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Is Direct Mail Effective in a High Tech World?

Liz Greene
Aug 12th, 2016
  • Estimated reading time: 4 min read
  • Hummy's

    1Direct mail lacks an unsubscribe button. 2More people read their snail mail than their email. 3Direct mail allows for free product samples.
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Marketing Strategy

Business people working with documents sitting at the table Photo Credit: agencyby

As a denizen of the internet, I’ve picked up a number of tools that have made my online life considerably easier. My favorite implement of destruction is Unroll.Me. This handy little tool gives me the ability to unsubscribe from mailing lists with one click, often catching marketing emails within hours of having been subscribed to their lists. To date, I’ve removed myself from 219 unwanted mailing lists.

As for the rest of the unwanted emails I get, I simply delete them. According to NewsCred, I’m not the only one — 91% of people have unsubscribed from company emails they previously opted into.

However, there’s no one-click tool to get rid of direct mail. Although I may have a tidy inbox, there is always a coupon, flyer, or postcard waiting in the real world. There’s no getting rid of it — and honestly, I don’t want to. I often find real value in my mailbox; companies aren’t just selling to me, they’re offering something in return.

The fact is, the lack of an easy “off button” is just one of the ways direct mail marketing still has an edge. Let’s look at a couple more.

Inbox vs. Mailbox

As baffling as it is to an “inbox zero” obsessive like myself, most people don’t sort through their emails daily. As the stack grows, and marketing messages move to the bottom, there’s a far higher likelihood that people will simply delete the vast majority of their emails without even giving them a cursory glance.

That means someone, somewhere, wasted time and money to put together a piece of marketing copy that was never even looked at. And for a marketer, that has to sting.

Now, people will throw away physical mail too, but statistically, direct mail has a leg up in this competition.

  • 98% of people check their physical mail daily. (U.S. Postal Service)
  • 77% of consumers sort through their physical mail as soon as they get it. ( (U.S. Postal Service)
  • 79% of consumers will act on physical mail immediately compared to only 45% who say they deal with email straightaway. (DMA)
  • 57% of people will not open an email from an unknown sender (Accurate Leads)
  • On average, U.S. companies send 18% more Marketing emails than conversational emails (Marketing Land)
  • Every email a person receives has a one in three chance of being opened. (HubSpot)

This is all good news for direct mail. Since fewer pieces of mail accumulate, there’s less competition for the reader’s attention. Mail being sorted immediately translates to a far better chance that marketing messages will be seen. And the last statistic, well, that’s just the cherry on the sundae!


Email doesn’t come with a lot of options. Usually a subject line and snippet of content is the only way to catch a consumer’s attention. That’s it. Forget attachments — most people will assume they’re viruses and delete the email on sight. Even things as innocent as images and links can trip a hypersensitive spam filter.

Direct mail doesn’t have these issues. There’s no spam folder or memory limits, only possibilities. Samples, coupons, and free schwag can be sent without raising suspicion. Buyers enjoy the small gift and an important connection is made.

For example, I recently received a free razor from Gillette. Since my old razor was worn, and I was in between trips to the store, its arrival was serendipitous. I gave it a try, liked it, and ended up switching brands. Now, had an email arrived from Gillette, it’s highly likely I would have deleted it without a second thought. However, because I was given a chance to demo their product, they ended up making a conversion.

While it’s beyond question that technology has changed the direct marketing industry, it has not caused irreparable harm. Instead, by working in tandem, direct mail has been useful in getting leads to a website, encouraging customers to buy online, and even compiling information from prospective clients. In it’s simplest form, direct mail has the possibility of being more effective than email marketing, because the reader cannot easily delete it — they must look it over first.

And that’s why, even in this digital heydey, tangible items like direct mail still have their place among the stars.

About the Author

Liz Greene

Liz Greene is a writer, marketing professional, and history geek from Boise, Idaho. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or catch her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.