It’s 2012, and the media landscape is more fractured than ever. More than 900 million people are using Facebook, including your grandmother. It’s also an age of Twitter and LinkedIn, texting and mobile apps. Even personal computers suddenly have become yesterday’s news. Now, lives revolve around smartphones and tablets. Yet, as crowded as the media space has become, direct mail still manages to not only fit, but remain a focal point for smart CMOs everywhere. Through it all, the staying power of direct mail remains undiminished.

A recent study by ExactTarget, an international company that specializes in interactive marketing, helps illustrate direct mail’s continued relevance. The survey asked consumers to indicate how they would like to receive 11 different types of messages. A headline in ExactTarget’s 2012 Channel Preference Survey screams the results: “DIRECT MAIL LIVES!”

Survey Echoes Recent Research

The ExactTarget study gathered detailed input from 1,481 consumers of all ages on how they prefer to receive various types of information. The choices:

• E-mail • Direct mail • Telephone • Text messaging • Mobile app • Social media

Out of 11 different categories of marketing messages, direct mail was chosen as the most acceptable means of communication in four categories, tied with e-mail as most acceptable in two others, and came in a close second behind e-mail in another four categories.

According to the survey, 65 percent of consumers have made a purchase as a result of a direct mail piece. The survey report provided the following analysis: “In the face of always-on channels like e-mail, SMS and social networks, consumers appreciate direct mail’s tangibility, flexibility and once-a-day pace. It also remains the only channel where unsolicited messages are acceptable to a majority of consumers.”

Other recent surveys on consumer preference provided similar results:

• In 2011, Epsilon, a multichannel marketing service, surveyed nearly 5,000 consumers, including more than 2,200 in the United States. More than one-third expressed a preference for direct mail over the multitude of other channels. Of those surveyed, 60 percent said going to the mailbox and receiving a piece of mail provided an emotional boost. Consumers said they found mail to be more trustworthy than other forms of communication. The study found that the preference for mail extended to the 18- to 34-year-old demographic as well.

• In 2010, a Durham+Company survey found direct mail to be twice as effective as e-mail for soliciting donations online. Further underlining the importance of direct mail to motivate online giving, 37 percent who give online say that when they receive a direct mail appeal from a charity, they use the charity’s website to give the donation.

So what is the reason for direct mail’s staying power? We sought the views of seven experts, including the author of the ExactTarget study: Jeffrey Rohrs, vice president, Marketing Research and Education of the Indianapolis-based company. Here’s what they told us …

Denver-based Heinrich Marketing likes to think of itself as the CSI of the marketing world, asking the tough questions before getting the creative department involved. Heinrich managing director Laura Sonderup says the research has shown that mail continues to be one of the most cost-effective methods for targeting that any marketer can deploy: “In many instances, mail allows us to localize lead generation far more efficiently than other marketing channels — down to the census tract and neighborhood level when necessary. Our largest clients insist that direct mail be included in their marketing plans as a means of maximizing budgets and increasing return on investment.”

1. Mail Is Tangible

Direct mail, says Jeffrey Rohrs of ExactTarget, “provides a tangible experience that digital media does not replicate. And in a world of hyper-fragmentation of communication channels, where you can get a phone call, text, e-mail, post on Facebook, message on Twitter, message on apps, there’s something about mail and how it cuts through the digital clutter that remains attractive to consumers.”

Jamie Matusek, marketing director of Austin, Texas–based QuantumDigital, echoes that view: “From a consumer perspective, yes, the majority of us have mobile device in hand 24/7 — but there is something to be said about a targeted mail piece and offer from a company I do business with. It’s a great way to help in making bigger decisions like home improvement projects, or even just getting an invitation to try a new restaurant in my local neighborhood. Mail tends to break through the digital noise for a bit and offers a moment for a targeted message to resonate. Plus, it offers a great way for businesses to focus on local neighborhood marketing, hitting potential customers who are close to home.”

2. Mail Integrates Well

Says Jeffrey Rohrs of ExactTarget: “As I look at our 2012 survey compared to our 2008 survey, the real story is that we have multichannel consumers due to the explosion of devices, so you’d better have cross-channel communication strategies. You need to be integrating your channels so that you can influence your consumers in different ways. This is where direct mail can work hand-in-glove with e-mail and social media. There will always be a place for channels that break the mold and pleasantly surprise consumers.”

