Direct Mail: As Important as Ever

female reading a letter at her desk

No one can deny the role technology has played in changing the way businesses communicate with their customers today. This proliferation of electronic communications has actually enhanced the effectiveness of printed direct mail by reducing competition in your mailbox.  Before you call us crazy, consider the following …

The Direct Marketing Association recently reported that direct mail’s response rate outperforms all digital channels — by a long shot.  According to their research, direct mail achieves a 3.7% response rate with a house list, and a 1% response rate with a prospect list. OK, sounds respectable, right?  But here’s the deal:  Mobile, paid search, social media, email, and internet display combined (yes, combined) only achieve a .62% response rate.

Put another way, print outperforms all digital channels combined by over 600%.  If that’s not a repudiation of the “print is dead” mantra, I don’t know what is.  Let’s get into a few more of the details to understand how this breaks down.


How did each of the digital channels stack up?  Here are the average response rates reported in the survey by channel as individual tactics:

  • Mobile: 0.2%
  • Email: 0.1% (for a Prospect list);  0.1% (for House list)
  • Social Media: 0.1%
  • Paid Search: 0.1%
  • Display Advertising: 0.02%

With respect to direct mail, there are certain formats that do better than others. According to the study, oversized envelopes have the best response rate at 5.0%, followed by postcards at 4.25%, dimensional 4.0%, catalogs 3.9% and letter-sized envelopes 3.5%.

Marketers continue to embrace multi-channel marketing, with 44% of the respondents using three or more channels for their marketing efforts. In these instances, the most popular channels tend to be email, direct mail and social media.


According to the study, marketers report that their main challenges with direct mail are its cost, the effort to deploy it, and difficulty tracking results.   

  • Cost should only be an issue if the related marketing campaigns are not ROI positive.  If direct mail creates Leads, and those Leads turn into Opportunities — and those Opportunities turn into sales at a rate and average amount exceeding the direct mail investment, what’s the problem?  There may be a math problem, but don’t blame it on the medium.
  • If you’re having trouble tracking the results of your direct mail campaign, then the good news is multi-channel marketing automation software can help.  If you’re not tracking your mail and generating more leads, you’re most likely leaving money on the table.
  • In addition, the study finds that fewer companies report using direct mail.  Oh no, that’s awful — but is it?  I take that to show us that there is less competition in the mailbox for your prospects’ attention.  The news is even better if you look back at what the DMA has reported about direct mail response rates over the past two years; that is, they find that current response rates are slightly elevated. So in my book, this also runs in your favor.

 To learn more about how to increase the performance levels of your direct marketing campaigns, please contact Marketing Tech today at or (716) 332-4369.

This article contains significant contributions from David Rosenthal, co-founder of MindFire Inc. and a Marketing Tech strategic partner.

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