Inside the Mix

USPS casts spotlight on the value direct-mail marketing can add to advertising budgets

USPS casts spotlight on the value direct-mail marketing can add to advertising budgets

The direct-mail industry hasn't always enjoyed a first-class reputation in the marketing world (and let's right here exorcise the "j" term - to call it "junk mail" is akin to calling the PR industry a spin machine), but it's certainly a powerful, multibillion-dollar force.

Sitting inside the marketing industry as we do, it is easy to rely on old opinions about various marketing disciplines and forget about the response that the general public has to a medium. But according to research carried out by the US Postal Service (naturally, a giant stakeholder in the direct-mail industry), it seems that consumers think very favorably of their mail. If you ask a consumer, "Is this junk mail?" provided the piece is relevant to them, well-targeted, and well-executed, they will say no - they actually consider it important.

Moreover, consumers spend time with their direct mail. The USPS' study, The Mail Moment, revealed that 77% of USPS customers sort through the mail that they get every day, spending an average of seven minutes (and they're not just throwing the commercial mail in the trash). More meaningfully from an ROI perspective, 52% of households said they purchased products and services they heard about through the mail.

So the consumers are clearly aware of the benefits of direct mail, more so, perhaps, than many ad- budget holders. This is why the USPS is in the middle of a huge marketing effort, reaching out to advertisers who might not be aware of the sophisticated interaction the medium has with its recipients.

The USPS says it has never been aggressive with promoting mail for advertising purposes. Rod DeVar, its manager of advertising and promotion, says the service has traditionally relied on the likes of direct-marketing firms and letter shops, rather than using its own considerable muscle and expertise.

But the campaign, which began last year with ads in trade magazines and direct mail to marketing pros, has had its dial turned up recently. Among current efforts is an aggressive influencer effort to find people in the general ad agency business and CMO and CEO types that are well-known and successful in marketing communications - both as individuals and for their companies - and have them talk about where mail fits in.

What's interesting is that the direct-mail industry actually has a body like the USPS offering such might behind its efforts to snag a larger share of the marketing budget. It's reminiscent of a situation this column discussed recently, where media owners are advising their clients on how best to utilize their media spend through their brands. In both cases, a necessary distribution vehicle in the paid-media process that stands to profit from increased usage is offering its expertise and inside knowledge to clients.

The PR industry, given its reliance on earning media rather than paying for it, doesn't have such an obvious third party to bang PR's drum. While service companies, such as newswires, do offer the same kind of strategic distribution advice, they hardly have the might of the USPS or the major media owners. PR and direct mail don't always compete for the same budgets, but it would behoove PR firms to keep an eye on the weapons other media have in their arsenals.

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