Direct mail drives digital marketing success

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on November 9, 2011

Direct mail drives digital marketing success

Although most aspects of our lives are now 'digitalised', it is not yet time to toll the bell for direct mail. While handwritten love letters may have been overtaken by text messages, and paper invitations replaced by Facebook Events, prompts received by direct mail are still one of the biggest drivers of web traffic, according to Andy Wood, managing director for GI Insight.

In today's multi-channel world, the customer journey - from receipt of first marketing communication to completion of a purchase in-store or online - is anything but linear. The latest consumer survey by GI Insight reveals that roughly a third (34%) of respondents say most of the direct marketing they notice and act upon comes through the post, while a similar proportion (32%) say the same of email. Moreover, 35% of consumers say they are more likely to take action if they receive a notice through the post backed by a subsequent email, and that this combination is much stronger in driving them to purchase then either mail or email used solely. Successful engagement of the multi-channel consumer thus requires more than slavish adherence to the digital channel.

What role, then, does direct mail have to play in the modern customer journey? Of the 1,000 UK consumers surveyed by GI Insight, nearly half (47%) - including 53% of the youngest, most digital savvy respondents - answered they were 'more often than not' driven to a website thanks to something received in the post. Furthermore, over half (52%) confirmed that most promotions and special offers they redeem in-store or online come through the post. Regardless of the channel ultimately used for purchase, physical post evidently remains a powerful tool in businesses' efforts to contact customers.

Part of the appeal of direct mail is its physical presence, consumers able to pin post to a noticeboard or use as a bookmark. Unlike digital images, which disappear in a click and have to be printed out to be redeemed, a well-crafted letter can be kept to prompt purchase when the time is right. Unsurprisingly, therefore, over half (52%) the respondents to GI's survey admit to hanging on to items of post as reminders to visit a shop or website when they have time. Direct mail provides the sense of longevity out-of-sight, out-of-mind email does not and, in clearly remaining a key part of the shopping process for many consumers, a rash decision to eliminate it from marketing activities would be extremely unwise, even as print and postage costs rise.

Indeed, one leading UK insurer fell foul of the online-offline conundrum when they decided to think solely digital and cut all non-digital marketing activities, believing they would save money. Although the vast majority of their business came through the website, eradicating offline marketing resulted in considerably reduced sales, clearly showing consumers were being driven to the website by a combination of channels. For this particular organisation, direct mail and other offline activities were quickly reinstated.

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy findings of the survey is the response of the web savvy 18 to 24-year old demographic who, contrary to what may seem intuitive, declare themselves more likely to visit a website because of something received in the post than via email. In fact, with 53% saying post has pushed them to go online, they are seemingly more responsive to the offerings of the mailbox than their elders. Furthermore, it is the younger generations who are most likely to redeem postal promotions and offers in-store or online (18-24 year olds) or use them as reminders to visit a website (25-44 year olds). Remarkably, then, the younger demographic are still very responsive to direct mail, further corroborating the need for brands to maintain their physical marketing techniques and not digress to digital alone.

Interestingly, the least likely age groups to require direct mail reminders to visit a website or store are the over-55s (34%) and under-24s (37%). One might conjecture that since both groups are generally less pressed by work and family pressures, they are more likely to make time to act immediately on offers received.

The survey also uncovers some notable gender differences. Men are more likely to use items received through the post as a reminder to take up an offer (45% compared to 41% of women), as well as showing greater appreciation of direct mail and email used in combination (37% compared to 32% of women). Furthermore, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, more men (36%) than women (32%) receive at least two catalogues containing products they buy either online or via mail order. However, it is women who are more likely to visit a website following something received in the post (49% compared to 44% of men), indicating to retailers that a tangible marketing element - for example, a birthday card with a special offer - can be an important driver of online activity for female consumers.

Some strong findings in support of the direct mail industry are thus apparent. Nearly half of consumers are driven on line by mail, almost as many keep direct mail lying around as a reminder to take action, and over a third indicate they are more likely to respond to a marketing message initially issued via direct mail. Moreover, it is clear the preferred channel for brand engagement or purchase amongst today's multi-channel consumers is not necessarily the same as the avenue via which they prefer to be contacted.

Tales of the death of direct mail as a marketing medium have therefore certainly been exaggerated, while email is perhaps not the primary marketing channel many have made it out to be. Successful engagement of the modern day consumer, it seems, requires effective collaboration between both online and offline media, and the development of a rounded view of customer preferences and activities in order to successfully target consumers through the right channels.

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