Direct mail is one of the fastest-growing segments in the printing industry, with a yearly growth of about two percent, which I believe comes as a surprise to many. The total market in 2025 is estimated to reach approx. 67 billion dollars. This article will try to understand why Direct Mail is becoming more critical and maybe something you should consider in your business.
All types of communication and marketing serve a purpose, and in general, you want to be where your customers are. You want to reach your customers at the right time, and of course, you also want your customers to pay the most attention to your message as possible. In this sequence of what you wish to obtain, customer acquisition cost and time to market plays a key role.
When the internet became mainstream in 2008/2009, it was suddenly possible to reach thousands of potential customers fast, cheaply, and with conversion rates exceeding the marketing people’s wildest dreams. Some of you may remember this time. However, this was before expressions like consent, privacy, SPAM, and even before most people were too tired of getting commercials via emails – it was, in other words, the Wild West of the early Internet days!
Today using emails in your communication is well regulated – though not always complied with, the physical mailbox has suddenly become a safe haven for marketers. As a result, your printed communication is more exclusive, more targeted, and users spend more time on well-prepared Direct Mails.
What is a Direct Mail?
As the word indicates, Direct Mail is mail sent to a consumer or address with a level of personalization. If you get a bank statement, it’s Direct Mail or transactional mail. If the mail is ‘spiced up’ with marketing and communication messages, you can also refer to it as a transpromo. And, there are so many different types of Direct mail that only imagination is your limitation.
When I researched this article, some use the word Direct Mail for emails, but I strictly refer to the ‘good old’ printed ones in this article. And old it is. The first ‘Direct Mail‘ dates back to the year 1,000 B.C. The story is that an Egyptian landowner writes a message on papyrus and delivers this to friends and neighbors to search for an escaped slave. Whether this and other anecdotes are true is not entirely known, but what I like about these stories is how powerful print and Direct Mail have been since ancient times.
Direct mail is about communicating relevant information, so Direct Mail is about printing and mailing, but maybe even more important is getting the correct data for your campaigns.
It’s about owning the physical mailbox!
The Direct Mail campaign
As already mentioned, a Direct Mail campaign can be many things and anything. For example, I once visited a printing company in Chicago where they specialized in very complex Direct mail campaigns, and I was blown away. One of the campaigns I saw was a Direct Mail with a loyalty card for an airliner. It consisted of several printed pieces in different formats, various papers, and elements glued at various places, with perforations, foils, and all the almost impossible features you can imagine. Even if this were assembled by hand, it would be an impressive task, but the company could do all inline – simply amazing. As far as I remember, the setup time for this complex Direct Mail was about ten hours. Of course, most Direct Mails are more straightforward. Still, since the Direct Mail segment is growing, this is maybe also an exciting time to suggest customers upgrade their current Direct Mail campaigns to create higher value, higher retention, and of course, a higher profit for you as a printer!
The campaign mentioned above was printed in web offset and with a wealth of complex routings and bindings. Still, the personalization part was done using Kodak prosper printheads which can be installed as part of the printing or binding process. In addition, both HP, Kodak, Kyocera, Fujifilm, Xaar, and Memjet (and maybe more) offer printheads that can be added to existing production lines extending and enabling digital print as part of the production. If you already operate digital print, you, of course, have more options.
Fully digital solutions give you a wealth of options since all elements of the campaign can be personalized or versionalized (or to be correct versioning) – and by the way, this is an important topic, so let’s talk about that!
Direct Mail vs. Mass Distribution
As already mentioned, Direct Mail is delivered, addressed, and personalized to the receiver. If you receive catalogs and other commercial pieces in your mailbox from, for example, the local supermarket, these are rarely personalized. The purpose of the two types of campaigns is different, and so is the cost and value. However, the supermarkets and their marketing people often want to use versioning to improve response, and therefore you often see different versions of the same catalog distributed to various demographics. The same type of measures are often used in CMS systems for websites and landing pages, and the idea is both to raise conversion rates and test different designs and communications.
With Direct Mail, you don’t need versioning since all the campaign elements can target a specific user. For example, in inkjet, the entire visual experience can be different from user to user, leading to higher conversion- and response rates.
As with almost everything, planning is essential. First, you will need to define your objective. When the goal has been identified, you must get the right data for your campaign. You can, of course, choose to get the names and addresses of your prospects, but often you will need to be more specific with your data to maximize return and minimize cost. The more personalized you can make your direct mail, the higher the value is for your customer and, therefore, the campaign’s sender. Many today use software like XMpie from Xerox, Direct Smile from EFI, or Chili Publisher from CHILI publish to create the campaigns and connect with the data sources.
This is the design/data part. You will, as always, add value to a campaign by choosing the right paper, enhancement, etc., to emphasize the message – so this is as important as the rest!
Oh, by the way, here is a critical thing to remember. When you plan your campaign, remember to add the digital perspective to it. At the beginning of this article, I wrote about the importance of being where your customers are. Your customers are most likely both on Social Media, using Smart Phones, and, of course, at different locations.
The software mentioned above can help you manage both the virtual and the real world 🙂
Print and finishing
With digital print in toner and inkjet, you can create great campaigns adding tremendous value to your customers. With finishing solutions from Hunkeler, you can streamline the post-press production to fit the needs you have, and with web inspections, etc., your campaigns are in safe hands!
Direct Mail is attractive for both brand owners and PSPs. For brand owners, the apparent reason is the value Direct Mail creates sales-wise and the engagement that we all look for. For PSPs, this is a prominent business opportunity and a growth market. Hunkeler and partners are ready to give you more information about how to get started. So get started! Now!
About the author
Morten B. Reitoft
Morten Reitoft is the editor of INKISH News and INKISH TV. INKISH TV is a TV-channel for and about the print industry.
Through his numerous posts and videos around the printing industry, Morten has a broad expertise in digital printing and knows both the companies and technologies behind them.