Crossroads of Direct Mail Tradition & Innovation

November 9, 2023 • Posted by Michelle

Is direct mail is a relic of the past? Outdated, out of touch, and unlikely to resonate with younger consumers? The surprising truth is that U.S. brands are set to invest over $39 billion in direct mail marketing this year, making it the fifth-largest advertising channel in terms of expenditure. What’s behind the resilience of this seemingly traditional medium in the face of modern marketing trends?

At its core, direct mail is a performance marketing channel. Contrary to its perceived shortcomings, it has proven to be a highly effective tool for acquiring new customers, driving incremental sales, and supporting winback and cross-selling efforts. What sets it apart is its ability to generate valuable data that supports measurability, audience segmentation, granular targeting, and personalization—key components of the modern marketing playbook.

Despite its continued success, direct mail finds itself at a crossroads. While it delivers reliable value for brands seeking to capitalize on its performance-oriented benefits, it grapples with a reputation for being expensive, cumbersome, and traditional. The question then becomes, how should brands approach the integration of direct mail into their long-term marketing strategy? And what considerations should guide them toward improved effectiveness, efficiency, and bottom-line performance?

The answers to these questions vary across industries and brands, but six dominant themes are shaping how U.S. brands invest in and derive value from direct mail:

  1. Omnichannel Embrace: Brands are widely adopting the omnichannel philosophy, emphasizing the integration of all marketing channels—both digital and traditional—in a diverse media mix.
  2. Performance Prioritization: Marketers increasingly prioritize performance, focusing on achieving specific, incremental objectives related to customer acquisition, sales, and other outcomes.
  3. Digital Challenges: Growing costs and challenges associated with the addressability of data-driven digital media are leading marketers, especially digitally native direct-to-consumer brands, to explore alternative channels like direct mail.
  4. Integration of Data and Creativity: Improvements in integrating data and creative content, along with advancements in marketing technologies, enable direct mailers to achieve long-promised value through on-demand production, personalization, trigger-driven programs, and retargeting.
  5. Third-Party Data Foundation: The robust availability of licensable third-party data, supported by a mature and multifaceted supply chain, forms the foundation for brands to responsibly orchestrate direct mail programs at scale.
  6. Flexibility and Scalability: To manage the complexity inherent in modern marketing, brands seek media channels and supply chain partners that provide flexibility, scalability, and the ability to rapidly adapt to changing needs.

Direct mail may seem like a marketing dinosaur, but its adaptability and ability to deliver tangible results make it an advertising force to be reckoned with. As brands navigate the crossroads of tradition and innovation, incorporating direct mail into a well-rounded marketing strategy can be the key to unlocking untapped potential and driving continued success in reaching diverse audiences.

Source: Winterberry Group, Delivering Performance: Direct Mail in the United States 2023