Direct Mail Outlook : Still Best Marketing ValueDecember 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
During the recent unpleasantness known as the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama made reference—during his final debate with Mitt Romney—to the fact that the U.S. military has fewer horses and bayonets than it did in the early part of the 20th century. The president was trying to portray his opponent as being out of touch, not in tune with today's realities.
While the zinger scored points, some conservatives were quick to point out that the Marines still use bayonets and that horses were employed during Middle East operations. Political theater aside, there is something to be said for popular opinion regarding trends. We often jump to conclusions that, in the final analysis, might have seemed logical, but didn't quite square up with reality.
Direct mail would not score a passing grade in the school of popular belief: Mature marketing channel, some would say, popular with the 50-and-over set, but eschewed by the generation of digital device toters. And besides, Mr. ZIP and the U.S. Postal Service are but another $5 billion nonpayment closer to extinction. No one cares about "junk mail" anymore, right?
In reality, that dog won't bark…or that bayonet won't poke.
Direct mail is still considered the marketing channel of choice by a vast number of marketers across verticals ranging from telecom and utilities to nonprofit, publishing and financial services. According to the Direct Marketing Association's “2012 Response Rate Report,” the rates for letter-sized direct mail (3.4 percent) were 30 times higher than those for email (0.12 percent). The belief that direct mail is dead or dying will have to be suspended for the time being.
This isn't your grandfather's marketing channel, either. "Market research continues to point to the resilience of direct mail and its high credibility among Millennials and Gen-Xers," notes John Coyle, group president, sales, for Chicago-based RR Donnelley. "The research runs counter to assumptions made about these age groups who, you would think, live only on the Web and on their smart phones. It turns out that hard copy, because of its credibility and distinctiveness, still prevails as a viable commercial medium."
That's not to say 2012 was not a challenging campaign. Some softness in the financial markets—i.e., credit and insurance—impacted direct mail volume universally, Coyle notes. It defrayed some of the momentum enjoyed in 2011.