Bring It On! The Debate Over Direct Mail Response Rates

By | December 14, 2010

Recently, I have been enjoying and industry discussion on direct mail response rates. Can we generalize them? What are the issues associated with trying to analyze them? There were some very interesting points made during this discussion that I’d like to share and comment on here.

Originally, the question revolved around statistics that detail the percentage of intended recipients of B2B and B2C postal mail campaigns who actually view/open the letter or postcard. Were there any? If so, what were they?

Here are some of the really interesting points made on this topic:

  • According to the “2010 DMA Statistical Fact Book,” 79% of households either read or skim advertising mail sent to their home. Obviously, this likely speaks more to B2C than B2B, one participant observed.  B2B is likely to be lower since the intended recipient likely has a “gatekeeper” whose job is to screen incoming mail.
  • Almost all large companies still have a mailroom or at least outsource one. If they get 100 mail pieces of the same design, that mail will never be delivered. If you want to get past the gatekeeper, mix it up!
  • Such statistics are meaningless since they are, by definition, averages over both well-crafted campaigns and poorly crafted ones. If you average the results of direct mail from Fortune 500 companies and those from mom and pop shops, what will you learn? Not much.

(I would also add that you learn nothing by mixing the results of highly targeted, segmented, and personalized campaigns and high volume, undifferentiated static ones either!)

  • Another reason such statistics are meaningless is that most three-dimensional packages get opened, but again, what does that tell you? Almost nothing. It is just as likely to be for the freebie inside (or in hopes that there is one) than for the message.
  • The latest TGI survey (Q4 2010) reveals that 45% of UK adults have taken action after receiving mail. Overall, the highest response was from  25-44 year olds, where 51% and 49%, respectively, had taken action after receiving mail. This same demographic was also the most likely to have used a voucher and visit a store after receiving mail.

I found this particularly interesting. This is supposed to be the anti-print, mobile demographic. I guess print isn’t dead among these consumers after all.

Here’s the second-to-last observation on this particular discussion, and probably my favorite because it was posted by a printer:

In answer to the commonly expressed view that most people just throw this stuff away (likewise, I am a printer, and clients frequently say they want to do a job the cheapest way possible “because people are just going to throw it away anyway”), we turn their focus toward expecting the desired response rate/ROI from that group that does open it.

Hip, hip hooray! Let’s hear it for the printer.

But I’ll conclude with this one, because it’s really what direct mail and response is all about:

I know the question is about open rates. However, is that the right question? Perhaps the question might be modified to Which audience will respond with the highest open rate for my offer? That way I believe you’ll improve on the average response metric and achieve higher response rates from smaller target audiences.

Now that’s some thinkin’!

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2 thoughts on “Bring It On! The Debate Over Direct Mail Response Rates

  1. Fern Lee

    Thanks for this post examining the debate over direct mail response rates. I think a lot of people are surprised to hear about the response rates for young adults. As you suggest, print might not be dead for the younger generations after all.

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