Direct Mail Marketing in 2021


If you’re asked to list off 3 modern marketing tactics, you would probably include channels like social media (Facebook and Twitter), email marketing, influencer marketing, Amazon advertising, and paid search advertising. Direct mail marketing probably didn't make the list.

However, did you know that direct mail in 2020 produced one of the highest response rates and can help you achieve ROI of more than 500%? In fact, Neil Patel, a best-selling author and marketer, shared that direct mail campaigns have a higher ROI than paid search and online display ads.

Direct mail stats to write home about:

  • Up to 90% of direct mail gets opened, compared to only 20-30% of emails. (Data & Marketing Association)
  • When asked, “Which is more effective at getting you to take action?” 30% of millennials said direct mail, while 24% said email.(DMN)
  • The response rate for direct mail is up to nine times higher than that of email. (Data & Marketing Association)

Additionally, COVID-19 kept a lot of people home, and now those people don't want to go back to the office. So we predict that 2021 will be a very big year for direct mail campaigns. We are already seeing big business take advantage of this. Examples of successful campaigns include Nextdoor, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, food delivery companies like Sprig, Amazon, and many more.

In this article, we’ll dive into what modern direct mail capabilities are, how to best leverage mail campaigns in today’s marketing mix, examples of effective campaigns, and some tips for creating a stellar modern direct mail marketing campaign.

If you have any questions at the end of this either contact us here or simply click on the handsome floating face in the bottom right hand side of your screen.

New technology advancements in direct mail advertising

Like every marketing channel, direct advertising has seen incredible technology advancements over the last decade. Unfortunately, many business owners just aren’t aware of what is possible. Just like any other channel, you can provide a personalized message to your target customer at exactly the right time to encourage them to purchase from you. Direct mail marketers have developed innovative technologies that streamline the entire process.

1. Streamlined processes

In the past, direct mail marketing involved manually reviewing customer data in spreadsheets. If a row or column accidentally got deleted, recovering the correct information was a headache. This resulted in a lot of wasted time and effort – and that was just to get the list of contacts together, not to mention putting together the rest of the campaign.

Technology has made this process much easier. There are multiple ways to run a simple check of addresses to make sure they are accurate and mailable. Not only does this save your team time when it comes to manually reviewing, but it also saves your company money because you aren’t sending out a batch of materials to incorrect addresses.

2. Reduced internal burden

Traditional direct mail marketing campaigns required an internal marketing team to manage almost the entire project, before turning it over to a vendor for printing and mailing. Now with the help of technology, these vendors are capable of acting as more of a partner. Today’s direct mail marketing vendors have tools and automations in place to help manage the process efficiently, reducing the burden on your internal marketing team.

One of the ways direct mail vendors have helped to relieve some of the internal burden of putting together an effective campaign is through the creation of cloud-based software. This type of software can help with everything from managing data to tracking the progress of a project.

3. Increased customization

In the past, direct mail marketing was not unlike the dreaded “mass email.” There was very little personalization and targeting, and this obviously led to a reduction in efficacy on these types of campaigns.

New technology has made custom content easy. The ability to incorporate dynamic content has helped businesses send very personalized messages to their potential customers. Businesses can customize information based on a potential customer’s age, preferences, and shopping history. This increased customization has only helped response rates skyrocket.

The best part is that with the latest technology, heavily customized campaigns require very little effort from your internal marketing team.

4. Improved strategies

Modern direct mail capabilities allow for trigger-based mailing. This means you can get your messaging in front of your target customer at exactly the right moment when they are making the decision to purchase. Depending on your business and technology capabilities – you can set triggers based on purchase history, as well as other events or situations.

While you could send an email instead, you are more likely to end up in the junk or dreaded “clutter” folders these days. If you aren’t already, consider adding a direct mail component that improves response rates and encourages action from customers.

5. Measurable results

Modern direct mail capabilities allow for trigger-based mailing. This means you can get your messaging in front of your target customer at exactly the right moment when they are making the decision to purchase. Depending on your business and technology capabilities – you can set triggers based on purchase history, as well as other events or situations.

While you could send an email instead, you are more likely to end up in the junk or dreaded “clutter” folders these days. If you aren’t already, consider adding a direct mail component that improves response rates and encourages action from customers.

In today’s tech-heavy marketing world, a marketing manager must be able to show results from every channel they choose to invest in. In the past, this was not a possibility with direct mail. Marketers sent thousands of mailers out, crossed their fingers, and hoped it made an impact. Today, technology systems make it possible to track and optimize the entire direct mail marketing process.

Leveraging direct mail in the modern marketing mix

For the last decade, traditional marketing channels, such as direct mail marketing, have been counted out by many marketers. Digital advertising skyrocketed, and marketers were confident that the death of direct mail would come.

However, with the new privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA taking hold, increased automated email filtering, and rising competition (and cost) for digital advertising, marketers are taking a new look at channels they once thought of as outdated, like direct mail marketing. Direct mail marketing has the ability to fill in where more modern techniques can’t, and reach audiences that can’t be reached via other channels. Here are some examples of ways direct mail can fit into the modern marketing mix.

