Is direct mail dead?

Every so often, the question is posed: is direct mail finally dead? Has the plethora of digital and social networks now available to consumers and businesses at the flick of a switch contrived to put the final nails in its coffin?

To quote Mark Twain, reports of the medium’s death have been greatly exaggerated. It really all depends upon the audience you are trying to reach. In this era of pull marketing, customers are much more in control of their own purchasing agendas. Thanks largely to the advent and maturation of new media, they are now in the driving seat and able to dictate how and when we communicate with them.

Of course, if you can be sure that your customers are only ever 100 per cent interested in online advertising and response, then maybe it is time to get the hammer out for that final nail. However, certain sectors are seeing a mini resurgence in direct mail. With so much online noise bombarding consumers at every click, it can be almost a guilty pleasure for them to sit down with a coffee and a well-crafted mail pack, admire the creative and take in the message at a pace and time that suits them.

Direct mail is something that can be “saved ‘til later”, unlike the myriad and ephemeral messages that assail us while we are on the go. Additionally, rumour has it that response rates appear to be going up after years of staying stable or even sliding down the scale.

Great creative still has its place, as can be seen at any industry awards do showcasing the most innovative work. Furthermore, customer insight can be used to inform and tailor that work before it hits the marketplace. The key thing to remember is that direct executions have to be targeted, relevant and timely, whether they are on- or offline. It’s no use rolling out a beautiful mailpack if it completely misses the intended audience and ends up in the bin.

In the current spirit of coalition, I prefer to see direct marketing as a partnership between all the channels: direct mail, email, SMS, online ads, social media – the list goes on. Quite a coalition and maybe, like the new government is already discovering, it could be very difficult to make it work with so many self-interested groups.

Yet maybe unlike the political example, marrying together these disparate and conflicting communication channels into a seamless dialogue can be very effective and provide greater returns than using any one channel exclusively or in isolation.

Employing data and customer insight to build a multi-channel communication strategy – including, of course, good old direct mail – where each channel is used appropriately and complementary to the others, is still viable and even, dare I say it, desirable. So maybe it’s time to put the hammer back into the toolbox for a little while l

By Kevin Slatter, managing director, G2 Data Dynamics

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