Why Direct Mail Is the Rodney Dangerfield of Media

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel—you may be making a mistake. Easy to dismiss, for its role as a dinosaur—direct mail is the Rodney Dangerfield of media. I’ll admit that’s an almost extinct reference—but the comedian’s famous “I don’t get respect” act truly fits here. Great direct mail campaigns lead to big time sales—which—ultimately yield respect. Years ago, after starting a career in advertising, I fell in love with direct mail for the oh-so gratifying value of measurement. Now with so many options for measurable media, that tangible benefit is no longer limited to the mail.

Somewhere along the line though, gradually people began to doubt the power of the direct mail channel. Smart people. For well over a decade we have had doubters question and condescend about the dinosaur that is mail.

It’s easy to see why. After all, do people really read their mail anymore? And the cost per impression is high.

And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more lead than any other single channel. By a lot. In all of our Medicare Marketing work, the direct mail reliably drives more members and responses than any other channel. The list goes on.

In fact I’d say, the best way to think about direct mail is as a sales channel. You can identify your target universe and work back from the point of sale to determine the metrics. A true cohesion among sales and marketing teams.

Here are some rules for determining how and when to use direct mail as part of your marketing mix:

  • Do the math: Whether it be on the back of a napkin, or via a comprehensive pro-forma spreadsheet, finding out in advance whether you can afford the cost of a direct mail lead is the best first step. At our agency, our teams are trained in direct mail math—those basics are “job one”!
  • Start with a test: If you walk around the office showing people your mail, I can already tell you how that will go. Pretty much no one will like what could turn out to be the best performing direct mail package. Nothing beats the value of “in-market” testing.
  • Feature an offer: An offer is something that goes above and beyond the product features. While an offer is not mandatory, it really helps.
  • Hire an agency: This is a deceivingly detailed business. Any agency that has been in business for a number of years (with a specialty of direct mail) has faced problems. Lots of obstacles big and small that you’d rather avoid. But, beyond the value of smooth sailing, you’ll likely get a better performing piece from a group that lives and breathes direct mail best practices.
  • Hire a proofer: See #4. This is an area where you’d rather not make a mistake. It’s expensive.

It’s not old news. And it’s not the only news. The really exciting part is that your mail performance can and will be enhanced by other channels.

Read the full article by our own Jill Kourtis, at Target Marketing magazine, Thought Quake column.

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