Is Direct Mail Dead or New Uses for Old Tactics

uzvards via Flickr

The first half of the title of this post is a question I get, in some variation, quite frequently these days. You could change the subject to email or face to face networking or press releases, but the implication is always that some long established marketing tactic has been supplanted by Twitter or Facebook.

My answer is always the same – nothing is dead – but the ways we use them have changed.

My take is that if you establish a strong marketing strategy, one that helps you build trust, and you fully understand the behavior and objectives of your ideal customer, then you can use almost any tactic to build your business.

In fact, some of the more “traditional” offline approaches have never been more effective when fused with technology and newer online approaches.

Digital has changed the customer communication environment fundamentally over the years and caused many to forgo the traditional broadcast tools.

But, smart marketers are discovering new ways to use old tools that are more in line with inbound marketing practices and are taking advantage of technology leaps to make a tactic like direct mail even more effective.

I return once again, as I do often, to my definition of marketing – getting someone who has a need to know, like and trust you – if you can find a way to use a tactic to do that, than no tactic is dead or even out of bounds.

Even the often maligned Twitter auto DM is fair game if you can find a way to use it to build trust – the fact is few can, but my point is there are no set rules or magic tactics in this game.

Here are a few examples of new uses for old tactics:

  • Use variable data printing on demand printing to create highly personalized direct mail pieces with unique images, stories and calls to action based on your customer database. The technology is there to do this in small batches with hundreds of variations.
  • Use technology to produce postcards that invite each recipient to a personal landing page that features information tailored to their interests and alerts a sales team to initiate a further contact.
  • Use traditional broadcast and print advertising to drive prospects to a series of free online videos that educate, entertain and inform – oh, and build know, like and trust.

Reaching markets and creating buzz about our products and services still requires an integrated approach – that part won’t ever change, but before you drop a proven way to reach your prospects from the mix consider how you might use it build trust instead of move product.

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  • Al Pittampalli

    With e-mail marketing still on the rise because of it’s low cost, I agree Jon, that there is a huge opportunity for marketers to explore old tools again. You might argue that DM might be even more effective right now, as the channel is less crowded right now. I think the key, as with all direct marketing is thorough testing.

    • ducttape

      Combing email, social and offline is the killer approach!

  • Jon

    I agree that a good mix of traditional and interactive is really the way to go.  I see no reason to not include one element or another, but the idea of mixing them is really great!
    Good article,

    • ducttape

      Yep, mix is the right word – no one solution is as effective as a cross platform integration.

  • Bobby

    Direct Mail is alive and well according to the United Postal Service! They have a great magazine that seems to exist solely for the purpose of promoting the Direct Mail option for marketers and business owners.

    • ducttape

      I know, in fact, they did an awesome piece on good old Duct Tape Marketing last summer or so

  • Thomas Chapman

    I like the postcard idea – you might visit hundreds of websites in a week but if you receive just one postcard that is one site you will definitely remember

    • ducttape

      I think that’s right and that’s the point – hit their brain in combined ways.

  • Modern Postcard

    John, thanks for the article. Yes, DM is alive and well — so are we! Through many advances in tech, we are able to provide clients with highly targeted mailing lists along with variable data printing. All of which results in more personal connections, relevant content and of course, a significant boost in response rates. Our clients use direct mail to drive traffic into brick and mortar locations, as well as websites, Facebook pages, blogs and Twitter feeds. They use it in conjunction with email campaigns and have started to add QR codes. There are a ton of ways that direct mail has evolved to fit easily and effectively into any campaign. Dead? Absolutely not!

    • ducttape

      Thanks and I agree – appreciate you jumping and supporting the evolution of direct mail!

  • Antonio Coleman

    Not so dead, but on life support. If you can make it work for you then I will say give it a go.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Elena Patrice

    John, I’m so glad you wrote this! My dad is the king of direct mail marketing and I’m trying to introduce him to other avenues. There are some great points here and much for him to think about! I just passed this his way … I’m super glad!  Yeah!  I think the post card to landing page is brilliant!! Something obvious, but never would have thought of. Thank you! 

    With kindness,


  • Luis@wealth-steps

    Direct marketing used to be the holy grail of real estate investors for finding motivated sellers. Now that the market is flood with foreclosures it has fallen off the way side but it’s still relevant. 

  • KurtMedina

    John – The viability (or lack of viability) of direct mail is also directly impacted by one additional factor you don’t mention … age. For today’s true seniors (age mid-seventy and older), direct mail is still the medium of choice — along with print and then television. For today’s active retirees (age 62 – mid-seventies and definitely including more and more Boomers every day), direct mail is still a very vibrant way to showcase your goods and services. Pre-retirees (the rest of the Boomers) are impacted however. They have less available time … and less available interest … in opening direct mail. It still can work, but it had better be good! On the flip side of the coin, interactive and social media also have places in all three segments … but most with the Boomers and least with the seniors. Additionally, the area sought by all folks over 50 in interactive is information. They are not socializing purely to socialize, which happens with younger consumers.

    Bottom line, pay attention to WHO your target audience is and fashion your promotional mix accordingly.