The Truth About Direct Mail in a Digital World | Direct Mail and Marketing Tips

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The Truth About Direct Mail in a Digital World

The Truth About Direct Mail in a Digital World

We live in an increasingly digital world. It seems only fair to ask, in a world bursting at the seams with digital content, do consumers still prefer to receive physical mail?

Research confirms that 81% of consumers prefer to receive mail at their home address. Consumers are bombarded with digital messaging 24 x 7 – email, banners, video, social media… – these days the ads can even follow consumers around and stalk them as they browse. Consumers still feel the pressure offline too – digital billboards, contextual video, electronic displays, water closet media – some airports even hold consumers captive in shelters, and broadcast ad content, while they are waiting for the bus in long-term parking.

The only escape for consumers is to block it out – ALL of it.

Direct mail allows the consumer to be in control. They can choose when they engage. The USPS often refers to the “mail moment”; the slice of happy time when consumers check the mailbox and see what surprises have arrived. The consumer can choose which pieces are opened, which receive immediate attention, and which ones are set aside for later. A direct mail piece can be touched/read 4.5 times after arrival. This level of control makes the mail less threatening and more comfortable for consumers.

Unlike digital media, direct mail is tactile/tangible and has the potential to build a physical connection with the consumer. It can also be personalized to build a tighter bond between the brand and the consumer. Seventy percent (70%) of consumers say mail makes them feel more valued. When customers feel more important, they are far more likely to engage with a brand, spread the message to others, and generate organic brand awareness – both online and offline.

A well-targeted and executed direct mail campaign can have an impact far beyond the immediate responses that are received. The clue is in the word… it’s “direct”. It does not have to be a generic ad that is indiscriminately shared with millions. It can be far more targeted, intimate, and special then that.

How can businesses benefit from this preference to break-through the digital noise?

There are several different types of direct mail formats that can be used. Selecting the right format for the audience, the objective, and the offer is an important first step.

Postcards can be an effective tool for simple messages that are easy to explain. Using an image and creative layout that “pops” can help break through the clutter and provide an immediate impression – like a targeted billboard in the mail. If the image/offer is memorable enough it can earn a spot on the fridge – which is the ultimate goal (and compliment)!

Traditional postcards may not be ideal if personal information must be included. Anything printed on a postcard is exposed to the world. The space is also limited, which limits the ability to explain complex topics/offers. The most popular postcard sizes are the standard postcard (4” x 6”), the jumbo postcard (6” x 9”), or the sumo postcard (5.5 x 11 or 8.5 x 11).

The standard postcard has long enjoyed a discount postage rate. The current price for postcard postage is $.40/piece, compared to $.58/piece for First-Class letter mail. The most recent postage increase (there were two in 2021), extended the discount postage for standard postcards to jumbo postcards. This means that a jumbo postcard can now be mailed for just slightly more than the cost of a standard postcard.

Postcards can also be inserted into an envelope and addressed for special occasions or during the holiday season. This technique can deliver holiday cheer to friends, family, and customers, for a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional greeting cards. The tactile/tangible nature of the card also makes it far more impactful than a digital greeting card.

When personal information is involved, or the offer is more complex, then a more traditional letter can be the best choice. The first challenge with letter mail is to get it opened. The best technique to get “an open” really depends on the audience.

Some mailers strive to make letters look more personal using a closed-face envelope with no windows, handwriting fonts, and/or a live postage stamp instead of an indicia. A postal indicia is a permit that can take the place of a stamp on pre-sorted mail. Pre-sorted mail is eligible for discounted postage rates. That means that even though using a “live” stamp can appear more personal, it does come at a cost – the mailer loses pre-sort discounts and has to incur the cost of placing a stamp on each letter.

A different approach is to make the letter look like a bill, so the recipient might be concerned about not opening it. With this type of mail, it is common to use a double window envelope, professional fonts, and a postal indicia. We can also add a teaser message to the outside (e.g., final notice, do not ignore, only to be opened by addressee, …) that makes the mail piece feel more official, urgent, or essential.

These techniques really represent opposite ends of a continuum. There are many different variations and techniques in between we can use to improve open rates. Of course, once the letter is opened, we still need a response to be successful.

A pressure-sealed mailer, often called a “snap-pack”, can also shield personal information just like a letter. Consumers often experience snap-packs when they receive a new PIN from their bank or a rebate from a consumer products company. The recipient tears off the edges before folding the mail piece open. Snap-packs are not as common, so they attract attention right away. They also have the feel of official communication, so consumers can be nervous about ignoring them – what if there is a PIN, rebate, or award inside?

The ultimate response rate of direct mail campaigns is also a function of the audience that we are addressing and how compelling an offer that we make. Coming up with a winning formula really requires testing and fine-tuning over time.

Based on the potential for direct mail, should digital really take a back seat?

Direct mail is one form of direct response marketing that uses physical mail. Direct response techniques can be used with multiple mediums (e.g., mail, email, television, radio…). These can all be effective promotional tools and do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, digital campaigns that include direct mail are 13% more likely to engage customers. Digital techniques should be used in combination with mail to boost returns. The question is not, “what is the right format/technique?”; the question should be, “what is the right mix of tools?”

In the digital age, automation can be a critical aspect of marketing campaigns. It allows us to plan in advance, map out the customer’s journey, and do more with less. The good news is that direct mail can be automated just like digital tools.

Automating mail campaigns creates a number of opportunities:

Campaigns are submitted faster with fewer errors

Campaigns are produced/mailed in a fraction of the time

Mail delivery is tracked automatically and integrated with response data

A complete (digital) history of campaigns, lists, and results is maintained

Response rates and sales results can be tracked in real-time

Small volume jobs (short runs) are no longer a challenge. This allows us to test additional concepts, more frequently, using smaller campaigns, to find winning formulas (efficiency).

Customers can respond online, offline, or in person – whatever is most comfortable. QR codes or URL’s/PIN’s can be used to link direct mail campaigns to online destinations.

The customer journey can be scripted with a pre-conceived and automated series of campaigns and touches. Sales programs become a well thought out “process” rather than a fortunate “event”.

The digital revolution has introduced new tools with new capabilities. Direct mail has a number of qualities that digital tools do not. The two can/should be combined to create campaigns that are more targeted, more effective, more measurable, and more predictable. Zairmail provides online tools that automate direct mail campaigns.

Zairmail is the fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to send mail.

Zairmail ( is the fastest and easiest way to send (real) postal mail. Give us a call anytime at 888.898.0066, we would be happy to help with your direct mail needs.



About the Author

Wilson Zehr is a Direct Mail Industry Expert, Direct Marketing Specialist, and CEO of Cendix (, the leading provider of Web-to-print solutions that increase sales both online and offline. He is also the founder of Zairmail (, the company responsible for many "industry firsts" in direct mail.


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