“To Mail, or Not to Mail” Is a No-Brainer in 2012

Whether you are considering the possibility of increasing your direct-mail budget in 2012 — or allocating more dollars to mobile marketing, online display advertising or social media next year — we have some very surprising news and a little commentary to share with you.

Third-class mail volume is growing. According to a new report from the USPS, revenue from standard mail increased 2.9% from the year earlier, to $17.8 billion. Mailbox “clutter” remains at an all-time low.

Our clients increased their direct-mail budgets for the second year in a row. Their year-to-date results are very encouraging. They even dabbled with e-mail, co-registration and online display advertising, with our partners’ expert guidance. When they mailed at this very same time last year, much to their surprise, things went much better than planned.

As “The A Team” looks forward to 2012, we believe direct mailers will continue to profitably acquire new customers or donors by using direct mail in tandem with mobile marketing and online display advertising, along with package inserts and statement-stuffer programs. Social media plays third or fourth fiddle, depending upon whom you believe, or follow on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

As both major political parties and their operatives continue to “talk down” the national economy in anticipation of pyrrhic electoral victories in 2012, people are actually spending more money this year and doing more to support their favorite charities, contrary to what you might read or hear in the mass media.

There’s still ” Gold in Them Thar Hills” for savvy marketers who are willing to test new postal and e-mail lists, who re-mail former continuation lists with new creative, and who remain faithful to “mining” or optimizing their legacy files — notwithstanding postal rate increases, which are always on the horizon.

Direct mail is gaining traction with a growing number of advertisers who used to favor other channels. For example, according to www.directmailman.com, “Google uses direct mail to attract new clients and generate revenue. Google is also one of the largest direct mailers globally.” Why does Google need direct mail when they have pay-per-click ads? A growing number of online marketers have discovered that direct mail is very profitable and generates more customer loyalty than social media “likes.”

Another direct-mail bellwether: Fountain House received the Package of the Year award from the Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA). Fountain House’s summer mailing generated “…an 8.8% response rate with an average gift of $33.41.” Direct mail rocks for fundraising, too. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

E-mail remains an important channel for engaging old customers and sustaining donors, too. As a footnote, according to a study from MailerMailer, e-mail that is timed for early morning delivery is more responsive. Sending e-mail after a site visitor abandons their cart is also a great tactic. For those who know how to throttle e-mail touches, a second e-mail with a “You Didn’t Buy This” subject line reportedly can generate a 50% or higher open rate. A comparable message for a fundraiser could be “You Didn’t Give Us A Gift.”

E-mail success isn’t getting easier, however. According to the Harte-Hanks Postfuture Index 2009-2010, “E-mail open rates declined to an average of 17% last year, down from 26% in 2009.” This comes at a time when delivery rates reportedly have gone up, click rates have remained steady, and unsubscribe and bounce rates have declined. People are viewing more of their messages on i-Phones and Android-enabled mobile devices, which may account for these statistics.

Mobile marketing is gaining in popularity because it works, particularly in tandem with traditional media. “Businesses, from small shops to aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co., are finding success with mobile marketing,” representatives of three prominent b-to-b companies said a couple of weeks ago.

For multichannel marketers, there is a division among authorities relative to the efficacy of social media, so a modest test may be in order, as we have done at AccuList USA on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

According to a new social media behavioral study by Resonate, “heavy” social media users are less involved in the offline world than their friends who spend less time on Facebook or other social sites. Heavy users are reportedly less likely to purchase online, and if they do, they actually spend a lot less money than “light” social media users, which suggests that reallocating ad dollars towards heavy social media followers may be risky.

A new TNS report also reveals that as many as half of all social media marketing campaigns are going unnoticed. Matthew Froggatt, the company’s chief development officer, said in a press release that 57% of consumers in developed markets do not want to engage with brands in the social sphere. The number is as high as 60% in the U.S.

Research conducted by a UC-Riverside marketing professor and two associates reveals that businesses can go too far when trying to keep in touch with customers, who are easily driven away by too many e-mails, phone calls and mailers. According to professor Andrea Godfrey, traditional snail mail was generally the most effective form of contacting customers, who were less annoyed by it than too many e-mails and calls.

You would be remiss in not considering alternative media such as package inserts and statement-stuffer programs. No postage is required and you can target specific audiences. They remain a bargain for “name-brand” marketers who have promotional offers that are supported by other media.

Overall trends are positive for direct marketing. Direct marketers experienced gains in the third quarter in a number of key indicators, including spending and staffing, but are cautious about the future, according to a new report from the Direct Marketing Association. And, despite the gyrations of the stock market and polarization of our society, marketers plan to boost spending on all forms of marketing, according to an online survey of 249 marketing executives conducted in August by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Can you imagine how much better our national economy would be today if we paid less attention to those “talking heads” on TV networks and cable outlets? Their incendiary rhetoric is all about rating points. It does not strengthen our country or encourage our neighbors to spend or donate more.

Regretfully, storm clouds loom for marketers who sell across state lines. A new U.S. Senate bill would allow states to collect sales tax on purchases made over the Internet. It’s not “9-9-9.” For online and direct marketers, it is “666.” Unlike the DMA, certain retailers are pushing hard for this legislation. Even Amazon has reversed course on this issue, after spending millions in California to sponsor an initiative that morphed into a tax deal with our elected officials.

But that’s not all, state and local authorities are chomping at the bit to overturn a precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court decision, which held that retailers are exempt from collecting sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence.

It should come as no surprise that both political parties will ultimately support this revenue-producing legislation because it is meant “to help Main Street.”

We should remind them that e-commerce has created millions of jobs and reduced our nation’s carbon footprint. After all, shopping online or via direct mail does not require much fossil fuel. We’re importing less foreign oil when we let our fingers and mice do the walking, meaning a reduction in driving, idling in traffic, and competing for parking spaces. That’s what I love about direct mail and its first cousin e-commerce. Both are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

In conclusion, we remain bullish on digital and direct marketing in 2012. But stay tuned as our leaders continue to inflate our currency and take a meat-axe approach to fixing our economy.