Direct Mail: Not Dead Yet

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”
— Mark Twain

Like Mark Twain, direct mail may have been written off a bit prematurely. In fact, given the growing pervasiveness of spam filters, direct mail is probably poised for a comeback. At the very least, it offers marketers a nice complement to e-mail direct marketing. In the right circumstances, it can yield spectacular results — as one of our clients experienced recently.

Several months ago, automotive lock manufacturer Strattec hired Boelter + Lincoln to help launch its new BOLT series of locks at the world’s largest automotive aftermarket trade show. In developing a plan with them, we quickly agreed that the primary goals of this effort were to drive potential retailers to the Strattec booth at the show and get product samples into their hands. Considering there were nearly 2,000 exhibitors sprawled through three huge halls at the show, this would be no mean feat.

Rather than reaching out to convention attendees via trade pub advertising or e-mail, we chose direct mail, for several reasons. First, we felt a three-dimensional direct mailer would convey the concept of the product (a lock that opens with the owner’s car/truck key) better than a two-dimensional e-mail. Secondly, we wanted to get something tangible into their hands to drive booth visits — in this case a “credit card” that offered a free sample lock. Third, we were able to purchase a very, highly qualified list of show attendees. Finally, we knew that direct mailers typically have far greater deliverability rates than mass e-mails do.

The results? Of the 1,400 show attendees we sent the mailer to, nearly 350 brought their card to the booth or went online to get the sample lock. That’s a 25 percent response rate, or nearly 10 times what’s typically considered successful. Better yet — to quote Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum — nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. The constant booth traffic generated by the mailer attracted other show attendees, and the overall leads generated at the show exceeded the client’s admittedly optimistic goal of 500 by more than 10 percent.

So when are the circumstances ripe for direct mail, versus e-mail? Here are a few general tips:

– Use direct mail when you need to tell a story about your
product or service.

Use e-mail if the message can be kept very short. (People typically have less patience with direct marketing e-mails than regular mailers.)

– Use direct mail for a smaller, more qualified list.
Use e-mail for a larger, less qualified list. (Perhaps the biggest strike against direct mail is its cost, so if you’re not so sure about the quality of your list, don’t go there. In this case we were able to qualify that recipients were not only show attendees but were also in purchasing-related positions.)

– Use direct mail if you want to put something in the recipient’s hands.
Sure you can e-mail coupons or certificates, but we knew that something more tangible — in this case, a pseudo credit card — was more likely to be put into a wallet and kept than a print out.

– Use direct mail if you have enough lead time.
Use e-mail if lead time is short. In Strattec’s case, we delivered the printed mailing pieces (about the size of a small paperback book) to the mail house just under a month prior to the show and the mailing went out two weeks prior.

– Use direct mail with an older, less techy audience.
Since more retirement age Americans are online than ever before, this argument is definitely losing some credence. But it still holds true in most cases.