We often hear that if we wait long enough, everything old will become new again. With the ever-growing regard that digital marketing is reaping, many might think that direct mail has acquired such advanced old-timer status that it stands ready to reclaim distinction as a communication mainstay. However, others would say that direct mail marketing has always been effective (especially for promotional products businesses), and that it’s always been able to go toe-to-toe with digital channels—or, better yet, work together with them.
While direct mail has become an elder statesman, it remains revered for its various possibilities, especially in combination with digital efforts. Therefore, plenty of opportunities exist for companies to get their messages out there via mailbox, and, interestingly, those businesses can credit an influx of digital marketing approaches for that stability. To dig into direct mail for promo businesses, we talked to Danny Rosin, co-owner and co-president of Brand Fuel, Norfolk, Va.; Joe Lysaght, print and marketing consultant at Consolidated Graphic Communications, Bridgeville, Pa.; Randy Pritchard, vice president of Proforma Results Group, New Smyrna Beach, Fla.; and Paul Bobnak, an esteemed content creator and consultant for the printing and marketing industries.
If direct mail could have theme lyrics, we think they’d be “Don’t call it a comeback/I’ve been here for years” from LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” given the unwavering support our sources have stamped on the marketing tool. With all the buzz around digital marketing, though, what has kept direct mail going strong?
“I like direct mail because it has always been about the almost unlimited possibilities of print,” said Bobnak. “Print can be visual and tactile and creates more possibilities to communicate an idea than digital [marketing] does. We get bombarded with so many digital messages every day—texts, email, websites, social media ads and pop-ups, etc.—that just fly by our eyes and don’t leave a lasting impression. With direct mail, a marketer or brand can create a ‘mail moment’ that grabs the attention of the target, keeps them engaged and then drives a response.”
Thanks to his tenure in the field, Bobnak commended the advances that direct mail has undergone, noting that less-effective “spray-and-pray” mass mailings, through which companies put out exorbitant amounts of advertising and hoped for considerable returns, met their demise as postage and printing costs continue to increase. The name of the contemporary game is a mixture of segmentation and personalization, the combination of which makes it easier than ever to target customers and prospects on a one-to-one basis. For folks like Rosin, then, the promo world offers a chance to “zig where others zag” and foster numerous opportunities to stand out.
“In this business, measurable actions are our Holy Grail,” Rosin said. “We always have to work to come up with targeted ways to delight customers, and adding a promo component puts you in the conversation of who is going to compel people to believe in a campaign.”
Rosin explained that the implementation of any direct mail strategy will yield one of three results. Recipients will (1) throw away the outreach, critiquing it as a waste of their time, (2) say “yes and thank you” to it and deem it worth a longer inspection, or (3) say “wow” and find themselves captivated and provoked to see even more of what’s behind the initiative. Given that the third outcome is easily the most desirable, Rosin believes that no matter how much sway digital marketing has achieved, marketers have to accept that it has limitations and must respect direct mail’s longevity.
“There’s a lot of noise and a lot of distraction,” he said of what surrounds digital spend considerations. “So, I don’t think that it takes a genius to see that uniting direct mail and digital aspirations is the answer. In fact, I see relying on that unification as a standard way to operate in the modern promo world.”
Akin to what Rosin mentioned about the drawbacks of digital-only marketing, Pritchard touched on the clutter that the tech world can include, lamenting that email has become a necessary evil that, among other drawbacks, can breed cautiousness over viruses that might be lurking in messages. It’s also easy to tune out as digital marketers increasingly bombard inboxes.
“Direct mail, when done effectively, is refreshing,” Pritchard said. “How many times do you see people still walk out to the mailbox immediately after the postman makes a delivery? Also, the mainstream public has been educated and has accepted the fact that the majority of paper is now made from recycled and renewable sources.”
Which vertical markets respond best to direct mail marketing from promo businesses? As Pritchard sees matters, real estate, automotive, travel and leisure, retail, service industries, schools, nonprofits, the medical community and the political realm possess great power to lend themselves nicely to promo concepts that couple direct mail and digital dollars in a fruitful marriage. But it can work just about everywhere.
“Blending direct mail with the digital world has opened up a new avenue for direct marketing,” Pritchard said. “Personalized URLs and QR codes linked to video and/or landing pages allow organizations to collect valuable data. This is an expensive process when compared to standard mail, but the information gathered can be priceless.”
Our other sources agreed, with Bobnak noting that multichannel marketing efforts work because of “the power of print” and “the immediacy of digital.”
“Digital communication maintains a significant role in reaching prospective buyers, and direct mail benefits, too, when used in tandem,” Lysaght added. “Digital provides the means for instant responses and feedback to a direct mail campaign, and to collect more information that can develop a relationship and additional sales. Also, in today’s advertising environment, multichannel communication is essential for best exposure. My company has invested in developing all three areas of our business—print, digital and promo products. This gives our sales group the ability to provide all three components or any of the three that our clients require.”
Lysaght’s point about providing sales personnel with the right tools resounds in the promo world, particularly if you, like Bobnak, agree with marketing bigwig Ed Mayer’s belief that 40 percent of a marketing campaign’s success is attributable to one’s list of prospects, another 40 percent deals to the offer and the remaining 20 percent to everything else, including creative elements and formats. As Bobnak holds, the list is absolutely essential, because printing and postage costs mean that a decent ROI is likely not going to come about through mass mailings anymore. As for the pitch, he advised seriously studying that pool of prospects and marketing to the audience segments that perform best.
“Direct mail can be effective—or at least tested—with your audiences with remarketing,” Bobnak said. “This is where omnichannel comes in to use the best of print and digital. For a distributor, when someone searches your website but then moves on, this can trigger the printing and sending of a postcard or flats with a personalized offer and content based on their behavioral activity there.”
Regarding what to use to tie direct mail to digital marketing methods so as to dazzle prospects’ senses—something Rosin and the Brand Fuel crew accomplished through their “Let’s Get Phygital” campaign that saw them send small pieces of artwork from a cut-into-blocks boombox—our sources advocated for making numerous practices mainstays of anyone’s approach.
“Combine direct mail with a nice promo offer to encourage a call to action—perhaps a microsite response to gather information and educate the visitor on how promo products can be a benefit to growing their business or used as employee recognition programs, awards, HR recognition, etc.,” Lysaght said. “The promotional product should be something with perceived value to the recipient. Use a direct mail package with a promo item and an invite to perhaps a promo product supplier event where the suppliers you invite to exhibit also raffle off promo items and wearables.
“Use a campaign to advertise a promo products lunch-and-learn or similar type of event that educates the client about the benefits of using promo products to help grow their businesses,” he continued. “Hand out promo items to the attendees. It would be best to know who is attending so you could custom-make a promo item—something relevant to them or their industry—for many of the top attendees.”
“The best components of a successful campaign must contain the following: (1) a qualified list, (2) an offer to entice a response, (3) a sense of urgency for the response and (4) repetition, meaning a minimum of three pieces to the same recipient,” Pritchard said. “Each piece can be different, provided that the branding is consistent, or they can be the same. Either way can be just as effective. Most importantly, study how direct mail works as it relates to proper forms and procedures. Direct mail comes with huge liabilities when you’re talking about postage costs. The more you know, the better communication you can have with your vendor. Also, make sure your vendor is very reputable.
“I am a huge proponent of sending three-dimensional mailings to a select group,” he added. “Being in the promotional products industry, we should be sending out promotional products, right? A campaign involving this, along with a pre-notice mailer or phone call, has proven successful for us to get that first meeting."