6 Reasons Why Direct Mail Still Works


The Effectivnes of Direct Mail Marketing in the Digital Age

You've heard the rumors and excuses before: Direct mail is outdated. It doesn't work. It's too expensive. No one even reads their mail anymore…and so on. The list is nearly endless.

But here's a secret for you; you can't believe everything you see on the Internet.

The truth is that postcard marketing really does work. In fact, it's even more effective than some of the most popular digital channels and has a higher ROI too.

The ironic thing about today's perception of postcard marketing is that, before the digital revolution (when every company was sending out mailers), direct mail DID kind of suck.

Without the technological advancements that came with the digital age, it was difficult for direct mail campaigns to achieve a good ROI, track their results, or personalize any aspect of the mailers.

But those days are long gone!

As you'll see in this article, postcard marketing produces tremendous results. It outperforms digital channels in nearly every category.

So much so, that even with the upfront expense of printed cards, the generated results are strong enough to offset the costs and create a fantastic return on investment.

And yet, somehow, the idea persists that direct mail is antiquated and behind the times.

Allow me to put these rumors to rest.

#1 – Direct mail has a fantastic return on investment.

According to the Data & Marketing Association, direct mail outperforms paid search and display ads by more than 12%. In fact, even the ever-popular social media struggles to outshine direct mail's ROI. It barely squeaks ahead by a measly 1%.

Direct mail ROI by DMA

Overall, direct marketing has a median ROI of 29%. That's huge!

As you can see, online display ads and PPC campaigns struggle to compete with the power of old-school snail mail. Even with all of Google's algorithms and consumer data, the United States Postal Service can still offer a higher return on your investment.

Go ahead and pick up your jaw off the floor. It's okay to be surprised.

To tell the truth, so were we. Here at Scout, we already know the power of postcard marketing. That's why we got in this business to begin with. And yet, we are still pleasantly surprised when we see such strong figures.

So, why is it so startling? Why has the myth prevailed that digital is the only option for a solid ROI?

Primarily, it's because of the low initial cost associated with digital marketing. Digital channels require that you pay on the back-end after the results are calculated. But with direct mail, you have to pay for your postcards to be printed before you can send them. In the end, the money evens out.

#2 – People are statistically more likely to read a postcard than an email.

Email has been around for a long time. And through all the advancements in technology, it remains a powerful marketing tool. As we saw in the previous section, email's ROI is head-and-shoulders above any other channel.

However, if we shift the conversation to open rates, click-through rates, and conversions, direct mail takes a commanding lead (assuming you aren't making any silly campaign mistakes).

statistics on people reading direct mail

As you can see, 98% of consumers bring the mail into their home. That means almost every single one of your prospects will at least receive your postcard. Compare that to the email campaigns you've run in the past.

How many of those messages bounced back or got redirected to spam folders? And of the ones that miraculously made it to the recipient's inbox, how many were opened?

Do you see my point? People are much more likely to glance at a postcard mailer than they are an unsolicited email.

Let's talk about that other number – 77%. Not only is nearly all direct mail received, but more than three-quarters of it is intentionally read by the recipient. By today’s digital standards, this percentage is astronomical.

Can you imagine if 77% of your marketing emails were opened and read? You'd probably win the Nobel Prize for Marketing. (Is that a thing?)

The simple truth is that most marketing emails don't come anywhere close to this read rate. In fact, according to Smart Insights, the average open rate of an email campaign is 23.67%.

So direct mail has 77%, and email has almost 24%. I'm no math whiz, but I know which number I'd prefer to see on my campaign results.

Okay, so people are reading it. But we all know that's not enough. We’re looking for action. So, how many people are responding? I'm so glad you asked!

According to the Association of National Advertisers, direct mail's response rate can be as high as 5.3% for mail sent to previous customers and verified leads, and nearly 3% for cold leads. That's a combined total of more than 8%.

Is that good? Are those high percentages? Let's compare them to the figures for email, and you can decide for yourself.

Smart Insights tells us that the average click-through rate for email is somewhere between 2%-3%, and email's response rate is way down as low as 0.6%.

Hmmm. It's a no-brainer, isn't it? The numbers speak for themselves. Once again, postcard marketing outshines its digital counterpart.

