Snail mail seems so last century. Once email came along – faster, easier and cheaper – post offices began closing one by one and street mailboxes disappeared along with postal employees.

Another casualty of the e-revolution was direct mail. The ability to scale, at minimal if any additional cost, plus the overall value, quick development cycle and ROI made eblasts irresistible to most businesses.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the digital revolution. As volumes of physical mail dropped vertiginously, the diminishing numbers of direct mail pieces being sent out actually began delivering better numbers. When recipients received fewer solicitations and marketing pieces in their non-virtual mailboxes, they became more interested and engaged in the ones they were receiving. This pattern has been continuing, even growing, to the benefit of those marketers still sending out physical mail.

Mind you, the ROI of email will continue to be higher. There’s just no denying the tremendous value there. But for a business, direct mail offers a number of advantages that email simply can’t deliver.

1. Swag

You can send actual stuff – products, promotional gear and more – in the mail. A few years ago we sent a steel safe to potential purchasers of IT backup services. You had to respond in order to get the combination – and we made sure to let them know there was something worth getting at inside. People still do like getting stuff in the mail, especially if it’s fun (more on that below) or brings them some kind of value.

2. Attention

You’ve probably noticed that you get a lot less mail than you used to at your home and business. Instead of quickly sorting through piles of envelopes and packages, now you might have only a few things to look at, which gives each one a better chance to catch your – and your audience’s – attention. Especially compared to an inbox stuffed with more eblasts than anyone has time to read in detail.

3. Integration

You can plan a direct mail program that works together with all the other digital and tactical elements of your marketing. For example, if your campaign is space-themed, you could send out flash drives shaped like rockets, loaded with an interactive game that brings the user to a bigger online platform with opportunities for conversions and lead generation. Even a printed mailer can include a QR code to download a branded app. While there may be ways to execute these as digital-only campaigns, remember #2 above. And also,

4. Delight

There are so many really creative things you can do with physical mail. In a flat envelope, you can send pop-up cards that form a building or a product or your logo. One marketer told me he was moved to open a mailer with a “bump” inside that turned out to be a penny. If budget allows, you can send anything from a giant pencil to iPods loaded with content to sunglasses – whatever fits your campaign. (I’d draw the line at live animals.) And make sure whatever you send is branded, of course. Which leads to…

5. Retention

If you send something they like, your prospects will keep it around – maybe even right on their desk, kitchen counter or other high-visibility location. Maybe it will be something they find useful every day. Each time they see or use it, it’s another impression for your brand. We spend big bucks for brand impressions, and this is a way to get tremendous scale on one investment.

Statistics support the continuing use and popularity of the medium. Here are a few:

  • According to DMA’s 2012 Response Rate Report, response rates for direct mail to an existing customer averaged 3.40%, compared with 0.12% for email. For the math-challenged, that’s about 30 times higher.
  • The Drum reports that 79% of consumers will take immediate action on direct mail, compared to 45% for email.
  • Finally, a 2012 study cited by the CMO Council, 79% of business to business professionals consider direct mail to be “effective” or “very effective”. This study and lots more fascinating stats to dig into are available at

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some mail to open.