Modern society has a love-hate relationship with marketing and business in general. We want better performing economies and better-paying jobs for ourselves yet none of us enjoys seeing ads; one of those necessary “evils” that most businesses must put out in order to continue operating. Fortunately, these ads are far more effective and are likely to cause less annoyance if they are only directed at relevant targets i.e showing them to people who are most likely to be interested in the product or service on offer.

Advertising mail, also known as direct mail is the delivery of marketing materials such as sales letters, flyers and catalogues using the traditional postal system. In some developed countries, such large volumes of this mail are sent to the public that it ended up being dubbed “junk mail”. Today we are going to explore why local businesses should consider using this vastly underutilized advertising channel.

You have less competition

On most other advertising channels you have to compete for your customers’ ears and eyeballs with other similarly determined marketers. This makes direct mailing more attractive since in Zimbabwe, very few if any companies use it to market their goods and services. Therefore when your targets receive your marketing material in their letterboxes, it is unlikely to be accompanied by material from the competition.

You can target customers by location

Direct mail is the only marketing channel you can use to precisely target large swathes of the population using their physical locations in a country like Zimbabwe where technology has yet to fully catch up and few people can afford the internet. Local newspapers and radio stations’ targeting capabilities are limited in the local specificity of their advertising. In addition, these two are rapidly losing audiences in the modern age. With direct mail, you can narrow down the people you can market to down to specific streets.

It has a higher response and open rates

Email marketing is often described as the predecessor to direct mail. However, as a marketing tool, while it is less expensive it is also proving to be less effective.  It is estimated that email marketing has an average response rate of 0.1% in America. The figures are not available for Zimbabwe but they are likely to be even lower. This figure tells us that in order to get a single response you would need to send your marketing email to about 1000 recipients. Even worse, I do not believe that this figure accounts for the possibility of you falling afoul of your recipients’ spam filters. Direct mail has a much higher average response rate of about 3.4% i.e if you send a thousand of these you are supposed to get about 34 responses. I know that this figure may also not seem like much but that is marketing for you. In the real world if you are getting response rates higher than 10% chances are high that you are advertising get rich quick schemes. Direct mail’s superior response rates are probably caused by the fact that your recipients are more likely to open unsolicited physical rather than electronic mail to begin with.

It is better for B2B marketing

Direct mail’s ability to be targeted becomes especially useful if you are selling your products and services to other businesses. Business-to-business marketers hope that most if not all of their marketing material reaches actual businesses instead of individuals. B2B mailings are also often used to preclude the use of salespeople where possible or even to generate leads for them. Nowadays there are plenty of categorized online directories full of companies and their addresses which you can use to find and target businesses to mail not only by industry but also by location. Direct mail’s closest competitor, an email will often be considered to be spam by your recipient. Physical mail is more likely to reach the hands of the decision-makers whereas it is very unlikely that the email addresses of a company’s executives will be easily available.

It has built-in persistence

One of the problems with today’s electronic media in relation to advertising is its lack of persistence. Radio and television ads can only reach people while they are still being paid for (and are on air). The same goes for most types of online advertising. You are therefore forced to keep marketing to the same people to keep brand awareness alive. Direct mail, on the other hand, is not as highly affected by this. Direct mailing material is printed on paper. This means that if the recipients of your marketing materials think that they will ever be interested in your products they can just file this material for later retrieval.

Direct mail is still more expensive than most of its electronic counterparts therefore as a business person you have to conduct a proper cost-benefit analysis before you can use it without the risk of laying waste to your entire marketing budget. It is important that businesses weigh effectiveness against both the cost of customer acquisition and the projected customer lifetime value. Direct mail is also best used when your pool of potential customers is somewhat limited or where mass marketing would either be impractical or wasteful.