Direct Mail ROI trumps voodoo math every time.

Not long ago, I read an article about marketing content that caught my attention. In it’s argument for building content marketing (which I support), the author took a swipe at direct mail, and cited a direct mail ROI statistic that 44% of direct mail is unopened (Source: Mashable).

Direct Mail ROI can be immense

Lest you think Direct Mail is limited to flat, boring mail, here’s an example of a winning lead-generation package.

Gasp! With stats like that, you might ask, why would a business even spend on money on direct mail? After wondering for a second about what I’d be doing now, since designing direct mail would be a losing proposition for my income in the future, I stopped, took a moment, and thought further.

Direct Mail — Hardly on the way out

I turned the statistic on it’s head: 56% of direct mail gets opened, and that is at least 1-2 seconds of engagement! Hooray! Now a marketer has gotten the audience to focus, through the interactivity of eyes and hands. It’s not a passive exposure to message, and that’s the key to why research has shown that consumers prefer Direct Mail to other advertising methods[1].

And the bigger question is, how does this compare to other media in terms of resonance and impressions? It faces less clutter and less competition for someone’s attention. Other media, like multi-screen TV, video and banner ads, bombard audiences into numbness. Assuming you have the media budget and strategy to begin with. Neilsen’s Advertising and Audiences Report tells us that as of 2013, in 5 hours of TV per day, a person watches about 15 minutes of commercials.

If you want to dig into the statistics behind Direct Mail’s performance, get a copy of DMA Statistical Fact Book 2016: The Definitive Source for Direct Marketing Benchmarks. The DMA updates it every year, and if the price for the current edition is too steep, past years’ versions provide relevant information, and are available on Amazon.com.

What about online ad numbers? — Yawn

In PointRoll’s 2013 Benchmarks Report, the best CTR (Click-Through Rate) reached a whopping 2.17%. Big Whup. Remember that open rate of 56% for direct mail? Yes, direct mail ROI looks a LOT better now.

TV, or not — Probably not

In 2012, Neilsen also researched Video brand ad effectiveness. Online video ads were found to have message recall at 40% is double that of TV at 20%. General recall is 64% (vs. 46% on TV).

Remember the 56% open rate for Direct Mail stated at the beginning of this article? In comparison to Online and TV ads, 56% is not bad at all. Considering that many businesses, TV is strategically inappropriate and prohibitively expensive, and it’s worth looking again at Direct Mail as part of a marketing plan.

Not my media. Not my audience generation, you say?

And don’t be fooled into thinking that direct mail is not just for older audiences. Younger adults (24 years and younger) are the most direct mail responsive[2]. Not having the years of direct mail exposure, plus the tactile nature of the medium that forces interaction, is a departure from electronic mobile media that permeates their lives.

As I looked around, I found a great collection of further reading, including research findings from Epsilon and others compiled into a Multicraft White Paper.

Email, Schmeeemail. Direct Mail ROI show’s it is still a contender, and a winner.

Direct Mail News reported that in 2012 the average response rate for direct mail was 4.4% for both business-to-business and business to consumer mailings—considerably higher than industry expectations, and surging past electronic mail’s response rate of just 0.12%.   Email is great for retention of existing customers, but the higher quality of lead lists and data is what makes Direct Mail outperform email for acquisition.

Do some relevant math. Direct Mail planning tool and ROI calculators are yours for the asking.

It’s not rocket science, but you don’t have to calculate ROI on a direct mail program from scratch either.  Sign up to receive my blog via email, and I’ll send you a printable Direct Mail Planning worksheet FREE, including links to valuable ROI calculators.

Be media agnostic, but also a faithful follower of the “4 Rights”.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Web and email and television. I create marketing for each of them as much or more than for direct mail. But media selection alone doesn’t trump the 4 Rights: Right offer/Right audience/Right message/Right media mix. Most marketers I know would love to have 1-2 seconds of attention from over half of the audience they targeted for their marketing.

So dust off your direct mail primer, or find one, look at your audience, and find the right list to reach them. Then get a killer offer and creative team going, and start cracking on seeking the direct mail ROI that compliments your other marketing efforts. We can all hope for 56% engagement.

[1] http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2014/24084/print-marketing-will-thrive-in-2014-and-beyond

[2] http://beasleydirect-blog.com/tag/dma-2014-statistical-fact-book/ Buy the DMA book here.


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I'm a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.

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  1. […] Your creative can and will be measured more closely than almost any other form of marketing. This is down-in the ditches, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-make-it-work design. It’s not for the feint of heart designer. Even decades after direct mail design has earned its place as part of an accountable media mix, direct mail sometimes gets a bit of the short end of the stick on respect. New generation of marketers, same misconceptions. I wrote about the voodoo math and misconceptions in an article on the PerezWorks site. […]