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Direct Mail: What's Old Is New Again

Let’s start with three analogies, and a surprise truth bomb.

You know how the shiny new toy always loses some shine when a new one comes along, and how you always just wind up going back to your trusty, tattered old teddy bear?

Or, in basketball, when the opposing team is shooting free-throws, how total silence might be more distracting than those wiggly noise makers since the player has already factored them into his practice?

Or, how when everyone knows to avoid Main Street during rush-hour, the side street becomes congested, and Main Street is actually the fastest route?

Okay, here’s the truth bomb.  Google’s revenue in 2016 totaled 89.5 billion US dollars.  67.39 billion of that came from advertising revenue, aka AdWords.  Do you know how Google promotes AdWords?  Through AdWords, of course, but also…wait for it…Direct Mail.  You read that right.  It may seem ironic, but Google is actually one of the largest Direct Mail advertisers in the country.

Why would Google choose “the old teddy bear” over the shiny new toy of their own design?  The shocking answer, from extensive research, is that not only does Direct Mail work, it drives sales more efficiently than digital ads.

A Canadian neuromarketing study compared the effects of Direct Mail marketing to Digital Media marketing, using advanced eye-tracking and high-resolution EEG brain wave measurement tools, as well as conventional questionnaires, to gather data.

The study found that:

Direct Mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than Digital Media, making it easier to understand, and more memorable, and Direct Mail scored an average 1.31 compared to 0.87 for all digital channels in overall effectiveness. This is significant because, in this type of test, values greater than 1.0 are indicative of broad in-market success.  Additionally, consumers who received Direct Mail offers were able to recall the brand 75% of the time, while those who received digital-only versions, remembered the brand only 44% of the time.  According to the Forbes evaluation of this research, “Science clearly shows paper can be more impactful and memorable than digital.”

Because the landscape of Digital Marketing is so saturated, research has learned that the consumer is beginning to develop a mental screening process to ignore ads. Currently, only about two percent of advertisements permeate this mental screen each day.  That means only about 100 out of every 5,000 encounters with online ads have any meaningful impact on the consumer.  The saturation has actually diluted the message.

The great news is that using the resources of digital analytics, and data, we can laser target Direct Mail to connect meaningfully with the consumer.  The Direct Marketing Association’s research, published in the DMA Response Rate Report showed that Direct Mail offers “strong return on marketing investment,” with an average ROI of 15% to 17%.  They found that oversized mailers, such as postcards, have the best response rates, at up to 4.25%, with a targeted mailing list.  

While advertising is a number’s game, we have the ability to market more specifically than ever, to find the eyes that most want to see what we’re selling.  Nothing makes a customer feel more valued than being heard, and in the impersonal landscape of Digital Marketing, a well-targeted, flyer vividly beaming from atop the kitchen table, from the bulletin board or refrigerator, is practically the equivalent of a hug.  Direct Mail can build a relationship that a digital ad simply cannot.

Don’t slow your roll online, of course.  Diversifying is key, and it’s important to keep your marketing dynamic and multi-channeled.  Marketing expert Dan Kennedy always says, “Diversity leads to stability.”  Online marketing is a kaleidoscope of virtual carnival barkers, and you deserve to be one of them.  But, when the fingers stop clicking, the devices power down, and the feet go up, Direct Mail ads give people time to think, assess, feel, and act.  If Digital Marketing is a bit like the wiggly noisemakers behind the free-throw basket, or that newly congested side street, Direct Mail is the stadium where you can hear a pin drop, the clear thoroughfare illuminated by a stretch of green lights.  

Get on that open Direct Mail road and cruise.  And be sure to wave at Google when you see them cruising in the lane right next to you.  You’re in excellent company.