Direct Mail: The Wife Test - Midwest Direct


February 8, 2016

Direct Mail: The Wife Test

direct mail: wife test coffee mug


I was speaking recently with Ken Waddell at Mailing Systems Technology about the effectiveness of direct mail.

Ken is on the front lines of the direct marketing industry, in that he both helps facilitate coverage of stories and important topics; and, he helps direct and execute email and mail campaigns as part of his clients’ integrated media strategies.

A light went off while we were discussing how direct mail is being rediscovered as companies seek to build brands through content, education, and multichannel messaging. Ken explained that calls for “ROI now!” on marketing investments are being replaced by a bigger-picture view of the branding and relationship-building process.

But Ken’s most interesting insight involved how we physically interact with our mail. It prompted me to write this account of my own wife’s “mail versus email” interactions:

Every day my wife takes a moment to retrieve our mail. She pauses and goes through it piece by piece, sorting it into piles. If she’s not sure of a piece’s contents or importance, she’ll open it.

Mail sits on the counter, and pieces that prompted action remain visible and may be touched several more times, for several minutes of total interaction.*

But her email inbox is full. We’re talking hundreds of unopened emails; and, social, spam, promotional and trash folders overflowing. 

When I told my wife about this story and my angle, she said, “You are exactly right,” but added that she does toss away a lot of mail after a quick decision.

That’s partly my point: At least she sees the piece – and often does open and read it. Those emails?  Hundreds will be tossed at a time, when she finds time to sort through her digital folders.

I told Ken that I’m don’t even use subject lines anymore when deciding on a marketing email’s importance. I keep or delete based on a split second’s reading of the sender’s name. And 99% of the time, it’s delete. In a perfect world I’d make more time to browse the offers from GNC, or read the Content Marketing Institute’s latest piece.

If GNC mails me a promotional flyer however, I am inclined to take it and sit it down next to me, pondering all the health supplements I can spend money on that I don’t need. These are only our anecdotal experiences, yet I suspect they’ll resonate with many people.

Companies are rediscovering direct mail, even though it never actually went anywhere. It’s always been a reliable direct marketing tool, and renewed interest surrounds both the impact and relationship-building power of direct mail. 

*Companies of all sizes are increasingly realizing the quality face time they enjoy while consumers interact with their statements, invoices and other important correspondences. You should be using these transactional statements to market and connect during this regular, lengthy engagement with your brand.

Called transpromotional or omnichannel marketing, the point is an enhanced customer experience through data-driven personalization across platforms.

More simply put, you use your invoice to connect with your customer. Got a 15 year-old soon-to-be driver? A smart insurance company already reminded you to get him or her a policy; and, likely sent your child a mail piece directly along the lines of, “Congrats! Now drive dad crazy and ask him to buy you a car!”

To paraphrase Ken, it makes good sense for businesses – especially direct mailers – to promote themselves through direct mail.  This medium provides a tactile experience and drives a customer connection in a way that email – as great a tool as it is – cannot.

Sometimes email is the best tool for the job. Sometimes direct mail is a better choice; and, often it’s a combination of the two that drives the greatest customer engagement and experience.

Vince Bank is Midwest Direct’s corporate communications strategist. He helps design and execute integrated direct marketing programs for our customers. 


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