Direct Mail Marketing – Still the Most Bang for the Buck

bang for the buckDepending on the survey, the percentage of Americans who have cellphones is somewhere between 83% and 91%. Of those, nearly half of them are smartphone users. One survey notes that 88% of cellphone users check their e-mails daily on their phone. What’s more, the word “tablet” in American vernacular has stopped referring primarily to a type of pill or to a set of lined paper.

Yet despite all of this, despite the massive surges in technology we are seeing today, there remains plenty of indication that direct mail marketing remains a powerful (if not the most powerful) solution for hitting target markets. In early 2012, Marketing Charts noted that direct mail delivered the best ROI for customer acquisition for B2C marketers.

Perhaps the greatest strength of direct mail marketing is its tangibility. There is no better way to get your message physically into the hands of the consumer. Direct mail marketing provides discounts, coupons, information, and product awareness in a tangible form; it won’t get lost in a storm of tweets, nor forgotten in the bottom of a full e-mail inbox, or mired in a sea of saved yet neglected web browser bookmarks.

Interestingly, another benefit direct mail has over electronic marketing is flexibility. It seems strange to think of new technologies being inflexible, but when it comes right down to it, all e-marketing has to fit on a screen of some kind. On the other hand, direct mail campaigns can be tailored to the size of the message and the desires of the target. Need to send just a quick message? A postcard it is! Need something personal? Address customers by name in a personalized letter. Have a lot of information? A brochure or small catalog will do wonders.

With something physical in the customer’s hands, it’s also easier to determine if your marketing dollars are working. Tracking inquiries, redeemed coupons or promotional codes is a simple and effective way of determining what works for you and your audience.

We started with a lot of e-numbers, and now we finish with some “snail-numbers.” “Snail mail” as it is lovingly called, is what we get in our physical mail boxes, and according to the United States Postal Service, 98% of consumers check their mail every day, with 77% looking through the mail immediately. There are no “spam filters” for physical mail, so that is your message going directly into the consumer’s hands.

Please share your thoughts below – thanks for reading!

Image Source: © James Steidl –

2011 Direct Marketing Trends Recap

2011 direct marketing trends recapAs 2011 comes to a close, I hope that your company’s marketing efforts were successful! However, in marketing, there’s always room for improvement. We saw a lot of successful trends in direct marketing over the last year, and perhaps some of these trends can benefit your business in 2012.

Experimenting with Enhanced and Unique Formats

Many companies have been thinking “out of the envelope” when it comes to direct marketing. According to Direct Marketing IQ, they’ve seen an increase in the use of larger formats, even as marketing budgets have shrunk. “The percentage of mail that was larger sized (bigger than 6″ x 9″s) actually went up by 9 percent!! Now larger formats are being used a full quarter of all mail — 25.5 percent to be exact. How long this trend can hold remains to be seen.” A mailer size that is out of the ordinary such as an oversized postcard or a slim-jim magalog will be more likely to catch the eye of your prospect.

Taking Advantage of Intelligent Mail Barcodes

The Intelligent Mail Barcode, or IMB, is an upgrade of the coding processes used by the United States Postal Service (USPS) to sort and track pieces of mail that travel through the postal delivery system. The IMB includes the data types from the POSTNET and PLANET Code barcodes, plus additional information. While the IMB can help your direct mail reach your customers, it provides so many other benefits, including greater accuracy with all data in one barcode, greater accountability and tracking from USPS, and improved error correction.


Tailoring marketing messages, whether through direct mail or email, was a huge trend in 2011 that caught the eye of many customers. Digital print processes have allowed companies to create personalized content right off the press in a single print run, including content that was relevant to each individual customer. Personalized URLs, or PURLs, helped link print media or email to personalized landing pages with unique content. PURLs are easy to remember and usually include the customer’s name, so that it not only catches the prospect’s eye, but makes them more likely to go online and visit the URL. A personalized landing page will contain information that is specifically relevant to that customer. The content can be dynamically generated based on preferences and prior purchases, resulting in truly relevant content.

The Continuing Dominance of Email

While some pundits may have predicted the slow death of email marketing, 2011 showed that email is not dead, and very much an important part of the majority of marketing campaigns out there. However, bulk email blasts are an endangered species. Marketing Sherpa notes that triggered emails were a big success in 2011, and resulted in significantly higher engagement than standard promotional email messages. “A case study shows how Microsoft implemented a multi-stage, months-long triggered email series to improve engagement and educate new B2B Office 2010 customers. They increased open rates by 800% and clickthrough by 2,100%.”

Video Reaps Results

A case study on Marketing Sherpa showed how enterprise software developer repurposed existing content to reengage with neglected prospects. The content was used to create, videos, white papers, links to third-party content, data sheets, and a combination of PDFs and links. “The big result of the campaign? The email sends with video accounted for 54% of the total clicks. The videos included calls-to-action to download educational papers and analyst reports.” Videos can be used in so many ways to support a marketing campaign, including basic educational videos describing a product or service and testimonials of customers who have already purchased a product or service. Videos can be used to answer customer questions, highlight a new product, and introduce company experts.

