COVID-19 Boosted Direct Mail Engagement in 2020

Not too long ago, it was fashionable to predict the imminent demise of the direct mail channel. This old-school channel, it was thought, was succumbing to the inevitable rise of digital media as surely as the horse and buggy was supplanted by the automobile a century ago.

Then COVID-19 came along. As COVID-19 lockdowns spread across the world, confining millions to their homes, the daily arrival of a postal mail carrier became a special, heralded event. As noted by a recent report by Britain’s Royal Mail, “during the first lockdown, people liked to find some kind of routine. Getting dressed for work (at least from the waist up), maintaining regular meal times and taking time to exercise have all helped people keep hold of reality. Mail is part of this routine. People have their own rituals about processing their post, but our research has highlighted the widespread appreciation for the rhythm of the postie’s arrival and the reassuring thump of the mail onto the floor.”

This newfound appreciation appears to have translated directly to improved engagement rates. According to the Royal Mail’s study, 88 percent of survey respondents either paid the same or more attention to mail during the lockdowns. Nearly half (44 percent) “said they looked forward to receiving mail during lockdown, with 2 in 5 also expressing that the period reaffirmed the importance of mail.” Furthermore, the number of people who went online as a result of reading a direct mail piece increased by 70 percent on a year-over-year basis.

In the United States, the importance of postal mail as a communication channel was underscored by the rise of mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election. According to Pew Research, 46 percent of surveyed voters reported that they’d voted by mail. Of these voters, 39 percent stated that they’d never used mail-in ballots before. Attention to postal mail also increased due to postal mail being used to distribute stimulus payments to many Americans.

Lower commercial mail volume: less clutter

Just as the postal mail channel became a key method for transmitting votes, along with official communications from government authorities, many U.S. marketers, concerned about the economic damage wrought by COVID, began pulling back on their direct mail campaigns. According to the United States Postal Service, in 2020, “Marketing Mail revenue declined by $246 million, or 5.6 percent, on a volume decline of 788 million pieces, or 3.9 percent.”

The consequence of the decline in commercial mail volume was that marketers who did manage to continue their direct mail campaigns through the pandemic benefited from reduced clutter in the channel. With less competition to contend with, their mail pieces had a better chance of catching recipients’ attention and being acted upon (often in the online channel).

Clorox VP: Direct mail making “a huge comeback”

Didit’s Kevin Lee recently interviewed Clorox Vice President of Direct-to-Consumer Jackson Jeyanayagam, who praised direct mail’s performance in the past year. “I think that direct mail is making a huge comeback,” said Mr. Jeyanayagam. “It has for the past few years with programmatic direct mail, where you can pinpoint physical addresses with IP addresses; I think that’s a massive opportunity, especially as more people are at home… Your mail used to be filled with junk mail; today I read my mail once a week but I read everything, because I get less and it really cuts through. Now, guess where my junk mail is? In my email (inbox)!”

An underutilized marketing channel

Direct mail — especially when it’s personalized, backed up with leading-edge technology that provides tracking, and is tightly integrated into the marketing mix — has a bright future. One especially interesting data point pertains to millennials and direct mail. These “digital first” people perceive direct mail (especially when it’s appropriately personalized) very favorably, perhaps because they’ve received very few mail pieces in their lifetimes.

While direct mail’s strengths – especially during 2020’s COVID lockdowns – are clearly self-evident, many marketers continue to miss out on the direct mail opportunity. Only about half of marketers are using it as a primary channel, and many don’t use personalization or automation to its full potential.

At Didit, we’re bullish on direct mail. Our direct mail resources include full creative, production, personalization, and post-delivery capabilities to deliver optimal results for you and/or your clients. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch with us.

You can view the relevant part of the interview with Clorox’s Jackson Jeyanayagam, at the link below:

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