#3 – Digital integration with direct mail is not only possible, it's powerful.

Listen, if you're a marketer who is good at your job, then you know that any campaign worth running will explore every channel possible.

It's never enough to boost a Facebook post and call it quits, right? Of course not! Your social ads need to run in conjunction with your email funnel and display ads.

That's because the more people see your brand, the more likely they are to engage with it.

So, if you're looking at the various digital options available to you, then you need to also check what benefits you can get from postcard marketing. Similar to digital channels, direct mail audiences can also be targeted and tracked. But we'll get into that in a little while.


The bottom line is, postcard marketing can help boost your online efforts. It can drive traffic to your site, and encourage downloads or email opt-ins. It can also get people engaged with your brand on social media and even help to get prospects over the line to making a purchase and becoming customers.

In the end, it's all about getting folks connected to your brand. Since we've already proven how frequently people receive, read, and respond to direct mail postcards, you should take advantage of this powerful marketing tool. Leverage the strength of postcards to get people connected with your business online.

#4 – The results of a postcard marketing campaign are very trackable.

Click through rates and online purchases aren't the only way to track the effectiveness of an ad campaign. With a little creative thinking, direct mail can deliver piles of data to help you measure your success.

Here are four ways that tracking is possible with postcard marketing:

  • Personalized URLs
  • Custom Phone Numbers
  • Coupon Codes
  • QR Codes

Let's take a look at each one of these techniques to see how effectively they track a direct mail campaign.

Personalized URL's (PURL's)

How many times have you received a marketing postcard in the mail with the company website listed on it? Plenty, I’m sure. And, that's a smart idea, right? Of course, it is. Businesses should always have the company website on any mailer.

You’ve probably seen a ton of postcards similar to this one:

However, when people are driven to the website from a postcard like this one, there is no way to credit the mailer with driving that traffic. It will just show up as a direct website traffic on the analytics report. Furthermore, if this person becomes a lead or even a customer, it will be the website that gets credit for creating the new revenue.

Obviously, that's a problem. So, what's the solution?

Instead of providing the standard company homepage address, print a personalized URL that is unique for every individual mailer. Let me say that again. Every mailer can have its own unique website URL.

How great is that? That means, instead of sending visitors to the company homepage, these one-of-a-kind URLs direct prospects to a dynamic landing page that is also specifically designed for that particular URL.

Like this:

And by monitoring the traffic to these landing pages, it is possible to track the success of your postcard campaign.

Don’t forget to include a call to action on these landing pages to take the prospect one step closer toward conversion.

By utilizing personalized URLs, not only can you track how many people responded to an offer, but you can find out which households took action. And since you already have their address and other information, you'll be able to remarket them for continued purchases.

Custom Phone Number

Similar to the personalized URL, you can create a custom phone number to help track the effectiveness of your postcards.

Look, obviously you need to have a phone number provided on every direct mail design you come up with. Duh. Of course. But why not make the number work for you?

Rather than merely listing your main office number, create a unique toll-free 800 number that is specifically connected with your postcard campaign.

Like this:

Since this phone number is only used in conjunction with one particular postcard campaign, each call that comes through the line can be counted as a response to the mailer. By doing this, you can gauge the overall effectiveness of the campaign.

And if you're interested in going the extra mile, you can also purchase a tracking software that will tell you anything you'd like to know about your prospects. Plus, some software even offers the option for voice recording.

But that's not all! For even greater accuracy, combine a personalized URL with a custom phone number on the same postcard. This gives recipients more options to explore your offer and caters to their personal preferences, while still allowing you to track their responses.

Coupon Codes

When you think of coupons on a postcard mailer, you probably think of something similar to this example from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Actually, chances are likely that you've received something that looks almost exactly like this:

But this is not the only way to use a coupon with direct mail.

By utilizing a unique coupon code that is distinct for your postcard campaign, you can offer a discount while also keeping tabs on who takes advantage of the offer. Achievable results are not quite as precise as the personalized URL.

In fact, they are more in line with the custom phone number, because it's possible to track the total number of purchases made with the coupon code. Overall volume is the metric you'll use to measure your response rate.

