Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Here's WHY Direct Mail Is Alive and Well

I’ve noticed something since the recession rose to top of mind in January. I’m receiving regular direct mail appeals from 10 to 12 progressive nonprofits – both ones I’ve supported in the past and new charities committed to similar causes. For these campaigners, direct mail is working and it’s working well. This we know because direct marketers only keep mailing as long as they’re making money. Direct mail is a science.

On July 28, MAGNA released its Media Advertising Forecast. Not surprisingly, the figures predicted a fall-off in traditional advertising across the board. Only a segment called “direct online media” (search, lead generation, and Internet yellow pages) was projected to enjoy a modest boost in spending (2.9%). Every other media spend – television, newspaper, magazine, radio, directory, direct mail, and outdoor advertising – was projected to drop off.

The big surprise here is the modest decline (11.2%) projected for direct mail. Except it's not a surprise.

Actually, direct mail doesn't belong on this list at all. Direct mail is nothing like traditional advertising—it's measurable, testable, adjustable, person-to-person, delivery-targeted, multi-functional, returns-based marketing. It’s marketing that can be fixed very quickly when it’s not working. Direct mail is a science.

Some people may throw around the cute term “junk mail,” but smart marketers know this medium can do what no other advertising can: hit exactly where it’s meant to strike.

Don't worry. We're never again going to see the multi-million piece mailings that flooded households in the 90s. Today, shotgun campaigns are both too costly and too eco-damaging to be of any use to informed direct mailers. The Christmas of a Thousand Catalogs is gone as well (also, too costly). But make no mistake: we’re still going to get direct mail.

In 2009, the folks who are mailing to us know exactly who we are and what we tend to buy or believe in. We’re carefully screened before we're mailed to. And the truth is, most of us not only don’t mind, we appreciate coupons and product announcements from stores where we shop, appeals from charities in which we believe, information about service-providers in our area, catalogs from municipal governments, and -- when we have a junior in high school -- promotional material from colleges and universities.

People who hate direct mail probably think a protest of the masses killed it. Actually, the shrinkage is primarily related to external forces: the industry itself, which is focused on getting better results from fewer pieces; the severe financial troubles of the U.S. Postal Service, which have made mailing far more expensive for everybody; improvements in printing technology, which have nudged mailers to smaller, more personalized campaigns with targeted text and images; and leapfrog improvements in data collection, data analysis, modeling, and list selection and tweaking. Again, direct mail is a science.

Don’t expect direct mail to disappear. Do expect it to get better.

--scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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