3. People Like Opening Mail

Part of the power of mail, adds ExactTarget’s Jeffrey Rohrs, lies in the mundane consumer ceremony of padding to the mailbox each day: “There’s a moment every day where folks go to the mailbox, and they take that brief respite and they look at what they’ve received. It is a ritual. It goes beyond habit. It is part of what people do. And those marketers who can get there cost-effectively and creatively will continue to have an opportunity to differentiate themselves and their brand in interesting ways that will produce a return on investment.”

4. There’s Less Competition in Direct Mail

Jon Yokogawa, vice president of consumer engagement for interTrend, a full-service communications agency in Long Beach, Calif., contends that the technology age has actually boosted the impact of direct mail. “Your e-mail inbox is the new mailbox, filled with bills, letters from friends, family and work,” he says. “So the amount of paper in your mailbox is less. Therefore, you would be more inclined to look more carefully at any type of mail that you do receive from the Postal Service.™”

Content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Cleveland, and the largest content marketing event, Content Marketing World, warns marketers against becoming too “infatuated” with other channels, as mail continues to get the job done. “For certain goals like getting immediate attention, direct mail is perfect,” says Pulizzi. “There’s so much less competition in the print channel these days, the opportunity to get noticed is probably as great as it’s been in decades.”

5. Mail Builds Loyalty

Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute by underscores the value that mail has in cultivating loyalty and brand evangelism among consumers. “We know from our research at the Content Marketing Institute that only about 30 percent of our customers create and distribute a custom magazine, but we think there’s great opportunity in that channel to build loyalty,” he says. “Social media is selective. It’s hard to get on that must-read list. If you just go through any airport and walk around, you’ll see all the electronic devices and, at the same time, you’ll still see younger Millennials who are holding magazines, especially females, because it’s still such a visual, tactile media.”

6. Mail Is More Sophisticated Now

Jon Yokogawa of interTrend points out that the evolution of mail messaging — from the refinement of offers to new personalization tools — has also buoyed the channel and confirmed its ongoing relevance: “The sophistication of mail messaging has greatly improved over the years. Top companies use the platform, and that builds credibility. Nowadays, direct mail is not just for the remnant budgets of smaller clients. Many industries see this form of marketing as a proven medium, having better and actual measurements (ROI) than traditional TV, print, outdoor advertising or radio.”

Louis Maldonado, managing director of New York-based d expósito & partners, an agency specializing in integrated communications, including direct mail, points out how the digital age has added to mail’s power, introducing elements such as QR Codes, augmented reality and SnapTags to mail marketing: “Direct marketing has experienced a resurgence of excitement given the new technologies and tools available now. The increased targetability of e-mail and mobile channels, as well as the enhanced engagement and dialogue opportunities afforded through social media, serve to complement and fuel response rates to the tried-and-true channels, like direct mail and DRTV.”

7. Mail Helps You Target

Denver-based Heinrich Marketing likes to think of itself as the CSI of the marketing world, asking the tough questions before getting the creative department involved. Heinrich managing director Laura Sonderup says the research has shown that mail continues to be one of the most cost-effective methods for targeting that any marketer can deploy: “In many instances, mail allows us to localize lead generation far more efficiently than other marketing channels — down to the census tract and neighborhood level when necessary. Our largest clients insist that direct mail be included in their marketing plans as a means of maximizing budgets and increasing return on investment.”

8. Mail Delivers Results

Whatever its evolution, direct mail ultimately continues to resonate with marketers for one primary reason: It gets results. Robert Salta, owner of Maryland-based DirectMail.com and a 30-year direct marketing veteran, has strong views about mail’s staying power: “It’s all about results. Direct mail works,” he says. “The majority of people will open and read direct mail, but often will choose to ignore e-mail solicitations. The fundamentals of direct mail haven’t changed, partly because their efficacy has been proven time after time. What has changed is the advent of data and digital print technology, and both have benefited direct mail immeasurably.”

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