direct mail marketing

Article Topic


Jun 10, 2016


Jason Marlowe

Direct Mail Marketing: The Good & The Oh So Bad


Jun 10, 2016


Jason Marlowe

When you see a marketing campaign that clicks with you, you know it just works. Even with direct mail pieces that overload your mailbox, when you see one that catches your attention and holds your focus long enough to NOT be tossed into the garbage, that’s effective marketing. All the others that end up in the trash? Ineffective. Their boring & tired mailers with little or no thought put into the design and message.

For years, direct mail companies and businesses have been trying to create better content by bridging the gap between mass communication through direct mail and the personal touch of handwritten sentiments. And the verdict after years of fine-tuning this process? It still stinks. Handwritten fonts are just not realistic enough.

We can send a man to the moon, but we can’t create a handwritten font that looks real.

In order to offer a higher level of handwritten realism, direct mail companies are now using handwritten messages that they overlay onto mailers. This is an effort to make it appear as if someone actually wrote on the marketing material itself. It’s better than handwriting fonts, but it still feels so fake and impersonal.

As a marketer, nothing causes me more anguish than to receive bad marketing at my home.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy receiving bad direct mail marketing because it gives me a chance to show clients the value of digital marketing. But, deep down it hurts to know that companies are still paying so much for outdated, comparatively over-priced, and low-impact marketing. There’s obviously some market for people who think these mass-produced handwritten additions to direct mail are real, but I would argue that the audience is small.

Off the top of my head, I can think of my 3 favorite examples of bad direct mail marketing:

  1. A politician personally asked me to support his campaign: Really? Did he write little old me a handwritten letter? Nope. He didn’t. It was typed on a computer with a handwritten font, printed out in the color of a blue ink pen, and mailed in a fancy envelope. A lot of work and money went into this campaign and it just felt so impersonal after opening the letter.
  2. Envelopes so packed full of coupons & ads that there are too many messages calling for attention: Services that promise to get your coupon in front of your customer deliver on their promise, but they jam so many other coupons and ads in front of your audience that the value is totally diluted. It’s the same with digital OOH ads (out-of-home advertising or outdoor advertising) like billboards where the sign owner loads up 7-8+ other messages onto the board and dilutes the value of your ad.
  3. Printed email communications from car dealerships: This is a new one for me. The marketing looks like a printed email with “MEMO” written at the top and includes a personal note written to the owner requesting a call. It looked much more real than usual, but it still felt fake.

Your business might thrive on direct mail marketing. And that’s awesome. Do what works.

You might do quite well and I would have to assume that the leads you receive from campaigns like these are worth the investment. Some companies, and postal services in particular, actively market their own direct mail services because the income from advertising mail is such a significant and growing portion of this budget. However, with the power of digital marketing, there are more cost-effective ways to reach your audience.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Consider moving 1/4 of your budget for direct mail and traditional marketing to digital marketing and you’ll actually be able to see the ROI through clear analytics that you just can’t get with traditional marketing.

Make Your Direct Mailers Awesome

If you are stuck on direct mail marketing and the benefits justify the costs, then keep it up. However, stop trying to bridge that realism gap and just make it awesome. Make your direct mail pieces engaging so they’re not just torn in half and tossed into the trash along with the weekly Valpak, MTM Shopper, and unsolicited crap from the dealership where you bought your car.

Below are some killer examples from Will, one of our awesome new team members.

Notice how the pieces are colorful and engaging. It would’ve been so much easier to just create a traditional-looking calendar of events with supplemental information. Instead, Will designed an amazing series of direct mail pieces that connected with each of the church’s target segments. These are most definitely not mailers that went to the trash. They’re the ones that make the coveted spot underneath a fridge magnet. Tap on any of the designs below to see an expanded version. 

He created some really captivating direct mail pieces for this local church. With a great combination of sound marketing strategy and brilliant graphic design, your direct mail marketing can be great too.

Like I said before if direct mail marketing works for you, and it does for some, especially churches and organizations,  just remember to make it great.

  • Connect with the audience visually.
  • Create designs they’ll like.
  • Use messaging that connects with them.
  • Think of new ways to get your message across.