Using Direct Mail – An Overlooked Promotional Tool

Higher education experience

By: Christa Nelson

(originally published in 2008 revalorized in 2024)

Direct Mail Pieces: A Revitalized Marketing Tactic

When we think of publicity and promotions, images of articles, digital marketing, social media, email marketing, awards, and events often come to mind. While these are valuable brand awareness activities, there’s one promotional tool that is often overlooked – direct mail.

But, you may argue, with mailboxes already overflowing with “junk” mail, wouldn’t our piece just get lost in the shuffle? No one likes filling up their recycling bin with printed spam.  Not so, say those who have used mass mail effectively. There are numerous examples where mail campaigns have been remarkably successful.

Case Studies in Success:

A National Engineering Firm specializing in geotechnical and environmental engineering and materials testing launched a highly successful year-long direct mail campaign. Their campaign featured lessons learned from case studies, providing summaries of notable cases, quality control tips, and highlighting various services and experiences. This award-winning approach proved instrumental in brand awareness, focused client development, and relationship building, reaching both legacy and new clients alike.

“It is the most recognizable thing we do as a company,” says the Director of Business Development for a national engineering firm. “Often when I call on a company for the first time and they see my business card they immediately know that we’re the company that sent the ‘Lesson Learned’ piece.”

Other Success Stories Include:

  • A woman-owned construction management company launched a successful year-long direct mail campaign, sending personalized holiday cards for various non-traditional holidays throughout the year. This strategy created a buzz and drove significant traffic to their website.
  • A minority-owned civil engineering company launched an award-winning year-long direct mail campaign celebrating black inventors in the transportation industry. Their informative pieces received recognition from several organizations and a national education award.
  • A local non-profit sent construction hardhat invitations for their community celebration event, creating a memorable experience that led to high attendance and positive feedback from elected officials and local celebrities.
  • A politician running for office sent mailers to all constituents in his district, outlining the initiatives important to him and providing a platform for citizens to voice their concerns. This direct engagement fostered a sense of community and transparency, strengthening voter trust and support.
  • An inventor introducing a new product to a specific industry launched a targeted direct mail campaign with a sample of the product to potential users. The mailer highlighted the product’s innovative features and benefits, offering a solution to common industry challenges. This personalized approach resulted in immediate interest and adoption of the product, driving significant sales and market penetration.

The Power of Creativity:

Thinking outside the box was the key ingredient to the success of each of the examples above. Whether it’s the type of piece or the message’s purpose, the use of direct mail as a promotional activity can be remarkably successful if executed properly.

Additional Benefits:

Still not convinced? In addition to the direct impact on recipients, frequent mailings offer the added benefit of database maintenance. Each mailing provides an opportunity to update addresses and contact information based on bounced parcels. This process not only ensures accurate contact information but also serves as a catalyst for client retention efforts, providing a reason for personal contact and reconnection.

Affordability and Convenience of Digital Printing:

One notable shift in the landscape of direct mail marketing is the increased affordability and convenience of digital printing. Gone are the days of needing to print in bulk to achieve cost-effectiveness. With advancements in digital printing technology, businesses now have the flexibility to produce short runs or long runs of printed materials, tailored to their specific needs and budgets.

Additionally, the integration of mailing services has streamlined the process further, offering one-stop solutions for printing and distributing direct mail campaigns. Printers like Alphagraphics in North Liberty provide comprehensive services, from design and printing to mailing, all under one roof. This convenience not only saves time but also simplifies the logistics of executing a direct mail campaign.

Competitive Pricing Compared to Online Advertising:

Despite the rise of digital marketing channels, direct mail remains a competitive option in terms of cost-effectiveness and return on investment. The cost of printing and mailing oversized postcards, for example, is still very competitive compared to pay-per-click and other online advertising methods.

While online advertising offers targeting capabilities and instant reach, direct mail offers a tangible and personalized touch that resonates with recipients. Moreover, with the ability to target specific demographics and geographic areas, direct mail allows businesses to reach their ideal audience effectively.

Supporting Evidence:

Several studies have highlighted the effectiveness of direct mail in driving consumer engagement and purchase behavior. According to the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), the response rate for direct mail to a house list is 9% compared to 1% for email. Furthermore, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) found that direct mail campaigns yield an average return on investment (ROI) of 29%, outperforming some digital channels like online display ads and social media advertising.

In conclusion, the affordability, convenience, and effectiveness of digital printing combined with targeted mailing services make direct mail a compelling option for businesses looking to connect with their audience. With the ability to deliver tangible, personalized messages directly to recipients’ mailboxes, direct mail remains a valuable tool in the marketer’s arsenal, offering a competitive edge in today’s digital age.

Direct mail may not be the newest marketing tactic, but when executed with creativity and purpose, it can yield remarkable results. As the examples above demonstrate, it’s a tool worth revisiting in your marketing strategy.