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Direct Mail: How Do You Define It?

For years, the answer to that was easy: direct mail was good old, USPS delivered letters and postcards. These days, there isn’t a single “one-size-fits-all” answer as to what exactly constitutes it. Truth be told, the definition of direct mail seems to change every day.

No longer limited to postal services, direct mail today can just as easily be an email, a text message, an instant message, a Facebook post or any one of a gazillion different types of social media communication, from chat room interaction to a wiki contribution.

The type of delivery for direct mail is vital, to be sure. (And we’ll dive into the advantages and disadvantages of direct mail media below.) But even more crucial is telling the difference between direct mail and display advertising. Ads plastered on a website or in a printed newspaper are not aimed at any one in particular; they are like billboards, waving frantically to people as they pass by. On the other hand, direct mail concentrates on talking to people directly, dealing with them as individuals, and digging in as specifically as possible.

In the best of worlds, an all-around marketing approach that includes both traditional and new media may be the wise choice. What follows is a short checklist that could offer advice about where to direct your efforts:

USPS Direct Mail Advantages

* Less annoying: Customers may denigrate ‘junk mail,’ (at least when it comes at unwelcome times) but they hate email spam more;

*More engagement: It’s more tactile, people can touch, see, even sometimes smell, a colorful mailer, which better captivates their attention;

* More accurate lists: Because direct mail is the older medium, they tend to be more accurate. Not so with email lists that are compiled online.


* Cost: Designing, printing, mailing and list costs are not cheap; email, by comparison, is cheap as dirt;

* Response rate: A good response rate for direct mail is 2 percent. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to beat that figure through targeted email;

* Not earth friendly: DM produces a waste stream which is not recycled, in many cases.


*Cheap: Even if response rates are small, you’re talking less loss than an investment in a printed DM campaign;

*Fast: Not only can customers get messages as fast as you can crank them out, responses can also start flooding in right away;

* Flexible: You can alter headlines, boost offers, even totally change the whole email in a moment, then resend in minutes. With printed DM, that process would take days


* Will your email even hit the inbox? With spam-blocker software use growing, it’s problematic. People are loathe to click on email, even from companies with whom they’re familiar.

*Lists: Decent email lists are hard to come by; you never know how good they are beforehand. But this is a problem with regular print mail, as well. Pick your mailing company wisely.

* Warning: The CAN-SPAM law should be held in the highest regard. The basic rule is you can’t email to any prospect who hasn’t given their approval, even if that approval was in response to another company not affiliated with you.

What’s the lesson from all this? Dig into the research. Then pick the medium — or media — which is best suited for your campaign.

Want to find out more about direct mail and email campaingns, then visit Commercial Letter to see some great examples of integrated campaigns.

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