I remember sitting in a marketing class in 1986 listening to a professor I respected very much talk about the genius of this ‘new’ target marketing.  Mail houses were collecting data and addresses for consumers and access to the lists was just a phone call and a credit card number away.  I was consumed with the limitless possibilities of entering the homes of potential consumers in such a personal way – their own mailbox.

Who didn’t look forward to the postman’s visit.  What would he bring today?  A handwritten note from a distant relative to make our day? Our favorite magazine we could sneak away with and enjoy?  A good friend’s party invitation?  A holiday greeting?  It made so much sense for marketers to grab a piece of this USPS action.  Twenty five years ago it was genius.

It really used to work.  Bulk mail pricing made it affordable,  creatives designed pieces that dazzled and had good calls to action, people were reading their mail and responding to it.  That expected 2% response far outweighed the cost.  Yes, this paragraph was written in the past tense.

Here’s why I think you’ll see even less direct mail in 2012:

  • The web has taken over as the information source in most demographic groups.  Mail is just not as relevant (or exciting) as it used to be.  We keep up online with relatives who live across the country.  We receive referrals to businesses from friends who share recommendations online.  We are engaged by interactive advertising on pages we visit.  More and more, we’re reading our favorite newspapers online.  Paper bills are also becoming a thing of the past.  According to fiserv., more than 75% of online Americans receive and pay bills online.
  • The  smart phone is now an appendage for most of us.  We text, we surf, we use apps, we bank, we share, we joke.  If you want to reach a consumer these days, take advantage of the phone.
  • Email is affordable and still useful when used responsibly and in conjunction with other media.
  • The new USPS proposals make it even harder for agencies to support direct mail.  Paying more for less is never popular.  With a projected rate increase,  forecasted delays in delivery and the possibility of cutting Saturday service entirely, it will be a tough sell.  By the way, Saturday may be the best day of the week for a marketing piece to be delivered – working families actually have time to look at their mail.

Direct mail was great while it lasted.