Don’t forget the mail

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“Uh oh—my online-only marketing campaign didn’t work!” That might be the post-mortem cry of some marketing execs if they don’t consider other options. Such as, say, traditional mail.

Younger marketing execs might hesitate, thinking that marketing via e-mail and the Web are the only way they would ever consider reaching out to their customer base. Not that these aren’t also important marketing vehicles. (Though e-mail response rates have been tumbling over the past two years.) But the truth is that traditional mail is still a very viable method of direct marketing, especially when you consider:

  • People still faithfully read their mail; a recent study commissioned by Pitney Bowes found that 31% of consumers reported that they are unlikely to discard unopened mail.
  • In some cases, e-mail recipients don’t even look at many of their messages and simply delete them, and there’s always the one e-mail you actually wanted to keep but inadvertently deleted.
  • Absolutely nothing can replace the touch and feel factor of paper or the “wow” factor of three-dimensional pieces.

Before embarking on your next marketing effort, be sure to strongly consider your target audience, product and goals to ensure a successful project. To help guide you in your decision-making, following are some important things to consider before launching any direct marketing program:

  1. Who are my prospects and where are they going for information?
    Based on experience and study, VP-level executives at medium-to-large companies are more apt to respond to direct mail. The one exception to this general rule would be IT executives. IT executives certainly respond to mail, but tend to use e-mail more frequently. In all cases, mail is read at a higher rate than e-mail, which makes it an ideal vehicle to create a first impression. Once a dialogue has been established, a switch to more affordable e-mail makes sense. (With their permission, of course.)
  2. How complex is my product or service?
    If you are selling something complex, you may need some real estate to explain your value proposition. In this case, the versatility of traditional direct mail formats will give you the space and options to tell your story in one prospect touch.
  3. How expensive is your product or service?
    Are you selling something that is relatively inexpensive, such as a subscription, that doesn’t require any sales involvement? Or are you selling a relationship or product that is costly and requires a good deal of sales involvement? If you are “selling off the page,” e-mail can be an ideal tool for communications, as prospects can act directly from the e-mail in a one-step action. With a complex sell—one that requires sales involvement—direct mail can be a more effective door opener (see question 1).
  4. How large is your prospect universe?
    If you are targeting a small, finite universe of prospects, you may need to use a medium that generates buzz. Dimensional mailings that highlight creativity and relevance usually break through the gatekeepers and land on prospects’ desks. If you face budget constraints, try a peer-to-peer letter mailed via FedEx or UPS.
  5. Can you afford to test?
    In a perfect world, we would always recommend testing medium, format, messaging, offer and any other communication variable imaginable. This improves our efforts over time. If you can’t afford to test all these variables, or if quantity doesn’t allow for readable results, then start small and test medium. Once a successful medium is uncovered, move on to offers and messaging.

Dawn Anderson is the marketing communications manager at Wilde. She can be reached at

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