Don’t Ignore It: Digital Marketing Is In, But Direct Mail is Thriving Too

In a world saturated with digital marketing, a recent study by Vericast uncovers the surprising staying power of direct mail. Far from being a relic of the past, physical mail advertisements continue to capture attention, build trust, and motivate consumer action in ways that digital struggles to match. The research found people actively engage with and enjoy receiving direct mail, and will often spend more time with it than digital ads.

The report: How Do Consumers Respond to Direct Mail in the Digital Age? [November 2023]

Source:. Vericast

Why we picked it: The entire banking industry — in a fight to be the ultimate digital innovator that will attract and keep the attention of younger banking audiences — has swayed heavily in digital investments, from backend technology to delivery platforms to marketing channels. Amid the excitement of “digital transformation,” a buzzword phrase circulating the industry strongest during the advent of Covid, marketers may have lost sight of the traditional channels that are still very effective. We were intrigued to see a report on the subject from a big voice in the industry and thought it would be good intel for our readership.

Executive Summary

The world is dominated by digital media, so it might be easy to assume that traditional forms of advertising like direct mail have lost their relevance.

But before you write off those printed mailers as obsolete, consider this: a new study reveals that not only is direct mail thriving, it is a critical component of successful multichannel marketing campaigns in our digital era.

The Vericast Direct Mail Influence Study, conducted in November 2023 and surveying 1,815 U.S. adults, uncovers fascinating insights into how consumers engage with and respond to direct mail advertising. The findings demonstrate the unique role direct mail can play in people’s daily lives (when done correctly) and its effectiveness in influencing perceptions and purchasing decisions. With digital marketing pervading every corner of our online experiences, this report highlights the enduring power of tangible, printed advertisements to cut through the clutter.

Key Takeaways:

  • 72% of consumers regularly read or look at ads in the mail, with 82% looking at least once per week
  • People spend 1.6 minutes on average with a direct mail ad compared to 1.1 minutes for a digital ad
  • 58% find direct mail trustworthy, and 67% trust it in terms of privacy concerns
  • 60% say direct mail ads are easy to remember when ready to make a purchase, vs 44% for digital ads

Direct Mail Engagement is a Deliberate, Enjoyable Habit

One of the most striking findings from the study is that engaging with direct mail is an intentional, planned routine for many people — one that they genuinely look forward to and enjoy. Over half of respondents (54%) consider taking time to read the mail a scheduled part of their daily routine. For parents and Hispanic consumers, that figure rises to 57% and 58% respectively.

Nearly half view browsing direct mail as a regular component of their shopping process, especially parents at 55%.

Far from being an annoyance or intrusion, 54% of respondents said looking through mailed advertisements is a relaxing and pleasurable experience. That sentiment is even more pronounced among certain groups, with 58% of parents and a notable two-thirds of millennial parents reporting they find perusing direct mail enjoyable.

The reason? There’s a unique tactile satisfaction in holding a well-designed postcard or flipping through a glossy catalog, along with an appreciation for the personalization and visual creativity often displayed.

“The concurrent validity demonstrated across separate studies conducted by Vericast and the USPS supports the continued need for media plans to include direct mail messages to optimize consumer engagement,” said Dr. Martin Block, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Integrated Marketing Communications, who analyzed the study results.

“What gives print ads their edge, according to the studies, is they are more effective at leaving a lasting impression.”

— Dr. Martin Block

Sustained Attention and a Designated Space

Another key insight from the study revolves around the amount of time and focused attention people allocate to direct mail. On average, respondents reported spending about 1.6 minutes with an individual direct mail ad, roughly 30 seconds longer than they typically spend with a digital ad. Nearly half (48%) spend at least a full minute reading a direct mail piece.

Many consumers have established rituals around perusing their mail, whether it’s sipping their morning coffee while flipping through catalogs, setting aside time on weekends for reading special offers, or winding down in the evening with a planned session of clipping coupons. Over a third of respondents even have a designated spot in their home where they save print advertisements that interest them to return to later.

This contrasts sharply with the instantaneous but often fleeting nature of digital advertisements. “Use digital ads if you want quick attention and delivery of a message,” advises Dr. Block. “For a strong emotional impact and lasting impression, use print. Each format meets a different but necessary objective for marketers.”

In an era marked by escalating digital privacy concerns and rampant online misinformation, direct mail stands out as a uniquely trustworthy medium in the eyes of consumers. Fifty-eight percent of respondents overall characterized direct mail as trustworthy, with that figure rising to 67% when it comes to matters of privacy specifically. People tend to associate the brands reaching out to them via direct mail with established, reputable companies they can count on.

The sheer physicality of holding a tangible advertisement in one’s hands contributes to a sense of authenticity and direct connection with the brand. The personalization capabilities of direct mail, such as including the recipient’s name and tailored offers, enhances the feeling that the message is specifically crafted for and relevant to each individual. A full 54% of millennials and 61% of millennial parents report finding direct mail ads more personal than digital ones.

Dig deeper: How to Become an ‘Unmarketer’: Stop Marketing and Start Engaging

Driving Decisions All the Way to Purchase

Ultimately, for marketers, the meaningful metrics of any campaign center around results — and this is where direct mail delivers a serious impact. Three-fourths of consumers credit direct mail with making them aware of new products, and almost half state a preference for learning about new offerings via mailed advertisements compared to digital channels.

Perhaps most crucially, exposure to direct mail demonstrably motivates consumer action: 60% percent attest that physical mail ads are easier to recall when they are ready to make a purchase, compared to just 44% who say the same about digital ads. Nearly half (47%) report having been directly spurred to make a purchase as a result of receiving a relevant direct mail promotion.

Tactics such as targeted offers, information on local store locations and events, limited-time seasonal deals and consistent brand-building mailings all work to influence consumers’ choices on where to shop and what to buy. Retail stores, restaurants, and service businesses in particular can strategically leverage direct mail to drive foot traffic and motivate purchase decisions.

“My assessment and conclusion of the study finds that consumers who use print ads are happy, confident and consistent,” observed Dr. Block. “Years of conducting and reviewing this type of research shows a predisposition for happier people to shop and spend more.”

The Takeaway: Direct Mail Is Essential in a Multichannel World

While digital advertising has unquestionably transformed the marketing landscape, this study demonstrates that declaring direct mail obsolete is premature. The venerable format not only remains viable, but plays a unique and indispensable role in engaging consumers, shaping brand perceptions and motivating meaningful purchasing actions. Its distinctive tangible format commands attention, instills trust and translates to quantifiable results.

Rather than fading into the shadows of digital, direct mail has successfully carved out an essential place in the strategic mix of modern multichannel marketing. Savvy marketers will recognize the value of leveraging its one-of-a-kind strengths in synergistic tandem with digital tactics to optimize both short-term results and long-term brand relationships. In a constantly connected digital world, this traditional form of advertising provides a welcome and influential physical touchpoint between brands and buyers.

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Having a diversified approach allows for resiliency and adaptability, especially as consumers adapt but also often return in droves to the “vintage” trends. The tangibility of direct mail creates a sensory disruption that lodges in memory. Its ability to hyper-target and personalize at scale forges authentic connections — and its seamless integration with digital experiences, such as QR codes linking to exclusive online content, meets modern omnichannel expectations.

The Vericast study is a convincing testament to its enduring value and a compelling prompt for marketers to re-examine any assumptions that physical mail has lost its persuasive potency. By recognizing the ways in which direct mail uniquely enriches the media mix, brands can deliver more impactful impressions that resonate.

Editor’s note: This article was prepared with AI language software and edited for clarity and accuracy by The Financial Brand editorial team.

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