Letter being posted through a red door

Is Direct Mail still delivering?

by Mark Reed, Creative Director

Global digital advertising spend shows no signs of letting up, with brands forecast to invest more than $681bn in digital ads in 2023. Inevitable, then, that some would question the relevance and effectiveness of targeted offline comms like Direct Mail (DM). Some digital marketers would even have you believe that the end is nigh for the channel. But are they right?

Does the data really make such grim reading for the humble DM pack? Will it soon be consigned to the shadows of more exciting, emerging digital channels? It couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s why.

Mail volumes are greater now than pre-pandemic levels

Yes, digital ad spend continues to balloon. But there are clear signs of continued confidence in DM. And it’s not just volume that’s been sustained. Crucially, effectiveness (visiting a website, redeeming a voucher, going in-store) of DM has been maintained against impressive benchmarks.

It’s still the king of engagement, with average response rates way out in front of other channels. And as many people switch to a permanent hybrid working model, increased time at home will mean more dwell time and improved impact for DM campaigns.

If it’s the tactile and physical nature of DM that’s earning the channel a renaissance, then magazine and newspaper inserts shouldn’t be overlooked either. Where postal data is lacking, or in cultures where DM is simply not-the-done-thing, they can be extremely effective at delivering your message in-home.

Is digital fatigue is setting in?

In a landscape dominated by digital, DM offers obvious standout. With 70% of consumers reporting feeling valued by email senders*, even brands that exist purely in the digital sphere can benefit from a physical presence in the home. Even digital institution, eBay.

When their lapsed customers were proving hard to entice back, eBay came to us. Their win-back email wasn’t producing results, so we thought a little disruption was in order. We created a highly personalised, digitally printed DM pack for UK and German audiences, testing its effectiveness against eBay’s email. The DM won, with an offer redemption rate of around four times that of email.

That doesn’t mean email isn’t working. Because we know it is. But every great campaign needs more than one channel, and when DM takes the lead in the marketing mix, it’s shown to be a potent way of driving activity in other channels. That could mean inspiring immediate action or acting as an at-home reminder for a longer period.

Marketers are re-evaluating the role DM in driving more than direct responses; but delivering longer-term performance through a range of other channels, amplifying messages particularly in digital spaces.

Your mail audience is younger than you think

As Gen Z attention spans dwindle and screen time climbs ever upwards, you might assume digital natives would be unimpressed by actual mailpacks through their actual doors. Yet, Direct Mail is engaging Gen Z more than many anticipated.

Research by the World Advertising Research Centre (WARC) and Royal Mail Marketreach found Gen Z is more likely to engage with direct mail than other media. Its tactile, sensory nature is thought to be the defining factor – simply, for a generation weaned on digital advertising, receiving something through the letterbox feels somewhat unique. It feels real.

What does good direct mail look like?

Done well, it’s one of the most effective tools at a marketer’s disposal. Geotargeting, personalisation, data segmentation, clever formats – it’s a versatile medium that can lead to impressive ROI.

Yet even with more share of the doormat, good DM must work hard to stand apart. That needs bravery.

When Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) approached Flourish to help with their Lake Chad appeal, against a backdrop of declining donations, we knew the approach had to be different.

Using a graphic novel style to depict the horrors of the situation in Lake Chad, it was a pack that immediately grabbed attention. The campaign (supported by online and TV) led to a 40% increase in donations and significant re-engagement of lapsed supporters.

So, is direct mail still delivering today?

100%. Industry-wide data puts DM in a healthier position than many would have thought in a digital age. The belief in some quarters that a digital boom would see a DM bust is simply not panning out.

The medium is evolving – fewer tear-off forms and more QR codes – there’s still something deeply compelling about the channel. A highly personal, physical connection between brand and audience that gives DM an authenticity and trustworthiness that other channels can only dream of.

If you’d like to understand what DM could do for your business, get in touch with [email protected]

Or why not send us a letter?


* Report: Driving effectiveness with direct mail (WARC), 2021