The Overlooked Virtues of Direct Mail

Using direct mail can help you get into people's homes unlike any other communication tool or channel.

Using direct mail can help you get into people's homes unlike any other communication tool or channel.

Snail mail has gotten a bad reputation, even though it is often the most direct, cost effective way to deliver your message to someone's doorstep.

In fact, one of direct mail's primary virtues is that it goes to people's doorsteps, so you have a higher level of certainty someone will pluck it out of the mailbox and give it at least a cursory glance.

That is more than you can say for a TV ad people don't see while fast-forwarding pass it or a radio ad people don't hear while stopping to get gas.

Yes, many people don't read what comes in the mail. They quickly toss into the trash or recycling bin. But that's where creativity comes into play to catch someone's attention and persuade them to take a closer look.

One of direct mail's secret weapons is the ability to personalize the mailing. People tend to pay more attention when mail is addressed to them by name. Again, creativity is needed to use this moment to grab their eye, but you have this moment to work with, which is not always the case with other forms of paid media.

Another plus for direct mail is its familiarity. Going the mailbox is a routine. Opening mail, even junk mail, is usually a pleasant experience, except perhaps for bills that are due.

The formats for mail are also familiar. We recognize letters, postcards, brochures and flyers. Generally, we associate them with information. They tell us about important meetings, new restaurants or serious issues that affect us.

Unlike a TV or radio ad that is here now and gone, mail is, well, tangible. It is right thee in your hand. Direct mail is also fungible. You can read it now or read it later. You can even retrieve it from the trash. And mail doesn't shout at you, like the rabid-looking car salesman on billboards or late-night television.

Another virtue of direct mail is its shareability. Before Facebook and other social media, people shared mail. "Hey, did you see that postcard announcing a new development in our neighborhood?"

Marketing these days is all about segmentation. Direct mail is the best choice when you are trying to reach a geographic segment – a neighborhood, a part of a city or a region. Electronic media may boast about multiple impressions and a newspaper placement ad may have considerable reach, but only direct mail can target specific mailboxes

Online ads can be aimed at certain demographics or buying habits, but they can't force an interaction as personalized as opening a piece of mail. Direct mail also can be sent to targeted names on a database.

Direct mail is a great companion to larger marketing campaigns, especially ones involving contests or coupons. Success is easy to track because you can count entries or redeemed coupons.

Even with all its benefits, direct mail isn't the right answer to every marketing challenge. But it shouldn't be haughtily dismissed just because it relies on snail mail. Mailboxes remain one of the most constant and reliable channels to deliver your message.