Digital-First Brands: Direct Mail Is Calling Your Name

February 14, 2020

A Q&A with Tiffany Quast, VP of Agency Operations & Client Services and our in-house Direct Mail expert, on the benefits digital-first brands have to gain from adding DM into their marketing mix.

1. What are some of the key benefits for younger, digital-first companies who use Direct Mail?

For a lot of digital-first companies, introducing the Direct Mail channel into the marketing mix serves to cut through the continuous clutter of online communication. There’s more and more studies out there that suggest younger consumers prefer direct mail for that very reason. It’s also important to understand the value of how direct mail helps to create a better, ‘surround sound’ experience for the customer. When Direct Mail is infused into a digital program, we’re often seeing performance improve. It’s also worth noting that the right offer with the right audience works in offline channels like direct mail, even for hard-core digital-first DTC companies.

2. What are some of the challenges you see brands face?

For brands breaking out into the direct mail channel, sticker shock is very real, especially for those who are risk-averse or operating with a tight marketing spend. The price of a test is typically the toughest hurdle for brands looking to add the channel to their marketing mix. In some cases, organizations can overcome that challenge, and in other cases, some will choose to walk away. But there are a lot of ways to “do” direct mail. In many cases, starting out with remarketing and cart abandonment is a very viable option, and allows brands to better connect the online and offline customer experience. You’re also able to test creative concepts, and get a feel for the channel with relatively low cost commitments. The downside is that you’re limited to formats that only communicate with people that have been to your site and left.

There are other ways for businesses to ‘tip-toe’ their way into Direct Mail. They can ask themselves, “What is the productivity of the bottom 10% of my spend in another channel?” When you compare the performance of the worst, suddenly putting that spend elsewhere for a test doesn’t seem as intimidating.

3. Have you seen a shift from DTC brands into Direct Mail in the last year or so?

DTC brands had (and continue to have) tremendous success in digital direct response channels, but scaling growth is a real challenge they’re now encountering. We’re seeing more clients come to us to talk about direct mail, and the conversations we’re having are much more about an integrated marketing approach and brand experience. For instance, retailers have always looked at catalogs as a branding mechanism, but they’re now getting smarter at driving performance in digital channels, like paid search, by connecting catalog drops to seasonal paid search investment. You can also look at how products and messaging are resonating online to help drive branding choices in catalogs and other direct mail formats. DTCs have the benefit of close relationships with their customers, and a strong handle on first party data, which makes the direct mail channel even more viable in terms of scaling performance and gaining more loyal customer audiences that want experiences of the brand outside the online ecosystem.

4. How big of a portion should Direct Mail be in a marketing mix? Dependent on the brand? 

The portion of spend is absolutely dependent on the individual brand, but across the board, overall KPIs and program goals need to drive direct mail’s role in the marketing mix. When we’re testing into the channel with digital-first organizations, it’s crucial that we have clear KPIs and test goals established. We often tell clients that if they’re expecting a test in a brand-new channel to perform equal to their refined digital channel or spend, they’ll likely be disappointed. It takes time to find the right messaging and format that works well for an audience. Even though direct mail isn’t the sexy new digital channel, we give the same advice – test and learn, and test and learn again.

It’s also dependent on the goal of the channel – are you using direct mail to replace the poorer performance of another channel, or are you looking for incrementality and brand new audiences? Once brands have these key KPIs and program goals clearly established and agreed upon, and the results start to come in, the right mix will be learned over time. It should also be changing alongside the marketplace.

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