Here's to Direct Mail

A thoroughly biased look at direct mail versus other types of advertising.

I’m going to be honest. I’ve never been fond of the U.S. Postal Service … for a number of reasons. But having said that, the USPS offers us one of the most powerful advertising tools available today: direct mail.

Let’s look at how it compares to other types of advertising:

Television – you have a 15- or 30-second spot that is on and gone so fast no one can buy anything the first time they see your ad. That means repetition, literally drilling your product into the viewer’s mind. That comes at a high cost, and is usually annoying to the viewer (another commercial?) because – let’s face it – most TV ads aren’t very entertaining. Even my must-watch TV of the year – Superbowl ads – have IMHO gone downhill in recent years.

Radio – similar to TV, typically only listened to during drive time. Radio made jingles famous, and even today that’s what many advertisers use to (hopefully) make their brand memorable. I can still recall portions of jingles: “call 1-800 something something and away goes trouble down the drain.” The trouble is, when I had to repipe my entire house, I didn’t sing a jingle to find a plumber. I hunted through some saved direct mail, did a little online research, and ended up with a great company.

Telemarketing – need I say more? Somehow in spite of legislation, telemarketers are still calling us during dinner. When my daughter was a teen, I had a way of dealing with them. I would simply hand her the phone and she would start talking. About her day, school, grades, boys, swimming, shoes, friends, the unfairness of life, you name it. Until the poor telemarketer hung up (probably with a newly renewed allegiance to bachelorhood).

I really miss having her around.

Email – Email came on strong due to its extremely low cost. But it wasn’t long before the word “spam” was created, and we all bemoaned our overflowing in-boxes. Unfortunately, legitimate emails are often lost in the avalanche of discount pet meds, little blue pills and requests from Nigerian princes.

Although I don’t mind occasional email marketing from some businesses, I get annoyed if they over-email me. I’ve also found myself thinking “gee, this didn’t cost them much to send. Do they really value me so little?” Sometimes cheaper and faster are not the advantages people think they are

Direct mail – It’s colorful, carefully targeted, less expensive than radio and TV, and it won’t interrupt dinner or your favorite show. You can touch it, save it (for when you actually need a plumber), act on it now or later. You can respond by phone, internet or mail. And it pairs beautifully with email for a one-two marketing punch.

For those who say direct mail kills trees, consider this: trees are grown and harvested much like any other crop, and tree farming has become a huge industry in the U.S. In fact, there are more trees on our earth today than we had 200 years ago. You can't get much greener than that.

So go out and direct mail. Because it works.

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