For as a long as I can remember, marketers have turned themselves inside out trying to adapt to every new generation that comes along.
From the baby boomers (my team) to the x and y generations to the current group of 20- and 30-year-olds, the so-called millennials, understanding these generations is a priority for some marketers.
The millennials have been particularly challenging because as a group, they have grown up during the sea change we’ve come to know as the Internet age.
It’s a generation that doesn’t know a world before the Internet, and has shown little interest in so-called traditional media.
As a group, they are not reading newspapers or magazines. They communicate with their friends, family and business associates by email, text and social media. They shop, search and entertain themselves online.
Of course, this shift is not just millennials. The vast majority of the population has moved online as well.
The resulting decline of traditional media
It’s no secret that this shift to online media (by all generations) is killing traditional media – newspapers, magazines and the Yellow Pages.
Subscriptions are down. Readership is down. Publications are getting smaller. Advertising revenue is down. Publishers are scrambling to find new ways to generate profits.
Obviously, fewer readers means reduced advertising revenue … and eventually the end of that media channel.
But what about direct mail?
When email and online marketing started to take hold in the early 2000s, there was a noticeable and a steady decline of the use of direct mail.
Not surprising, marketers took advantage of the many new technologies that allowed them to communicate with their customers and prospects more quickly and more cheaply.
In the minds of many marketers (especially younger marketers), direct mail was old school and part of the declining traditional media.
But here’s where they are wrong …
Direct mail audiences have not declined
To be sure, direct mail usage has declined, but we should be careful not to lump in direct mail with the decline of traditional media.
Print media is dying because it lost readers, but direct mail has NOT lost any of its readership.
Direct mail continues to reach pretty much everyone who has a mailing address. And targeting has never been better.
Moreover, direct mail recipients generally like getting their mail and continue to respond to it. Even millennials.
According to US Postal Service white paper (citing a variety of sources),
- 84% of millennials take the time to look through their mail
- 64% of millennials prefer to scan direct mail rather than email
- 77% of millennials pay attention to direct mail advertising
- 90% of millennials think direct mail advertising is reliable
- 57% of millennials have made purchases through direct mail
- 87% of millennials like receiving direct mail
You can get the white paper here.
Why direct mail is still a must-read
As marketers, we tend to look at direct mail like other media channels.
But here’s the problem with that …
Direct mail is a very different experience from online advertising.
You don’t subscribe to direct mail. It shows up in your mailbox without any action on your part.
Whether you like getting the mail or not, you still have to look at it everyday because you know it could include something important. Even if you’re someone who regularly throws away mail unopened, you do so after you look at each mailer and only then, you decide if it interests you.
So everyone who receives their mail looks at it to some degree. This is very different from media that may never been seen some percentage of the target audience.
Then why the decline in direct mail usage?
In a word, cost.
With email costing just pennies and online marketing charging only when you get a click, direct mail’s cost structure makes it far less appealing to marketers.
There’s no getting around it, direct mail is more expensive than email or online marketing.
But you get what you pay for – and in many cases with direct mail, the improved effectiveness (meaning response quantity and quality) from a direct mail campaign far outweighs the additional upfront cost.
If you are only focused on your front-end costs, then direct mail may never make your short list of marketing tactics.
But if you are more analytical and able to look at back-end metrics like your cost-per-lead or cost-per-new-customer, you may very well find that direct mail is far more effective than those cheaper alternatives.