Direct Mail Is a Dinosaur


In this issue, we feature the 50 most prolific direct mail marketers in America. To some of you, that may sound like a museum exhibit—the La Brea Tar Pits of direct marketing full of fossils trapped and suffocated by the mud of the last millennium. With the coverage we give to mobile, social, email and all those other sleek digital marketing methods, why highlight paper direct mail now?

Because these Top 50 mailers are some of the most successful marketers and fundraisers in the world.

Our August cover story on World Vision Micro profiled a marketing campaign that began as Web-only, but really became successful when the nonprofit added a print component. Many marketers are having similar experiences—for all the power, agility and efficiency of digital marketing, it’s hard to beat paper in hand as a way to make an impression and drive a response.

Direct mail is like a dinosaur: It’s impressive, compelling and most people are happy to see it. Like a dinosaur, direct mail commands the viewer’s attention and a response.

Most importantly, direct mail is like a dinosaur because it’s evolving to thrive in the new marketing environment. The massive, slow-moving dinosaurs evolved into birds. Continuing improvements in printing, mailing, data analysis and multichannel integration have allowed print direct mail to evolve its own high-flying role in the marketing ecology. Usually, it’s not cheaper per piece to mail today than it was in years past, but higher response rates and order values can make it more profitable.

Not every company should be sending direct mail today. Like the other channels, its effectiveness depends on whether or not your direct mail triggers your target market profitably. But there’s significant data that suggests direct mail done well makes marketers more money.

Has your company moved away from direct mail, or toward it? Why? Do you think investigating the Top 50 Mailers of 2011 is just a hunt for dinosaur bones fit only for the museum? Let me know via the Target Marketing Twitter account, @TargetMktg, or comment on this article.

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.