Why Direct Mail Marketing Is (Still) Making a Comeback

Meet the writer: Karen Pieper

Hi, I'm Karen! I've been in the industry for 21 years and can't wait to share my perspective on all things direct mail. I'm currently the Digital Marketing Manager at Letter Jacket Envelopes and deal with tasks from managing the website, facilitating conversations with customers, and much more!

We’ve been saying it all along. Direct mail has never gone out of style, but the past few years have seen a resurgence in its effectiveness for business. From sales to relationship-building, here’s a look at why the direct mail comeback is still going strong.

Why Direct Mail Has Always Worked

Paper has never really gone out of style. This is particularly true for certain demographics. Households that do not have or more rarely use the Internet, and households without electronic devices, are much less likely to be reached by a digital campaign. If you want to build relationships across “the digital divide,” or if your goal is to connect with a broad audience, direct mail has always been the way to go. Older adults, even if they do regularly engage with email and social media, are more likely than younger adults to be irritated and turned off by digital campaigns. Messages they don’t expect or desire can automatically get treated as spam. Older adults also tend to have less debt than younger adults, and will still connect more strongly to an in-store or catalog shopping experience than a digital one.

Why Direct Mail Is Working

Even though it’s never faded from the scene, there are reasons why we say direct mail marketing is making a comeback. Millennials, the super-shopping, Internet-savvy age group between the ages of 20 and 36, are both connected and far less cranky about digital campaigns because they have an instinct for sorting through what’s relevant. They don’t mind unsolicited words and images hitting their inbox. At this point, it’s just part of life. But the amazing thing is, they’re no less interested in direct mail. In fact, they seem to have an enthusiasm for it.

You can see this in retail, where stores targeted directly to younger adults, such as Anthropologie and Madewell Jeans, still roll out popular paper catalogs. Why would they do this for a generation of smartphone users? But the plain fact is that catalogs still build a connection. They still make sales. And here’s an example of where direct mail just gets cooler. Catalogs work, but they can morph. They’re available to both in-store and online customers. They’re released regularly to brick-and-mortar shoppers. They’re slick, slim, and pleasant to thumb through. Catalogs today know how to capitalize on digital overkill. They display fewer key products, place products in fresh ways that tell a continuous story about the company, and can even interact with a smartphone, but only when a customer is ready to cross the digital bridge.

Direct mail is still making a comeback, too, because of the ways digital and direct mail complement each other and together strengthen impact. Catalogs that interact with smartphones are just one example. Sending direct mail to your online customers is another successful strategy, as it gives them another “real world” avenue to connect with you or make a purchase. And, if your direct campaign includes birthday offers, special invitations, or coupons to use online or in-person, that’s a winning strategy. While digital and direct have to do their dance together, it’s becoming clear that thoughtful, flexible direct mail takes the consistent lead.

What Direct Mail Does Better

“Connection” and “authenticity” are two buzzwords among Millennials that describe something basically human. We thrive better within a framework of relationships than by grabbing at one-off experiences. Weaving direct mail in with your digital campaign strategy helps draw together just such a framework. Using direct mail gives you the opportunity to build a story around your product or service from several angles, and to connect with your customer base, not only when they’re on the go or doing business, but when they’re at home, kicking back and ready to engage more slowly and meaningfully in the bigger picture.

There’s also something about physical mail that forges a deeper connection with memory and emotion centers in the brain. We may know how to navigate the Internet with savvy, but brains need a break. And more connected (i.e. younger) generations may enjoy this brain break even more than older adults. The U.S. Postal service reports that 90 percent of Millennials think of direct mail as “reliable,” 87 percent enjoy reading their mail, and 82 percent are more apt to believe a message printed on paper than one they read online. Mail feels more truthful and more fun. That’s good news for those of us in the direct mail business. But also gives us a challenge: if what we send into the world is getting read and believed, we’ve got to do our best to offer a great product, a compelling story, and a worthwhile relationship–something worth believing in!

If anything, it’s email that may need a second look. Generations younger than Millennials (Gen Z, for example, now in their tweens to early 20s) rarely use email except for occasional, formal communications with teachers and older relatives. However, they’re not rabid Kindle users, either. Their responsiveness to books and graphic novels, and well as television and social media, will shape the ways we combine direct mail with other digital content in the future. But it’s the digital formats that will come and go, not the paper connection that only direct mail can provide. Sheer success is why direct mail marketing is making a comeback,

In short, there’s no sign of paper hitting the road. If anything, it’s the constant backbone of connection, even in the 21st century. So, don’t be afraid to go old-school. There’s no doubt: it’s what works. And as you think about your first impression in the mailbox, don’t be afraid to make your mail stand out. Letter Jacket knows how to customize envelopes for every business need, from catalogs and invoices to fundraisers and cold calls, we can help you build that great relationship and hit your marketing target in a medium that’s still number one.

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