Cut through the noise

It’s no secret to marketers that there is entirely too much content on every channel. No matter where you choose to invest your time, money, and energy – the stakes are high. You must have interesting, relevant, and personalized content in order to stand out and capture the attention from your prospective audience.

That being said, there is significantly less competition in the direct mail space. Businesses just aren’t utilizing it as much as other channels. Therefore, it is easier to capture your audience’s attention.

Overcome privacy regulations

Unlike digital advertising and cookie policies, you can send mail to whomever you like. This means that direct mail can be an excellent channel for those ideal prospective customers who may have opted-out of receiving your email communications.

Utilize for retargeting

If you have any customers who have stopped engaging with your brand digitally, direct mail can be a great tool for retargeting. Since many companies have turned away from direct mail marketing because they aren’t sure how to utilize it properly, your message can stand out in this channel where it may get lost in the clutter of other channels.

Facilitate referrals

Did you know that the lifespan of an email is measured in minutes? That’s right – within minutes of receiving your email, most recipients will have deleted it. On the other hand, the average lifespan of a direct mail piece is more than 2 weeks – 17 days, according to Sailthru – and has more likelihood of being shared. Not only does the longer lifespan increase the likelihood of sharing, it also can serve as a physical touchpoint to help keep your brand top of mind to generate new business or facilitate loyalty.

Reign in your budget

Because competition is so high for other marketing channels, the cost of these channels is increasing. However, direct mail marketing is relatively inexpensive, and provides a much greater ROI. Therefore, if budgeting for marketing spend is a concern for your business, putting your resources towards direct mail marketing can be a budget-friendly choice.

Direct marketing campaigns for inspiration

Unless your company has been developing a lot of direct mail marketing campaigns over the last several years, it can be difficult to imagine what the possibilities might be. When we think about direct mail, we often get stuck on postcards, letters, or small magazines. While those are still strategies, and can be effective, there are a lot of interesting, out-of-the-box ideas to consider for your next project. Here are a few ideas to help inspire your next direct mail marketing project.

Mailable videos

When considering the modern marketing landscape, video is king. Pictures are worth a thousand words – and videos are worth millions. We’re not suggesting you send out DVDs to prospective customers and hope they find a device to play them on. Rather – consider video postcards.

If you haven’t seen a video postcard, it is a large mailer that includes a video player inside it. These videos can include whatever video you want. Additionally, you can add text and images to the packaging around the video player to help drive your message home and incorporate more of your branding.

This type of mailing is unique and sure to stand out amongst the traditional postcard and sales letters your prospects are receiving.

Augmented reality mailers

If video is the here and now, augmented reality is the future of marketing. It is a great way to add interactivity to your direct mail campaigns. When used for direct mail, augmented reality (AR) incorporates digital elements on its printed surface. The way it works is that users interact with the direct mail piece using their smartphones. Not only does this create an interesting and interactive campaign from the user experience, but it also helps make your direct mail campaign shareable – which is another important success component for any marketing initiative.

United Mail recently created an interactive AR card for Christmas. Card recipients downloaded an app on their smartphones to interact with the Christmas card. By pointing their phone’s camera at the artwork on the card, they could then interact with the various artwork components on their smartphones. According to a case study on this initiative, there was a 106% increase in the number of downloads by iPhone users, and 915% increase by Android users.

Another Direct Mail study went on to find that USPS customers were 135% more likely to purchase a product advertised via AR than traditional advertising.

Quick Response codes

QR codes have been around for a while but are making a comeback. Even if you don’t have a lot of additional money to spend on tech-filled direct mail pieces, adding a Quick Response (QR) code is a relatively inexpensive way to add an interactive component to your campaign.

When users scan your QR code with their smartphones, they can be directed to your online store, a specific product page, service information, or anything else you want to promote. Not only does this help communicate additional information to your prospective customers, but it also provides a lot of information about your business.

Near-field communication (NFC)

Near-field communication (NFC) works similarly to QR codes, but doesn’t require your potential customer to download a QR code reader or any app. It is actually the same technology that is utilized by touch payment options.

Instead of scanning a code, a microchip reader is inserted into your direct mail piece. It emits short waves that communicate with your potential customer’s smartphone to activate your digital component.

Instead of a direct mail campaign specifically, Toyota’s Lexus used NFC labels in WIRED magazine. When potential buyers brought their cell phones near the NFC label, the users were given more information about Lexus. But it is easy to see how this same approach would work on a more traditional direct mail marketing piece as well.

Programmatic mail

You have probably heard of programmatic digital advertising – but have you heard of programmatic mail? Similar to digital – this refers to a highly targeted and customized campaign. Programmatic direct mail marketing involves taking customer’s online and/or in-store behaviors (tracked through cellular data) and sending relevant coupons and sale information based on that data.