Integration of Multiple Marketing Media

Integrated marketing was predicted to be a big trend in 2011 and it certainly followed through on its expectations. It is almost mandatory to have a consistent and integrated message across several types of media, from direct mail to email, from websites to radio and TV advertising. Integration isn’t just repeating the same message on every type of media; it’s creating complementary messages that build upon each other to drive home your message to your prospect. For example, you can set up a campaign that begins with an email message prompting the customer to visit a specific website, where additional information is located. The email message can be followed up with a print postcard with a PURL to encourage prospects who have not yet visited the website to check it out. All of these media can also be integrated with social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter, along with supporting videos hosted on YouTube.

QR Codes

Quick response, or “QR” codes, represent another trend that saw success in 2011. QR codes are two dimensional bar codes that allow prospects with mobile phones to easily access product or service information. QR codes can be placed on postcard mailers, print advertising, or even billboards and posters. The code can link to anything online, from a specialized landing page to an explanatory video. While companies such as Microsoft have created their own 2D code styles, they can only be read by specific Microsoft programs, whereas standard QR codes can be read by many different programs. Another benefit to QR codes is that you can re-use the code to update to new and improved content whenever you want without having to update the code itself.

While trends do come and go in direct marketing, these specific trends have shown success and staying power in 2011. If there are some tactics in this list that you haven’t tried, make a resolution to add them to your campaigns in 2012 and tap into some of that success. As always, if you need additional information about any of these strategies, or want to speak to us about your direct marketing, give us a call.

Happy New Year from the Ballantine Corporation!

Image – © fotogestoeber –


Direct Mail and Online Aren’t Enemies

We just executed a campaign for a mutual fund client that solidified the fact that direct mail and online aren’t enemies. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. They’re best friends and they play very well together.

The campaign we executed involved creating an email and landing page. Shortly after the email blast, we converted the creative into a 6×9 tri-fold self mailer and sent it to the same folks. The email, landing page and direct mail piece all carried the same message…and the creative of all 3 components complemented each other.

The campaign was successful and we’re now using the same tactic for one of their other mutual funds.

This whole project reminded me to stop looking at direct mail and online as oil and water. If done right, they can work very well together. And it makes sense because people nowadays spend so much time online, but they’re also checking their mailbox too of course.

If you connect with potential customers at both locations with a focused, targeted message, they’re going to at least notice your offer. And that’s half the battle.


Where Did All The Direct Mail Programs Go?

I just finished reading the latest issue of DMNews (July 13th, 2009 issue) and it struck me that there was very little mention, if any, of direct mail programs that companies were running.

All the stories were about:

  • Mobile marketing
  • Social media
  • Email marketing
  • Web loyalty, etc.

Now I completely understand that online marketing is very hot right now, but direct mail for many companies is, and should be, a vital part of their marketing mix.

Now you can say I’m biased because Ballantine provides direct mail services (we offer some digital solutions as well), but it’s a fact that direct mail is VERY targeted and VERY measurable.

If rising costs are an issue, then you become smarter with your direct mail. You lean heavily on your vendors to help you cut costs and/or introduce new ideas. It’s what we do for our clients and it’s what you should EXPECT from your vendors.

Yes, direct mail is changing but if you adapt to those changes, you’ll be OK. Most of our clients (not all) are still mailing at their normal volumes, but have tweaked certain aspects of their direct mail programs. i.e. more finely-tuned lists, more cost-efficient formats, commingling, etc.

You should also look at different printed products. We have a meeting today with a major automobile company to discuss a new printed product that would get them in the mail boxes they NEED to be in at a fraction of the cost.

Or read our previous post on personal URLs. We’re helping one of our clients with a PURL campaign and direct mail is still a big part of the project. An inexpensive self-mailer to get the PURL out there…and then an inexpensive digitally-printed follow up postcard.

Reach out to your customers, and potential customers, from different angles. Online marketing now plays a big role in this approach…and so does direct mail.


To Mail Or Not To Mail

There was an article in a recent issue of Inside Direct Mail written by Ken Schneider…we thought the message was both accurate and perfect for this blog. As a result, we got his permission to reprint it below.


Back when I was a rising young copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, upper management always stressed to our clients that slow economic times were not the time to cut back on advertising expenditures and lie low.  Just the opposite, they preached the Contrarian Rule of Ad Spending — rushing forward when others were pulling back.  With less media clutter to break through, the client’s advertising message would come through loud and clear.  More so, even, than when times were good.

