Why Print Marketing Still Works in a Digital Age

It seems counterintuitive in a digital world, but print media still has a powerful grip on the general public. What makes ink-and-paper, direct marketing collateral still so effective, and how can it be used to promote your business and increase sales? 

We Never—Or Almost Never—Look Back

Technology has always been a driving force in every culture. From Egyptian pyramid building, to Roman aqueducts, to virtual and augmented reality; technology carries us forward. And, as we progress, we tend to eschew older and outdated technology. 

Not many of us have landlines, and phone booths disappeared many years ago. Several generations have reached adulthood without ever seeing a typewriter. There were once people who were paid to operate elevators. And there was a time when, if you wanted to take photos, you had to buy several rolls of film—there were only 12, 24 or 36 photos per roll—and put a roll of film in your camera. After you took all the photos you were going to take, you’d have to bring the film to a shop where they’d process it and give you printed photographs in about three days at the cost of several dollars per roll.

Vinyl records were replaced by CDs which were replaced by digital downloads and streaming. Once new technology changes something, we never go back to the old technology. And that’s always true, except for one thing: direct marketing collateral.  

Everything Old is New

In pre-email days, companies would fill your mailbox—your U.S. Postal Service mailbox—with ads and promos and flyers and samples. While it seemed an annoyance, people read the mail they’d received, including all the marketing material. 

On face value, direct mail marketing always seemed like a waste of time and money. Companies would incur the expense for printing and postage and yet only a small fraction of those who received the mailed material would be in the company’s target audience. A huge percentage of a company’s direct mail budget was being wasted. 

When email arrived in the early-to-mid 90s, it seemed like a marketer’s dream. It was fast and, most importantly, it was free. Emails could be scheduled to be sent on predetermined days at predetermined times and, with the evolution of analytics, emails could be targeted to specific demographics. Adios, direct mail marketing!  

Except that didn’t happen. Inefficient, old-technology direct mail advertising never went away. In fact, 26 years after the first web emails were sent, direct mail may be one of the most effective forms of marketing. 

How is that possible? Why is this ancient technology still used and what are the reasons it works? 

Let’s look at some unexpected statistics from Small Business Trends:

  • 54% of consumers surveyed said they like receiving mail from brands that interest them
  • 56% said they found print marketing to be more trustworthy than other types of marketing 
  • 70% of Americans said mail Is more personal than the internet
  • 56% of consumers who responded to direct mail went online or visited the physical store
  • 62% of consumers who responded to direct mail made a purchase
  • 80%-90% of direct mail gets opened while only 20-30% of emails are opened
  • 70% of consumers preferred traditional mail for receiving unsolicited offers from companies

Those statistics are as surprising as if they were making the case that sending a telegram was the best way to contact someone; forget messaging, Facetiming, Skyping or calling, telegrams are the way to go. That would seemingly be just as counterintuitive a claim as saying that direct mail is more effective than email; and yet, direct mail really does still seem to connect with consumers. 

Entrepreneur magazine lists four reasons which make direct mail so inviting to customers:

Overloaded Inbox – We all probably suffer from inbox fatigue. We get 120 emails a day, of which only a few are something we need or want to read. With that many emails arriving each day, most of us have learned to skim the subjects and senders and ignore most of what we receive. Consequently, if you’re the owner of Bob’s Scotch Tape Boutique, the odds of anyone intentionally opening your email promotion are slim. Worse yet, your message, and all future messages, will probably get relegated to email’s black hole—the spam folder—and will never be seen again.

When it comes to mail delivered by the postal service, a study by Epsilon showed that 77% of
consumers sort through physical mail as soon as they get it, and 98% of people check their mail
daily. Of that, 80-90% of mail gets opened compared with 25% of emails. Less competition,
more reads; which would you choose?

It’s Personal – Many people check their email while doing other things—at work, watching TV, eating lunch—surrounded by distractions and with the knowledge that while you read one email, twenty more have arrived. The odds of anyone paying attention to an unsolicited email are slim.

But most people get their mail when arriving home at the end of the day and, for a brief few
minutes, they are not involved in any other activities. Direct mail can get 100% of the reader’s
attention. If the message is clever and has an interesting graphic, the mail will get read.

