigital report marking it as most effective. And direct mail is not far behind, with 20 percent of respondents calling it most effective. Together, these channels can encourage a customer to purchase.

NatureBox, a subscription service offering nutritionist-approved snacks, used direct mail to reengage and convert prospects who had fallen off, according to a case study from direct mail automation firm Inkit. To encourage a purchase, NatureBox targeted customers using a postcard with store credit. Nearly 9 percent of recipients redeemed it. The mail campaign also drove a 35 percent increase in orders for NatureBox and increased revenue per customer by 60 percent.

After a prospect searches and interacts with a paid search ad, brands can use retargeted direct mail tactics to quickly send a direct mail piece. This nudge can be just what they need to become a customer.


Stage 4: Loyalty

By this stage, the prospect is now the customer. But brands know that the first transaction is just the beginning of a longer lifecycle. To retain customers, brands need to earn their loyalty.

Email is far and away the favorite tactic here, with 71 percent of respondents in the London Research/dotdigital report calling it the most effective channel for customer retention and loyalty. Direct mail isn't far behind (it's the fourth most effective channel, per the London Research/dotdigital report), with 25 percent of respondents noting its effectiveness. Together, the two mail formats form a dynamic duo.

As a case study by marketing automation platform Sumo notes, a catering company that focuses on serving businesses sent postcards featuring personalized URLs to people who had not opened recent emails. The result was a long-lasting boost: Orders attributable to the direct mail campaign piece came in throughout the month, creating a steady stream of revenue and a return on investment of more than 113 percent.

In the world of retention, direct mail works because it carries high response rates — around nine times that of digital channels, per a 2018 report by the ANA and DMA. Marketers should use it in lockstep with email to help create a loyalty cycle that delivers repeat customers.


Building Integrated Campaigns that Deliver

When a brand needs a boost, marketers should diversify their delivery channels. Direct mail can be a reliable catchall that bolsters a brand's digital tactics.

To amplify their efforts, marketers should find the digital channels that work best at each stage and then partner each one with a coordinated, complementary mail campaign.

With a well-planned omnichannel strategy that incorporates physical and digital channels, a brand can drive more action from start to finish.

Christopher Karpenko is the executive director of brand marketing at the United States Postal Service, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program. You can email Christopher at

Want to make the most out of your next direct mail project?  Reach out to our marketing experts at Duplicates INK and ask them to show you how marketSMART2.0 works  843-248-2574  or