This Contrarian Rule of Ad Spending comes to mind these days as we all are struggling with the higher costs of doing business.  Many of you have decided to cut back on the size and number of your mailings.  Some have opted out of the mail altogether.  And there are many reasons why these decisions are made.
But think about this.  As times get tough, maybe your product is one of the few things your customers DON’T want to give up.  They may decide to not go to the movies, but yet they still want to curl up with a magazine at night.  They may save money by eating out less, but they then decide to stay home and cook — so they may choose to buy more recipe books and food magazines.
They may decide to cancel that big vacation trip this year, but they still might enjoy subscribing to a travel magazine to help them plan for next year.  Or they might choose to read a shelter title or two to get ideas for home decorating and fix-ups, in lieu of buying a new house.  And the list could go on and on.
Studies over a course of previous recessions have demonstrated that companies which do not cut back their advertising budgets achieve greater increases in profit than companies which do cut back.  When advertising continues in bad times, share-of-market goes up.
One of my former employers, David Ogilvy, said…

    “I have come to regard advertising as part of
     the product, to be treated as a production cost,
     not a selling cost.  It follows that it should
     not be cut back when times are hard, any more
     than you would stint any other essential
     ingredient in your product.”

Here’s another way to look at it, from a story I often heard in agency presentations…

    On a train journey to Texas, a friend asked Mr.
    Wrigley why, with the lion’s share of the market,
    he continued to advertise his chewing gum. 
    ‘How fast do you think this train is going?’
    asked Wrigley.  ‘I would say about ninety miles
    an hour.’  ‘Well,’ said Wrigley. ‘Do you suggest
    we unhitch the engine?’

Mr. Wrigley got it!  He understood that advertising was the engine that drove the company, pushed it forward, and maintained its momentum.  He realized that if he only advertised when there was money in the budget…or when printing costs were in a lull…or when sales were so bad he HAD to — the company was in big trouble.  Of course, he “got it” to the point that it was company policy — as a matter of course — to fund advertising at budget levels that allowed the advertising to do its job.
But I’m afraid that in many cases in the direct mail world, advertising budgets just don’t get the attention they deserve.  It seems to me (although I may be wrong) that direct mail gets whatever’s left after all other funds have been pigeonholed. 
How wonderful it would be if we, as practitioners of the craft of creating effective direct mail advertising, were given the budgets necessary to allow us to do great direct mail advertising.  To build the engine Mr. Wrigley talked about that drives sales, gains momentum, and takes the company where it wants to go.
But all too often, advertising is the first expense corporations cut when times are bad.  And it should be just the opposite.
Now I’m not naive.  And I know why it happens.  Take consumer magazines as an example.  When the economy lags, advertisers place fewer ads, and consequently magazines have less revenue coming in.  Less revenue coming in prompts management to cut expenditures.  And that means cutting back on — or eliminating — direct mail campaigns for generating subscriptions.  But if new subscribers aren’t being acquired, the circulation numbers advertisers look at when times are good again may not be so attractive.  It’s a vicious cycle — and a conundrum — that I’m sure makes a circulation manager’s job no day at the beach.
All I’m advocating is some brave new thinking within the halls of corporate America that embraces the power of advertising — good advertising — and realizes the important competitive advantage of being out there with your message when the other guys are not.
Notice I said “good” advertising.  Taking the bold step to advertise during hard times is a fool’s errand if you don’t put your best foot forward.  In times like these, it’s more important than ever that you hire the very best talent to create the advertising you’re banking on so much.  Now, the best costs more, but isn’t it worth it? 

    I’m reminded of the question: How can you afford
    to use top talent?  The answer: How can you afford
    NOT to.

I also advise mailing packages that are engaging, energetic, and alive.  Packages that capture the personality of your product or brand and place it in the best possible light.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and money, because no one will pay attention to your message.  Again, as David Ogilvy was fond of saying, “You can’t save souls in an empty church.”
Direct mail, of course, is designed to generate an immediate response.  And the goal is to achieve that response at the lowest cost possible.  However, I think there are times when it’s desirable to think in terms of “the brand” — and attempt to write and design a package that sells the sizzle with the steak.  It will likely be a more expensive package to produce and mail, but it should have long-term benefits beyond the immediate response.  Sometimes we get so concerned with getting the sale (cheaply) that we forget that we can get both the sale AND build the brand in the consumers mind at the same time (although not as cheaply.)
I doubt Mr. Wrigley’s advertising was designed for a “direct response,” but he certainly understood the concept of making multiple “impressions” in the consumers’ minds.  The goal was to make the Wrigley brand “top of mind” with prospective buyers. 
We as direct mailers should think about that as we try to decide whether or not to spend advertising dollars in a down economy.

About The Author

Ken Schneider is an award-winning direct mail writer/designer specializing in magazine, book, and newsletter promotions.  With more than 40 circulation direct marketing awards, he has been honored more than any other individual or direct mail organization.  Ken’s extensive national ad agency experience formed the basis for Ken Schneider & Associates’ expansion into DRTV, radio, web and non-DR brand advertising.  He can be reached at or through