J&C Blog

Find all the latest marketing trends on the J&C Blog.

Have direct mail best practices been influenced by digital media?

Posted by Sheera Eby on October 2, 2013

Digital marketing and digital media have changed the way many marketers communicate with their customers and prospects. Email has provided a cost-effective and expeditious vehicle to communicate with customers. Online vehicles, such as banner ads and content marketing, are demonstrating value as effective pull marketing mechanisms.



So has digital marketing, and more specifically digital media channels, changed or influenced direct mail best practices? And how should marketers adapt their direct mail to accommodate these new channels?


I wrote a blog several months back that outlined tried-and-true best practices for direct mail. It outlined everything you should consider to optimize the impact of direct mail. This article will discuss 7 adjustments that should be considered within the direct mail best practices framework to accommodate the influences of digital marketing and digital media channels.


1. Multichannel marketing influences the depth of content requiredOne of the golden rules of direct marketing is if you’re trying to get people to make a decision, make sure you provide all of the necessary information to get them to say “yes.” You may remember the heyday of infomercials, and even 2-minute DRTV spots. These techniques were reflective of the “more is more” direct marketing principle.

Multichannel marketing has complicated single-channel attribution. It is getting more and more difficult to feel confident that a response was made as a result of any single communication. While direct mail is growing annually, and overall response rates remain steady, direct mail doesn’t perform on its own very often. 2 out of 3 people who receive direct mail make a purchase or also engage in a different marketing channel.1 This demonstrates the significance of ensuring integration and cohesion of marketing messages.

The multichannel nature of response also directly impacts the amount of information that is incorporated into a direct mail package. Direct mail best practices indicate more is more. In the case where the goal is lead generation, or the goal is to get a user to a landing page, versus utilizing direct mail as a sign-up mechanism, less can be more. Your objective dictates the amount of information.

If your goal is to generate traffic to a website, then the total story and all of the reasons why someone should sign up, enroll or take an action need to be incorporated across both media-the direct mail and the landing page. The distribution of this information is driven by the expectation and metric for each channel. This is one of the greatest influences digital media channels have had on direct mail best practices. It forces marketers to really evaluate what the goal of each vehicle is and adjust the information, messaging and content accordingly.


2. Marketers must provide multiple ways to respond

Digital media has reinforced that users want options. They are accustomed to having alternatives on how they want to respond. I often hear marketers debating whether they should still provide a phone number, or if it is critical to have a specific URL versus just dropping people into a landing page. I’d argue that digital media has set an expectation for immediate gratification. Users expect to have the answers to their questions and the ability to move forward with a process quickly and easily. This has been proven through landing page testing and results.


Furthermore, users are accustomed to having things their way. Not all prospects and customers are alike. In general, we still find that about 20% to 25% of target customers will respond using the printed response device, i.e., they will mail back an enrollment form. This is because the printed response device in direct mail serves as both a physical and subliminal reminder to respond.

This direct mail practice of allowing your targets to choose their preferred method of response still holds. We recommend that all direct mail packages provide: a response mechanism, such as a mail-back enrollment form; a phone number; and a web link/URL.


3. Display the messaging two ways: Let your target read or scan

sheera 2 Digital media has reinforced one of the most critical direct mail best practices. The content should include full content in paragraph form in the body, with key bullets called out in either the right-hand column or within the letter itself. This allows the audience to read the content however they prefer, i.e., in-depth or by scanning.

Web usability studies demonstrate that people don’t actually read everything top to bottom. This means there is an entire generation of readers who grew up with the web and that might actually read and absorb information differently than previous generations. The idea of providing information in two ways really plays into this behavior and helps overcome any inherent barriers that might exist in getting your direct mail message read.


4. Reinforce the need for inclusion of multiple calls-to-action and an expiration date

Digital media, and the sheer amount of messages that people are targeted with, underscores the urgency in making response easy for the user. A standard direct mail best practice is to provide a call-to-action multiple times within a direct mail package. A rule of thumb is a minimum of three times within the letter alone. The proliferation of digital media reinforces the need for multiple points of access and ease to get the user to the next step.


5. Everyone is on overload; relevancy is now king

The average person gets 9,000 emails a year, and that number is conservative for many of us.2 Digital media has increased the numbers of messages that inundate prospects and customers, further underscoring the need for relevancy and personalization. Relevancy is the only hope marketers have to get users’ attention and their response. This year, J&C conducted several communication preference research studies. And we have universally found that customers prefer and have come to expect personalized communications. Furthermore, tests show that personalized information, including personalized URLs (PURLs), empower and reinforce your direct mail communications.

A direct mail best practice is to leverage segmentation and targeting to improve relevancy. Generic direct mail packages without personalization have been proven to be not as effective and produce inferior results compared with packages with meaningful and accurate personalization.


6. Continue to use targeting to improve efficiency

Predictive modeling and other targeting techniques help ensure optimal spending of marketing dollars. By leveraging these techniques, marketers can increase efficiency and eliminate waste. This is a fundamental best practice of direct mail and an important distinction from general market advertising. If you are mailing to your entire universe, leverage predictive modeling to focus your marketing dollars to reach your target. It will reduce your investment by increasing your response rate.


7. Consider cross-channel learnings, applying learnings from email to direct mail


Email is a cost-effective and an efficient means to gain learnings. One impact that digital media has had on direct mail best practices is the ability to apply learnings across channels. While each channel has nuances and therefore isn’t completely transferable, email can be effective at providing directional learnings for direct mail.

Direct marketing best practices were predicated on measurement, testing and applying learnings. There is no reason to guess about results. Testing is one of the key foundational elements and best practices of direct marketing.


Direct mail best practices have been influenced by digital media. In reality, the same core direct marketing best practices can be leveraged across a number of different channels and media. But direct mail best practices need to consider how to incorporate this shift, in an effort to deliver the optimal results and a higher ROI for your direct mail.


1. ExactTarget 2012 Channel Preference Study
2. 2013 Jacobs & Clevenger Retail Communication Preferences Study

Topics: Direct Marketing, Best Practices

Recent Posts