Here's what I'm talking about:

Also, if your campaign spans across a large geographic area, you can create multiple codes that correspond with various regions. This way, you can keep track of which areas have higher or lower response rates, and then use that data for future marketing campaigns.

One more important point: Coupon codes are redeemable online as well as over the phone or in-store at the register. To reap the most accurate results, it is essential to make sure that employees enter the code at the time of purchase. This way, the postcard will receive credit for the sale.

QR Codes

This works almost exactly the same way at the personalized URLs. But instead of typing the web address, recipients can just scan the QR code with their smartphone. Then they are taken directly to their dynamic landing page.

No matter what other pages they may visit while on your company website, all credit will be given to the postcard mailer because of the QR code.

And now that you have their device information, you can remarket these prospects with pay-per-click and display ads to a high degree of effectiveness. It's the perfect way to get people started on their journey through your sales funnel.

At the very least, these landing pages are an excellent opportunity to solicit opt-in data such as email addresses and phone numbers.

#5 – Personalization is extraordinary with postcards.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. You're picturing big block letters on a generic postcard that read, "DEAR CURRENT RESIDENT" or "DEAR VALUED CUSTOMER." Ha! As if that actually makes anyone feel valued.

Well, go ahead and get those ideas out of your head, because today's direct mail industry allows for so much more than that.

By leveraging the technological advancements made in Variable Data Printing (VDP), marketers can now make postcards every bit as personalized as emails. Seriously.

Let me prove it to you.

Variable Data Printing has changed the entire landscape of the direct mail industry. Previously, the printing process was slow and cumbersome. Any variations in printing required new setups, which took a lot of time and money to create.

Not anymore, though. Today, we have the luxury of on-demand printing services, which make personalized variations fast, easy, and affordable. And, it’s every bit as dynamic as the content for an email or landing page!

Contact data and other personal information can be incorporated into the print. For example, a pet store could use their customer data to send postcards that include the types of pets in each household.

Better yet, is the ability to add a special touch of  personalization within the artwork itself. Adding a prospect's name directly into an image is a surefire way to begin building a personal connection.

In fact, personalizing your postcards requires so little effort and resources, you'd be crazy not to do it. After all, just like with digital channels, personalization goes a long way toward boosting the return on your investment.

#6 – Postcards are incredibly effective for younger demographics.

It is true that when compared to digital channels, direct mail is more effective for an audience with an older demographic profile. And, this is an important point to acknowledge.

This is primarily because older Americans are less likely to have access to modern digital devices and platforms. In fact, many senior citizens still don't have a smartphone, and some don't even have the internet in their homes.

That's hard to imagine, isn't it? But it's true.

Check out these figures from the Pew Research Center.

Pretty remarkable, right?

With that said, these statistics say nothing about the effectiveness of direct mail on younger age groups. Technically, it's actually pointing out a weak point in digital marketing channels. The fact is, it's tough for online campaigns to reach older demographics.

On the other hand, Millennials and Gen Z's are still highly motivated by direct mail. Just take a look at these numbers from the United States Postal Service.

These numbers fly in the face of everything that we've been told about the upcoming generations of consumers. All we've been hearing for years is that mail is dying, and younger customers are only interested in digital offers. But clear as day, we have the truth staring us in the face: Direct mail works very well with young demographics.

And if you're interested in learning more about the various ways you can segment your direct mail audience, check out our review on several great direct mail tools that are available. It will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about how to hit your target markets with direct mail.

Keep in mind, all these facts and figures presented in this article only scratch the surface of what’s out there. There are tons of other statistics to support the fact that every campaign should at least consider whether direct mail might be helpful.

Listen, I'm not saying that postcard mailers are the perfect option for every marketing campaign. The truth is that they aren't. Sometimes an all-digital approach is the way to go.

But when creating any marketing strategy, it's important to explore all viable options, and direct mail is always worthy of examination.

Go ahead. Look into these numbers for yourself and see what ideas you can come up with to leverage the power of postcards to your advantage.

Or better yet, call or email us or chat with us by clicking the bottom right button. We have expertise in all aspects of direct mail marketing, and we are always standing by to answer any questions you may have.

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