6 Reasons to Stop Using Direct Mail

This past summer I spent three days at DMA 2008, the world’s largest annual marketing conference.  Due to the expense involved in attending (a $2,000 registration fee + air and three nights of hotel) this was actually my first DMA conference.  Being a professional marketer since the early 1990s I have seen a great deal of change within my profession, and expected the nearly three-hour opening session to be filled with teasers for new and exciting marketing-related concepts and technologies.  However, I was surprised—if not completely disappointed—to find that DMA’s primary focus, even today, is their long and storied history with direct mail.

As an aside . . . shortly before I posted this article, I paid a visit to Google to do some testing.  For each of the search phrases direct maildirect mail marketingdirect mailingmail marketing and direct mail marketing help, the DMA website came up on the first page of organic results.  However, the site showed up on page 3 for search engine marketing, page 9 for email marketing, page 13 for Internet marketing, and nowhere in the first 20 pages for the phrase social network marketing.

I will be the first to admit there are still a few pieces of mail I look forward to: the rebate checks, the Restoration Hardware catalogs, our monthly township newsletter, and my quarterly Social Security statement . . . which unfortunately details exactly how little money I have made during my life so far.  But other than these few items, anything I receive via mail—no matter how colorful or attractive—is dropped directly into my paper recycling bin.  As a professional marketer I don’t believe I am alone in my aversion to direct mail, and have come up with six reasons why direct mail should assume its rightful place in the Marketing Museum next to the fax machine, the printed coupon, and the trade show.

Reason #1: Mail Pieces Cost Money to Design.  With all of the advancements in software and technology, anyone with a computer can lay out an effective email, write a Twitter post, or upload a web page. But only a graphic designer with a $1,000 piece of software and a $4,000 Mac can design a direct mail piece. . . . and charge $50 an hour to do it.

Reason #2: There is No Opt-In or Spam Law for Direct Mail. The lack of any sort of direct mail legislation allows direct mailers to not only bombard people on their lists, but also sell their lists to other companies who do the exact same thing.  What is The Direct Marketing Association doing in response?  Fighting like hell to make sure ideas like the ‘Do Not Mail List’ never see the light of day.  If you have some extra money, DMA will even let you chip in for their Congressional lobbyists.

Reason #3: Stamps are Expensive. Targeted e-newsletters can be sponsored for ten cents per name. Email houses can send mass blasts for less than two cents per name.  Twitter and social networking posts are free, and so are blog entries.  And the price of postage stamps just went up.  Again.

Reason #4: Direct Mail Campaign Stats Aren’t Real Stats. Direct mailers throw around numbers like Response Rate, ROI, Shelf Life and Pass-Along Rate as if they were cold hard facts. But in reality most are nothing more than educated guesses, based on industry-wide surveys of other companies who do direct mail.  Or maybe, just maybe, the catalog I threw in the garbage WAS actually read by 3.6 other people between my kitchen counter and the trash bin?

Reason #5: Direct Mail Leaves No Room for Changes. Depending upon the industry your company is in, a direct mail piece can be outdated within days of being sent.  Publishing a price, description or sales promotion on a direct mail piece means you’re stuck with it for months, unless you want to bear the expense of re-sending a corrected version to the exact same audience.  On the other hand, web pages and downloadable PDF files can be changed and published in real-time, and updated emails can be sent—and only to the people who actually opened your first email—for pennies.

Reason #6: Our Immediate Gratification Society. 80% of the responses to an email campaign will be received within the first 24 hours.  At the end of that same period of time, your direct mail piece will still be in a bag somewhere, waiting to be sorted and placed on a stagecoach, or donkey, or mail truck, or whatever they use to deliver mail these days.

After extended discussions with a number of people who frequent this blog, I get the impression most professional marketers (if given the choice) would abandon direct mail entirely—if their companies would let them.  It frightens me to think how many of my friends and colleagues are still being pushed toward direct mail by their organizations, when cheaper and more effective channels like email, search engine optimization, blogging and social networking are readily available.  But eventually, the slumping economy will force most of them to drop direct mail as a marketing vehicle, whether they want to or not.

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