Once upon a time, direct mail reigned supreme in the world of direct marketing. It was the pre-dawn of the internet and no one could have foreseen the impact that the digital revolution was about to have on advertising and marketing and in particular, on direct mail.

Ironically, during the summer of 1997, we used text-based email extensively to keep customers abreast of the pending mail strike. The emails were very functional, but not very pretty, and contained no graphics or marketing pizzazz. At the same, time web sites were in their infancy and communication speeds simply did not support online advertising to any great extent.

As we all know, if there is one thing that has advanced dramatically over the last century it is technology and the internet seemed to evolve at warp speed. Before long many marketers were using email as an alternative to direct mail. Further, many people that had not even used direct mail in the past jumped onboard the email bandwagon, because it was so cheap when compared to direct mail and came without the associated print, mail prep and postage costs.

Just like direct mail, marketers realized that email was also a powerful tool for targeting, allowing them to vary content by target groups, sending different messages to customers and prospects. Plus, they could further refine content for recipients with different interests, medical conditions or other criteria.

Email had become a powerful tool for prospecting, disseminating information and also showcasing expertise, by including links to blog posts and other web content. It, by no means, displaced direct mail completely, but it had found its place and had become a mainstay for communications at many levels.

Of course like many good things, there are those that will abuse them and before long spammers and scammers appeared, subjecting all of us to annoyance as well as certain vulnerabilities. At the same time, the volume of email, from even legitimate marketers, had become so overwhelming that it was difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Ultimately, in Canada, the government stepped in with Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) in July of 2014 in an attempt to quell the tide and put an end to unsolicited email.

Most Canadian businesses reviewed the CASL legislation and acquired a working knowledge of the different types of consent as well as the importance of the Unsubscribe function. Things on the fine front seemed fairly quiet until recently when we learned that one company alone had been fined $1,100,000 for multiple violations of the new legislation. This gave everyone 1,100,000 reasons to sit up and take notice.

“Direct mail is an awesome catalyst that can help to spark and drive your direct marketing engine.”

There is no doubt that email remains valuable and, used within the CASL guidelines, most of us have little to worry about. That said though, we must have consent to send promotional emails to both businesses and individuals and even if you feel a recipient might benefit from your information, without consent, be it implied or express, you dare not email them. How then do we bring new and valuable prospects into the fold? The answer might just be direct mail.

It does seem another strange irony that direct mail campaigns might be one of the best ways to acquire new prospects and build our online presence, but it has all the properties to do just that. Here are some very good reasons:

  1. Just like email, one of direct mail’s greatest strength is its ability to target, getting the right messages to the right people.
  1. Even with the advent of CASL, there is still considerable noise and competition for attention in the digital channels as well as what has been called “banner blindness”, which is growing in the online world.
  1. Direct mail stands out, because of its physical presence on your desk, hall table, countertop or coffee table. Thus, we are simply more aware of it than we would be of an online banner ad.
  1. You can increase visibility with die cuts and use of larger and/or interesting packaging.
  1. Direct mail has the added value of its tactile nature, portability and convenience. It is reported that the tactile nature of direct mail creates more brain activity and fosters greater retention as compared to seeing the same content in an online environment.
  1. Response mechanisms that link to web content can allow you to acquire key contact data as well as the consent that is required to include those that respond in future email deployments, furthering your abilities to provide industry updates, introduce new blog posts and promote your products and services.
  1. Finally, like email, with direct mail we can measure responses, allowing us to assess the effectiveness of campaigns.

It is doubtful that direct mail will ever reign supreme in the direct marketing world as it did back in the nineties. However, given the inherent restrictions of CASL and the positive attributes noted above, direct mail is an awesome catalyst that can help to spark and drive your direct marketing engine. Sure it can cost more, but at the same time direct mail has a proven track record and it can truly deliver. So, maybe there has never been a better time to consider direct mail.

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Dave Ward

Dave Ward is President of Highland Marketing and a proponent of intelligent direct marketing, which combines the practical elements of using the right mix of direct marketing services and Canada Post products together with options that serve to heighten engagement and improve overall ROI.

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