Variable data printing (VDP)

To create personalized pieces, your direct mail vendor will need to have the ability to do variable data printing. Keep in mind that personalization can improve your conversion rate by up to 5x, so it is vital to make it a priority. Variable data printing (VDP) means that artwork and text is customized based on predetermined data points about your audience.

One example of this is a campaign we ran that included a picture of a customer’s roof, a heat map of the customer’s roof from space, a calculated savings per year based on the customer’s roof, and a phone number with an area code unique to each city on a postcard. Imagine receiving a postcard with a picture of your roof on it – you’d probably pay attention to that, right?

Creative creative

Print materials offer a lot of opportunities for creativity. There are countless examples of creative mail and print campaigns, but here are a few examples. A gym mailed calendars to new customers that were in the shape of a man or woman, depending on the customer’s gender. As they flipped through each month, the calendar got slimmer, which helped highlight the importance of working out consistently.

While not a mail piece, Ikea created a memorable and interactive print ad in 2018. It encouraged women to pee on the ad, as it worked like a pregnancy test, and the test could be redeemed at Ikea for a discount on a crib. Though Ikea did not utilize this campaign in direct mail, you can see how a similar approach could be utilized.

How to create a modern direct marketing campaign

Now that you have an idea of what some modern types of campaigns can look like, we’ll walk you through how to create one. Regardless of the type of format you wish to use – from a classic postcard to something with near-field communication, there are five key steps to developing a modern direct mail marketing campaign.

1. Plan your strategy

Before you start taking action towards developing a direct mail marketing campaign, you’ll want to think about the strategy behind it. Are you going to use direct mail to re-engage lost prospects? Are you going to use it to find new leads?

You’ll also want to consider the type of creative that you’d most like to utilize. Do you want to try a simple, yet highly targeted postcard campaign? Or would a video postcard or something that incorporates near-field communication work better to accomplish your goals?

Keep in mind that the more personalized your campaign is, the better your results would be. Therefore, the personalization elements are vital to your campaign strategy as well.

Once you have your ideal strategy in place, you’ll need to find a vendor that has the capabilities needed for your project. If you plan to send something as a result of a trigger, such as inactivity, then you’ll want to try to find a direct mail vendor that can incorporate with your CRM. If you want to use a more modern technique, such as an augmented reality campaign, you may want to work with a vendor who has experience with this type of technology.

2. Choose your target

Once your strategy is in place, it will likely be pretty simple to target your audience – especially if you are using a trigger-based strategy.

That being said, there is always room to segment an audience more to provide even greater personalization. Consider various targets, and even think through any testing you could do towards different groups to see what kinds of campaigns provide the best return for your investment.

If your vendor is providing your mailing list for you, you’ll want to make sure they are using software that will help maintain a clean list so you don’t waste money sending to outdated or incorrect addresses. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure they have the ability to pull the most relevant audience for your campaign (i.e. high-income earning homeowners for a solar panel company.)

If you need ideas for what kinds of lists are possible to locate, do some searching online. There are several companies that sell lists which can help give you some ideas for who your target could be. Instead of purchasing the list, ask your vendor if they have the ability to target the specific group you are interested in. Even if they do not have proprietary software to get the data for you, they can likely refer you to a reputable company to purchase the list from.

3. Develop the creative

Once the strategy and audience is in place, you’ll develop your creative. By this point, you should already have a direct mail marketing partner in mind. Work with your partner to see what exactly you need to provide, and what they can help you with. Many direct mail marketing companies now offer everything from project consulting to design services. Even if you have an in-house design team, allowing the direct mail marketing team to do a majority of the heavy lifting for this type of project can help keep your marketing team from feeling the strain of adding an additional channel.

4. Print and send your campaign

Be sure to ask any potential direct mail marketing partners for samples before you agree to work together. You want to make sure that the finalized project will reflect professionally on your brand. Then, once the rest of your project is ready to go, you’ll be confident that your vendor is ready to print.

Once everything is printed, your direct mail vendor can send it off to your desired audience – whether that is a customer list you provide to them, or a targeted audience you plan to have the vendor source for you.

5. Track for results

Once your campaign has gone out, you’ll want to closely track results. If you’ve included any tests, you’ll need to determine which version won. You’ll also want to have a good idea of what your return on investment is to justify the cost of future direct mail marketing campaigns.

Getting started with direct mail marketing

So the conclusion? Direct mail marketing is not obsolete – with modern technology and countless strategies to utilize, it is an excellent channel for the modern marketer to invest in.

Direct mail marketing has the ability to overcome some of the biggest challenges with more modern marketing channels such as privacy concerns. It also has the ability to make your business and brand standout from your competitors. If you are looking to add another channel to your marketing mix, or need to increase your return on investment from your marketing spend, consider running a direct mail marketing campaign.

I would love to answer any questions you have about modern direct mail marketing technologies or discuss any campaign ideas you’re considering. No matter what your thoughts, comments, or questions are – I want to hear from you. Call or email me, or chat with me directly by clicking the bottom right button.

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