The postman knocks once more for direct mail.

Are we ready for the new age of direct mail?

You may have also noticed an increase in direct mail received over recent months. Certainly my postman’s been making more frequent visits.

It was predicted Direct mail would enjoy a resurgence following the introduction of GDPR. The primary reason is simple. Where customers must give explicit consent to have their data used for email, direct mail doesn’t need the same level of permission.
Direct mail campaigns are considered to have ‘legitimate interest’ if they have value to customers.

Good news for print and post

It’s not surprising this was expected to provide a boost to printers and mail delivery providers, not to mention ancillary suppliers in the sector. The empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests this has been the case, however, to date there hasn’t appeared to be a massive change in direction.

So why isn’t everyone rushing back to direct mail?

Email marketing and social is still hugely valuable and effective. Despite the fetters of data protection, it’s fast, responsive, measurable and unarguably inexpensive. By comparison, printed mail has longer lead times, is hard to quantify and is very costly.
Businesses who already have print programmes running alongside other promotional channels (including digital), are best placed to adjust their emphasis. But over time, I suggest we’ll see a more considered approach by many companies, large and small.
Choosing the right tools for the job has always been fundamental to marketing communication. However, over recent years the rush to digital has perhaps seduced us into belief that it’s the best (if not the only) show in town. The trick is to use online and email where it undoubtedly excels, and use print to its own unique strengths.

Time to think again about direct mail.

We’re in a new world now. Technology drove us down a path – no, a superhighway – and there is no way back. There’s little point using the standards of yesteryear to craft new strategies.
Digital, despite the restrictions imposed by GDPR, has the advantages of scale and reach. Where numbers count, it will still provide a key channel. So where does direct mail fit in? Surprisingly it’s probably in the area where digital prided itself… targeting. Instead of targeting thousands who share a similar profile, direct mail can hit hard on smaller samples. Though digital can deliver messages at minimal individual cost, that same measure should no longer be applied to direct mail. Direct cost comparisons are not helpful.


I worked with an organisation who was able to identify just 200 key buyers and specifiers for its services. Individual, personalised, 3D mailers were created and delivered by couriers. The unit cost was around £30.00 each – the result was excellent. But this is just one example of a strategy that has no direct digital equivalent.

Where can direct mail marketing score high?

  • High response – direct mail gets better response rates, says the Mail Wise GDPR factsheet
  • Emotion – there is an emotional connection with physical direct mail, seeing touching and handling. Something an email can’t match
  • Brand building – the giving of something physical says a lot about a brand and its relationship with it’d customers – emotion kicking in again
  • Product sampling – actual product samples can be put into prospects hands
  • Integrates well – direct mail can form a useful part of a campaign, using digital to integrate the mail step, or as a response mechanism. A more rounded customer journey can be secured
  • Longevity – ditching an email takes only a click, often without consideration. Discarding a well produced mail-piece is a more considered action. A recipient is more likely to retain a useful piece of print for days, weeks or even months.

What of the future?

GDPR isn’t going to kill e-mail marketing. We’re not going to see a resurgence of ‘junk-mail’. But we are likely to see a redressing of the balance. In other areas of communications, marketers are reviewing the place of digital in relation to TV and press advertising. Direct mail is equally likely to find its way back onto the candidate media list of clear thinking advertisers. It’s time for us all to put post and print back in toolbox.



Ian West
dangerous ideas

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