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Direct mail, a dying channel? The facts prove otherwise!

Commercial printing Direct mail


by Dimitri Van Gaever

Did you know the average online consumer has an attention span of about eight seconds? That’s one second shorter than a goldfish! It’s no wonder, then, that email marketing is increasingly failing to hit the mark. Bombarded with hundreds of ads and emails every day, online consumers struggle to see the wood for the trees while online marketers watch their email campaigns’ ROI decline. Meanwhile, direct mailing campaigns are still very much alive and kicking. More and more businesses are (re)introducing direct mailing into their marketing strategy, having noticed that the format’s ROI is on the rise. The reason behind this development is two-fold. 

Direct mail offers a tangible experience

As we mentioned in our article on choosing the best paper stock for direct mailing campaigns, the power of direct mails lies in their tangibility. A phenomenon called embodied cognition, sensory experiences are intrinsically linked to emotions and hence our decision-making behaviour. The more senses a message appeals to, the stronger the message is encoded in our brain. Acknowledging the effect of tangible experiences, companies are putting more and more effort into their direct mailing campaigns both in terms of look and feel. Several marketers are even adding sound, video and scent to their direct mailings as we speak.

Not yet convinced of the power of embodied cognition? These numbers may interest you:

  • According to Infotrends in Direct Marketing Production Printing & Value-Added Services, 70 percent of all direct mail in 2015 was opened, 79 percent of which was read for at least one minute.
  • By contrast, Experian last year concluded that the average open rate for commercial emails in the second quarter of 2016 was only 25 percent.
  • To top it all off, DMA’s 2015 Response Rate Report states that direct mailing’s ROI outperforms all digital marketing channels combined by no less than 600 percent.


Direct mail gets personal

Just to be clear: when we say ‘direct mail’, we’re not talking about the identical flyers, brochures, free magazines, … yourentire neighborhood receives at the same time. Direct mail has come a long way in recent years, having moved from greeting the recipient by name to, well, you name it! Thanks to variable data printing, direct mail offers endless personalization possibilities, like:

  • Happy birthday, “X”! We’ve got a free “most purchased product” waiting for you in “store location”.
  • Hi, “X”! Your “recent purchase” is about to run out. Use this voucher before “date” to enjoy a discount on your next purchase!
  • Hey “X”, it’s been a while! Still enjoying your “recent purchase”? We think this “new product” would be a perfect match. Come check it out at our store in “location”!

The list goes on … You could, for instance, adjust the images in the mail to the consumer’s location, hobbies, family life, … As long as you’ve got the data, anything’s possible!

Easy decision paths

So, does this personalization thing really work? Yes, it does. Multitasking their way through life, modern consumers prefer easy decision paths, customized to their personal taste, needs and purchase history. What’s more, as observed by the DMA, consumers are four times more likely to respond to direct mail from a company they’ve previously purchased from, compared to mail from an organisation they have no personal connection with. If you take that simple fact into account, it’s not hard to imagine the effect of a direct mail that takes things even further by tapping into purchase history, age, location, marital status, …, is it?