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The value of physical mail in an omnichannel world

by Ian Davidson | May 14, 2015 | No Comments

In our ‘go faster’ world of real-time communications, there is something reassuring about receiving physical mail. Whilst an email shouts a brash “Read me now!”, a letter or brochure says gently, “Take your time, and read me when you’re ready”.  The digital age, some predicted, would make mail obsolete. In fact, mail has become more appreciated, credible, memorable and purposeful than ever.

Businesses large and small have a huge array of strategies, tools and platforms, physical and digital, which they can use to communicate with their customers and send them the right message, at the right time. There are vast opportunities for sharing content and creating engagement. Multichannel marketing has shifted to omnichannel marketing, an ‘outside-in’ approach which brings together print and digital, and explores opportunities for engagement at every touchpoint. For added effectiveness, businesses can choose to deliver hyper-targeted messages to individuals depending on their location, with contextual marketing.

The new communications challenges

With this array of tools and techniques at hand, identifying the communications channels most appropriate for the individual is critical for all businesses. Generally customers express a preference in how they want to hear from your business. Opt-in/opt-outs give clear guidance, and companies can use historical purchase data to drive their communications strategy, as well as using demographic and location data if they choose to. The challenge now is to identify the right channel based on the message itself.

Physical or digital? Match the message to the media

Some content is perfect for digital communication, but other messages are proven to generate a better, faster response through physical mail.  The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found that we prefer to receive physical direct mail from local shops (51% of respondents said this) and banks (48%)1. Results from Pitney Bowes and Leflein Associates research2 are consistent with those of the DMA survey, identifying that 66% of respondents prefer to receive catalogues by post and 61% prefer to receive bills and invoices by physical mail.

For events and competitions, email is preferred, say the DMA.  So, if our message has an expiry date or is time-sensitive, we’re happy to receive it by email. If not, and if the message relates to our community or is a transactional message – an insurance certificate, or interest rate change from our bank, perhaps – we prefer to receive it through our letterbox.

Voice of calm in a world of noise

144.8 billion Emails3 are sent every day: 89 billion of these are business emails, and 55.8 billion are personal. As a business, making yourself heard above the competition can be a challenge. Encouraging recipients even just to open emails requires careful forethought, creativity, planning and budget allocation– and that’s before we’ve even touched on how to encourage a response.

The physical mail landscape is totally different. It’s less crowded, as most of us receive just a few mail pieces each day. We open them in our own time, generally in a more relaxed environment than with our emails, so we’re more likely to focus, concentrate and recall the information. Many of us love to have something tangible: a brochure to flick through, or membership information we can file. We’re also more likely to respond straightaway: in fact, research4 has found that 79% of consumers said they would act on direct mail immediately, compared with only 45% who would do the same with email. And it’s cost-effective, with the average response rate5 for direct mail reaching 4.4%, compared with email’s response rate of 0.12%.

Maxmise your message

Of course, we don’t need to pick just one communications channel per message.  Today’s connected customer draws information from a diversity of platforms, often simultaneously. But the value of physical mail remains, and there are some trusted techniques to make it even more powerful:

  • Use physical mail as part of an integrated campaign: mail a prize-winning code on a postcard to drive visitors to a website, for example
  • As part of an integrated campaign, personalise the URL too, so when customers receive it in the post, it is simple to remember and type in
  • Personalise mail to increase response rates: not just the letter or brochure, but print a targeted message on the back of the envelope
  • Use every physical communication as a customer touchpoint: in their monthly bill, consider including a thank you message or voucher – it doesn’t have to be from your business, nor does it have to be costly
  • Include colour: recipients are more than twice as likely6 to open envelopes with colour graphics than those with black and white graphics
  • Test your techniques: find out which messages, graphics, colours, offers, style of language and call-to-action works best for which customers, at which location, at which point in time

Consider this: which demonstrates more integrity and care to you, the handwritten thank-you card or the hastily-typed email? Both have their place and purpose. But customers trust physical mail, and gaining customer trust is more valuable than ever in our onmichannel world.


1 Direct Marketing Association research from CMO Council

2 Pitney Bowes Leflein Associates research

3 Radicati.com

4 Direct Marketing Association

5 CMO Council

6 Pitney Bowes ‘The True Cost of Colour’

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