Direct mail is the most common form of direct marketing. Companies and marketers carefully select and target specific customers and customise marketing messages to them through the mail. Letters and post cards are common direct mail tools. Companies often use computer databases to collect data on business prospects and then search for select customers for mailings. Some businesses also buy categorised lists of customers from independent list providers.
Advantage: Targeted and Personalized
In its overview of the "Benefits of Direct Mail," the United States Postal Service (USPS) highlights targeted and personalised message delivery. Unlike mass media, direct mail enables the marketer to call for an immediate response from a target customer base (e.g., phone call, mail return or order). Thanks to advances in database technology and the proliferation of customer relationship management (CRM) software, companies can personalise direct mail to build and maintain relationships with key customers.
While this advantage alone should not drive the use of direct mail, the USPS also points out the ease of measuring response to direct mail. If a company sends out 1,000 direct mail pieces as part of a campaign, you can easily track the response to the mailing. Metrics might include redemption rates on applications or coupons or the number of buyer respondents indicating they are acting on a direct mail offer.
Disadvantage: Junk Mail
Mail recipients often consider a company's direct mail piece as nothing more than junk mail. Many consumers do not even open direct mail or simply throw it out immediately, notes Michael Brassil in his Web Site Marketing Plans article, "Pros and Cons of Direct Mail Advertising." More targeted mailings help increase the number of people reading direct mail and responding to it. Companies then invest less money in flooding cities and neighbourhoods with material and selectively mail customers identified as appropriate for a given message.
Disadvantage: High Costs and Errors
Though the total expenditure on a direct mail campaign usually pales in comparison to television and other more expensive media, the cost per contact is typically high. Design, development and printing costs of mail pieces account for part of the expense, and mailing rates add to the expense. This is why more selective campaigns are important. Additionally, Brassil notes the frequency of name and address errors on mailing lists. This leads companies to pay for mailers that never reach their intended customers.