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Commentary & Analysis

Hey, There’s a Real Person Behind Those “Love Mail” Numbers

Sometimes we forget that there are real people behind the direct mail data. Last summer, I got to put a face to a data point. It made me wonder, “Now what?”

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: October 9, 2019

When I went to church one past Sunday, I wasn’t expecting to be treated to a mini-sermon on the value of direct mail. Yet, there it was. The speaking pastor that week, Kirk, who fits into the older Millennial (late 30s) set, opened with the line: “Who doesn’t love to get mail?” (Did I mention that he’s a Millennial?) He continued, “You know what I do first when I get home and I’m carrying something, whether it’s my work bag or the groceries? I go to the mailbox. Before I even go into the house, I set everything down and walk down to the mailbox to see what’s there.”

When delivering a piece of content, you choose a hook you are pretty certain most people in your audience will relate to. Sermons are no different. For me, as someone in an industry used to people saying direct mail is dead, this made Kirk’s opener pretty remarkable. Not to mention that ours is a multi-site church with thousands of people attending services in person or watching online every week, most of them on the younger side. That’s a lot of people to assume love mail the way he does. But then, the Direct Marketing Association does report that 56% of Americans consider receiving mail “a real joy.” So when it comes to love of mail, either the pastor or the DMA—maybe both—is on to something.

Kirk then proceeded to describe the excitement of sifting through the mail with great anticipation, even describing the let-down when he gets to the mailbox, forgetting that it’s a holiday, and he opens it up to find it empty. He did the mock sigh, accompanied by slumped shoulders, like a kid at Christmas who ran downstairs to find no presents under the tree. You could see people in the congregation chuckling. I thought it was just me! 

I know I was supposed to be focused on the spiritual point he was getting to, but for several minutes, I was processing his choice to open with these stories. First, it was a reminder that direct mail isn’t dead. Not by a long shot. Second, it was a reminder that, especially for the younger generations, mail is more than a functional way to deliver information. There is something special about it. As I was reminded that morning, this is not just a happy phrase that people in the printing industry say to make themselves feel good. It’s actually true. Consumers, and Millennials in particular, do, in fact, get pumped about mail. According to Gallup, 95% of Millennials say they “love” getting mail. That’s more than Americans overall.

Why do Millennials love mail so much? I’ve heard it suggested that in a world inundated with digital media, the tangible nature of direct mail is a novelty. Perhaps. Or maybe it’s that Millennials receive more of their bills by text or email than older generations, so when they go to the mailbox, there is a higher chance that the mail won’t be a bill. Whatever it is, it was striking to me to see the data I write about all the time come to life out of the mouth of a real person.

So what do we do about it? How do we capitalize? Keep sending the same-old, same-old mail we always have? Or continually evolve mail into new fun, relatable experiences that the younger generation will continue to enjoy receiving? Maybe that’s adding interactive and “experiential” elements to engage them and add to the fun. Or maybe it’s the content, such as tying the purchase to a charitable cause or the benefits of the product to the greater good (purchasing a bike, for example, becomes being kind to the Earth rather than just saving money on gas).

Whatever it is, that’s for each marketer to figure out based on its customer base. But the point is, there are real people behind those numbers coming out of the marketing associations and postal services. Putting a real face behind one of those data points was fun, and it makes me excited to see how direct mail will continue to evolve, not just into a channel of greater functionality, but into one of delight.

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”

 

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