Increased Trust – People are terrified to open unsolicited emails for fear of getting a virus or malware or being a victim of phishing. With only emails from known senders being opened, the odds are stacked against an unknown company’s emailed promo ever seeing the light of day. Plus, everyone knows the internet is teeming with liars and scammers, right?

Direct mail, however, has no such stigma attached to it. An interesting piece of direct mail gets
opened without any thought that the mail might be dangerous. Consumers trust a
direct mail sales piece much more than they trust an email with the same message.

Enhanced Delivery – Your email inbox is a place of total equality. All emails in your inbox look the same, showing only the subject and the sender. Direct mail can be identifiable by a sender’s handwriting or style of envelope or return address.

There was a local vet that would send out postcards with vaccination reminders and birthday
greetings to people’s pets, and the post cards would have a photo of the person’s pet on it.
You’re sorting your mail and there you see a postcard with your pet’s picture on it. The next
time you need a vet, who are you going to remember and call? Email does not offer that same
experience. Generally, all we see of most emails is the subject line and the sender; a vast
majority are never opened.

Plus, direct mail can include small gifts like pens, buttons, or coasters. It may not seem like much, but when’s the last time you got a free gift dropped in your hand when you opened an email?

The Mailing Lists

Direct mail recipients are chosen in two ways. First there is a house list, which is made up of names and addresses of current or former customers and can also include those who have made inquiries into a company’s product or service. Because the recipients are familiar with the company sending the direct mail, the response rate and return on investment (ROI) are higher than for the other type of list, the prospect list. (ROI is calculated by dividing the amount of return on an ad by the cost of the ad.)

Prospect lists are usually rented or purchased from list brokers or managers. The cost can vary depending on the specificity of the target. A saturation list of 5,000 prospects may only cost pennies per name. It may cost several dollars per name for a targeted list of men in their early 30s, living in a specific zip code, who own dogs and live in apartments; there may only be 30 people on that list. 

It seems logical that the response rate and ROI for direct mail would be low compared to modern marketing such as emails, social media, or paid search results. However, according to Inkit, direct mail has a response rate of 9% for mail sent to houses lists and 4.9% for those on prospect lists. That may seem unimpressive until you know that email has a response rate of 1% for house lists and 1% for prospect lists. 

Because email costs almost nothing, email may be out in front when it comes to ROI, especially when compared to direct mail. Still, web guru Neil Patel claims that direct mail has an ROI of 29%, which is ahead of paid searches at 23%, and online display ads at only 16%. Patel suggests combining direct mail with a digital marketing strategy, and offers a few more surprising facts about direct mail:  

  • Targeting – Direct mail can be targeted with great specificity and doesn’t even require purchasing a prospect list. Find potential local customers—or in any five ZIP codes—using the U.S. Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail tool. 
  • Tracking – Just as with email marketing, use a trackable phone number on marketing material to see if your direct mail is effective. Or, give the address of a landing page so that only those who received the direct mail piece would go to that web address. 
  • Competition – As time goes by, fewer companies will turn to direct mail marketing. That’s good news for those who do. As Patel says, “When fewer marketers are sending mail, your piece has a higher chance of standing out.” 
  • Romantic/Nostalgic – Some things from the past have become romanticized, and receiving mail is one of those things. People actually read mail that’s delivered by postal carrier, and 73% of people said they prefer direct mail as an advertising medium. 
  • Tangibility – You can hold direct mail in your hand. You can put a coupon in your purse or wallet or put it on your refrigerator. It’s there and it’s hard to forget. 
  • Attention – Usually, you open an email in an environment full of distractions. Direct mail is usually something opened in a moment of quiet. Plus, 80% of direct mail recipients scan or read each piece before throwing anything away. 

Other pluses are the creativity which direct mail allows, the multi-sensory nature of touching and—for marketing items with a scent—smelling the marketing piece, and every age group can be reached with direct mail. (Octogenarians may not have a computer, but they get mail delivered every day.)   

Whether you send out one direct mail piece, or plan on combining a direct mail campaign with a digital campaign, it takes a lot of time and work to coordinate all the components, and you probably have better things to do. Happily, we don’t! At McFadden/Gavender, marketing and advertising is all we do, and our team of experts can provide multichannel marketing strategies, including direct mail. Contact us and let us show you how we can take your brand further.