Mention direct mail in many marketing circles today and you’ll be looked upon with that look that we typically reserve for doddering old fools; you know, the look we give our parents when they say “When I was young, we used an abacus; we didn’t have calculators.” The one our kids give us when we talk about quarters for the payphone.
So is Direct Mail, like the payphone, a scarcely-sighted relic from a previous era? Or are there times when your cell phone breaks or you don’t want the call traced, that the old payphone is still very useful!
Last month, I was asked to speak at the Toronto Chapter Meeting of NAMMU (National Association of Major Mail Users – yes there are some!); the topic that I and my fellow panelists were asked to discuss was the Outlook for Mail in 2012. The question got me thinking.
There is no question that direct mail is not what it once was; my mailbox is much emptier these days than in the heyday of direct mail – when every credit card company was sending daily entreaties for my business. But smart direct marketers are replacing that quantity with quality – carefully choosing when to use the mail and who to send it to.
I got a piece of mail last week that illustrates this.
Starbucks Canada recently launched a rewards program. They have been tracking my purchases on my prepaid card for the past little while and recently sent me an email telling me that “EMMA, you’ve made it to the Gold Level! Now let the free drinks begin.” Great gimmick, which I, as they’d hoped, tweeted about!
But while the email was nice, receiving a card in the mail with a shiny GOLD card was much more exciting. Borrowing from American Express’ “Member since” , my card is embossed with my name and “Cardholder Since” date. Definitely the most exciting communication I received this week, in any channel (OK, I admit it, I’m a Starbucks addict!).
Putting that card in my hand makes me feel part of the club. Now, as a data expert, I am well aware that Starbucks could have activated my GOLD membership on my existing card, sent me an email, and saved the postage and printing costs of this package. But sending me the personalized (very shiny) card makes me feel important in the way that no email ever could.
By delivering it by mail, they have enabled me to be an offline advocate in their retail locations.
In addition, it has the added benefit that every time I pull it out in a Starbucks store, other people want one too. I had one friend get quite indignant that she hadn’t got one despite being a regular visitor.
By delivering it by mail, they have enabled me to be an offline advocate in their retail locations – and to ensure others aspire to the same status! I may have tweeted once but I pull that card out at least once a day (don’t tell my husband!).
The most common argument for why we don’t use direct mail is that it is too expensive. While there is no question the cost of my GOLD card is more than the cost of an email communication, ROI is about return not just investment.
I hope that Starbucks is tracking the return on sending me that card.
They targeted me by looking at my spending patterns over the past few months. Will I spend more? Will I come back more often? Will I use the free drink coupons to try a more expensive drink – and will I keep on buying that drink going forward? Hopefully they have a control group who only got the email for comparison purposes.
Analytics can help marketers evaluate the return on different channels – including mail – as well as target their messages more appropriately.
What do you think? Is there a role for direct mail in 2012? What about in 2020?