Direct Mail: What’s Working and What’s Not

By John PirroniJune 19, 2014

The Direct Mail Association (DMA) released its 2014 Statistical Report in April that indicated many sectors of direct mail are working while others are not. Some marketers may argue that paper is dead. But before you form a conclusion, I encourage you to take 39 seconds and view this funny YouTube video ad from a French brand, Le Trefle.


All jokes aside, the bottom line is technology cannot entirely replace the role of real paper or direct mail. Integrating digital marketing tactics such as:  online media, landing pages, QR codes, personalized URLs, coordinated email blasts, and on demand personalization is a necessary practice with direct mail. Regardless, these channels in no way replace the special role that direct mail plays in today’s marketing.

The DMA report found direct mail volume rose to 87 billion in 2013. In addition, a reported 44.9 billion in US dollars was spent in 2013—which was an increase from previous years. These key findings prove direct mail remains the unique vehicle that places your message literally in the hands of your prospects with an indelible impression that lingers around the business and home much longer than lightning speed of massive emails (which readers delete most of the day). There is still value in many sectors of direct mail and I’ve mentioned additional key factors of the DMA’s report below.

Responsive Age Groups:

The report indicates responses for recipients age 18-24 decreased while ages 25-27 increased. This is a very important trend given that the list’s demographic accounts for 40% of results. It would appear that younger respondents from ages 18-24 are accustomed to getting their information through the web and smartphones while the 25-75 age group is more apt to respond through traditional media.

This statistic may be misleading as the younger group had the option to respond through the business reply slip and/or the web landing page. The precipitating event for the reply through the internet might have been direct mail, which is not recorded in the statistics by the US Postal Service. I would not discount mailing to younger prospects, but emphasize the response mechanism through the Internet or phone. On the other hand, exercise caution if using the same approach with older groups who may not feel as secure responding through a landing page. In either case, the precipitating event for the response was direct mail so I would not interpret this statistic to decrease mailing to younger people. The implication of this statistic is to emphasize web-based response to younger groups, while allowing older groups to respond equally through traditional media.

Response from Addressed Mailers:

From 1987 to 2012 mailing to specific household members increased from 72% to 85%, while distributions to unnamed occupants decreased from 27% to 13% during the same time period. This decreased response from “occupants” continues to reinforce the practice of personalizing both the list and creative to optimize results. The pre-Internet days of saturation mailing to occupant lists is losing effectiveness and needs to be evaluated against the increasing benefits of personalization.

In summary, the key to the continuing growth of direct mail is its integration with emerging technologies, not its elimination. The role of paper is not dead as the Le Trefle ad indicates and neither is direct mail. For further information on what is working in direct mail and all advertising, I encourage you to get the 2014 DMA Statistical Fact Book available at the DMA website.

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