Direct Mail Trends from the USPS 2010 Household Diary Study

The 2010 Household Diary Study Report, conducted by the US Postal Service, was recently released. The study measures the mail sent and received by U.S. households and  tracks household mail trends over time. Here are the 2010 highlights that relate to direct mail:

Dollars Spent on Direct Mail

According to Magna Advertising Group, American businesses spent about $171 billion in advertising in 2010, an increase of 4.3 percent from 2009. Of this total spending, 12 percent went to direct mail postage only. This amount has remained fairly constant for most of the 20 years the study has taken place, even with the introduction of new and fast-growing ad markets such as the internet.

The next table shows that direct mail also remained one of the most popular advertising choices of 2010 advertisers. The weak economic recovery following the 2008-2009 recession stimulated only a 2.1% increase in direct mail spending over the previous year, but that number was still higher than most forms of advertising. Advertisers continued to count on direct mail’s targetability and measurability to get their message out.

Direct Marketing and its Relation to Income, Age and Education

The amount of advertising mail received by a household is closely tied to income, age and education. Households with less than $35,000 income receive less than half as much advertising mail as households with $100,000 or more income.

Among higher-earning households (more than $100,000), the amount of advertising mail received per week increases as the educational status of the head of household increases, from 12.4 pieces per week for households headed by someone who did not graduate high school, to 21.6 pieces per week for households headed by a college graduate.

Why is this? Direct mail is a written type of advertising, and education may play some role in its effectiveness, compared to TV or radio ads. Second, education is also tied to future household income. A recent college grad may start out earning a relatively low income, but is fairly certain to earn more in a few years.

But is it Read?

According to this study, 81% of households read or at least scan their direct mail. Broken down, 54 percent of people read their advertising mail, while an additional 27 percent scan it. Which leaves only 19 percent who say they don’t read their advertising mail at all.

This is an increase from the 9% who did not read advertising mail in 1987. Plus, given the large increase in direct mail volumes since then, U.S. households are definitely reading more direct mail now than in the past.

What’s interesting is what is being read. Catalogs are read by 51% of people, with an additional 13% setting them aside to read later. Only 17% of recipients reported that they discard them without reading.

Credit card direct mail, on the other hand, while having a 50% read-rate, has a 25% discard rate, and only 5% of people save it to read later.

Finally, the 2010 study shows that behavior toward direct mail is independent of the quantity the household receives. For example, of households receiving 0-7 pieces of direct mail per week, 82% read or scan their mail. But in households receiving more than 18 pieces per week, 81% read or scan their mail.

You can read the complete 2010 Household Diary Study here. (Warning: it’s 399 pages!)

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