If Direct Mail Is Dying, It's Sure Taking Its Time About It
This is a record year for catalogs jamming my mailbox. It’s great.
It’s great that I get them, at least 100 so far this season, and it’s even greater that so many companies continue to produce them.
Why do they do it in this era of ecommerce?
Lots of reasons, but the short version is that direct mail, catalogs in particular, work. They’re profitable and they bring in revenue the companies can’t touch with electronic marketing alone.
The enduring power of direct mail is connected to two often overlooked societal phenomena:
1. The mail is often the only reliable way to reach reasonably affluent males.
2. The over-50 crowd, already large and growing, has a lot more money than younger folks and they’re just as happy to deal with you in print as they are in the cyber world.
Most catalogers still offer every possible response method: by mail, phone, fax, in person at a store. But, as often as not, most people who order from print catalogs do it online. The word synergy is overused but it fits here.
Our creative director, who gets a lot of print catalogs, orders by phone and calls around 10 at night.
Which companies are sending out catalogs these days? All the traditional ones you’d expect like Harry & David the fruit people, Hammacher Schlemmer, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Tiffany’s, Art Institute of Chicago, The Met, and so on.
And there are always newcomers, some of which are showing staying power, especially in the fields of clothing, jewelry, food, flowers, nesting merchandise and gadgets.
Catalogs have always struck me as direct-mail-written-large. They’re expensive to produce and mail so they have to be carefully targeted.
The catalogers adhere to the basic rules of direct mail, one of the most important of which is ALWAYS HAVE A UNIQUE OFFER and make it clear.
I saw several potential gifts in the Smithsonian print catalog but no offer, and yet when I went online to look around, I found Free Standard Shipping (a $7.95 value) and that’s always compelling.
Basically, everything in a marketing communication but especially in direct mail has to answer one question right away: What’s In It For Me? If the answer is clear, the prospect starts to get interested and look around.
It’s quite a different process from, say, a customer at a retail store like Best Buy who walks in with a specific purchase in mind.
The great catalogers test all the time: different covers, different offers, different lists, different prices, different product placement on page, and on and on. They test and track the results and use the information to get more profitable every time out. (See The Ridiculously Inexpensive Magic of Direct Mail Letters for more about this.)
Online marketing is a terrific force and it will grow, even as states and cities force marketers to charge sales tax.
But direct mail is not going away. I get a couple of thousand offers by mail every year. They arrive all year long, trending heavier in the last few months and in January and the number is growing. The industry is still selling billions of dollars’ worth of products and services. It’s not hip and happening, not “now” but it is highly effective and very profitable.
Let me know if you’ve been doing well with direct mail in the comments below. It’s always good to hear from you. Thanks for reading this.