Commentary & Analysis
Putting Numbers to Direct Mail’s Ability to Drive Purchases
In concert with Pebble Post, Murphy Research released a study that puts data to what we intuitively know but can’t always document: that direct mail drives purchase consideration and plays a central role in the path to purchase. These are good numbers to have!
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: June 12, 2019
We always say that direct mail is a critical part of consumers’ decision-making processes, but what’s the rationale? Where’s the back-up? A new study titled “Home Is at the Heart of Commerce Marketing,” produced by Murphy Research for Pebble Post, provides some of both.
The study explains the power of direct mail in purchase decisions, but you kind of have to put it together.
First, the study documents that the overwhelming majority (88%) of decisions are made at home and discussed with immediate family (64%). The most likely person to be involved in those decisions (53%) is a spouse, five times higher than the next most likely to be involved, which is a friend (13%).
At first this might seem like a big nothing-burger, but think it through. Especially for bigg(er) decisions, we need to sit down with the other person or persons involved, and we want something to reference as we do. At home, where direct mail arrives, the other stakeholders are more likely to be present. Plus, over the last several years, we’ve see a lot of studies on information processing in digital and print. Whether the study is from the United States Postal Service, Canada Post, or a major university, they all come to the same conclusion: information embeds more deeply in the brain, is more easily recalled, and is recalled in more detail when it’s communicated through print rather than digital channels.
Another factor supporting the role of direct mail, as documented by the report, is that 89% of decisions involve some level of planning. Only 11% of purchases are impulse buys. So, unless you’re a total slacker, you’re not making most of your personal purchases decisions at work. You’re making them at home. This is even higher for the biggest decisions. When it comes to financial decisions, for example, 91% are made at home and 94% require advance planning. For automotive purchases, 94% are made at home and 94% require advance planning.
With print’s value in helping people process and retain the details of information, it’s no wonder that 61% of respondents found direct mail influential in their decisions. It’s just how our brains work. We come down, sit down, look at the book, catalog, direct mailer, postcard and, if necessary, discuss the purchase with the other person or people in the home impacted by that decision.
The other interesting thing found by the study is where in the sales process print makes the biggest impact. Regardless of how long it took to make a purchase decision, consumers used the same basic process: start with online sources (search engine, consumer and expert reviews, online video), then social media (Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), and then direct mail (catalogs, newsletters postcards, promotional offers) before going in-store. While consumers found both online and offline sources “very influential” in their decisions, direct mail has a unique role in that it is used closer to the time of purchase. This suggests that it is a clincher in which decision gets made. If consumers are vacillating between yes and no, or this product or that, direct mail helps push that decision one way or the other. Not surprisingly, of the different direct mail formats, the most preferred is a promotional offer.
Some of these findings are no surprise, but it’s nice to have numbers tied to them. It’s also nice to have the influences in the purchase process tied so neatly together.