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Is direct mail making a comeback?

Why the old-school approach seems to be regaining popularity among B2B marketers.

It’s become the norm for B2B marketers to bow to the digital gods. With prospects easier to find and track through digital, and the promise of more personalisation tools assisted by AI and VR, marketers are right to swoon over the performance and opportunities provided by new technologies.

Recently, however, some marketers are choosing to adopt more traditional B2B techniques to inform and build rapport with prospects. The most surprising of these is how many businesses now embrace – or are rediscovering – the old-school benefits of direct mail.

Sending prospects magazines, brochures, giveaways, gift cards and announcements by snail mail (or more creative executions via courier) are just some of the tactics B2B businesses are using to impress and persuade prospective buyers.

Recent US surveys have shown the renaissance in direct marketing as a trend for 2019. Uberflip asked 200 B2B marketers what strategies and tactics they would be using this year. Direct or “tactile” marketing” came in at No.7 – just behind customer intelligence and in front of experience-driven content.

In Uberflip's report, the Director of Strategic Communications at US software company Jellyvision, Melanie Chapman, says direct mail has always been an excellent way to grab buyer attention and has now caught up with its digital rivals for trackability.

“Smart marketers will continue to ‘digitalise’ direct mail by using data and segmentation to create individualised experiences for recipients, boosting direct mail’s flexibility and impact,” Chapman says.

“Even though we spend more and more time online and are rarely far away from our smartphones, customers want to engage with people in the real world.”

Despite direct mail’s resurgence in popularity, particularly in North America, Australian B2B marketers appear less inclined to invest in the practice. Respondents to Green Hat’s B2B Marketing Research Report 2019 were asked to select the top three areas they will be investing in this year. Just 5 per cent nominated direct mail, pipping “telemarketing” and “other” for last place. Email marketing finished midfield (25 per cent) behind a top three of website/SEO (49 per cent), content development (40 per cent) and marketing automation (34 per cent).

In the meantime, US B2Bs embracing account-based marketing and the importance of personalisation have found direct mail to be a vital part of a multichannel mix.

Chief Marketer cites the example of US eyewear company EyeMed, which focuses its account-based marketing programs on larger clients and insurance brokers. It uses direct mail to encourage clients to recommend its products to consumers.

“We use it throughout the whole customer journey,” sales leader Scott Kosinski says. “It’s a critical part of connecting with prospects.”

EyeMed employs digital retargeting to help verify leads before sending out relevant direct mail as part of an integrated campaign. “Good marketing rarely goes out of style,” Kosinski says. “We’re competing for the attention of the same contacts with over 100 other companies, and a well-designed mailer and offer helps you stand out from the crowd.”

Cheques are in the mail

Why should direct mail still be considered part of a marketing mix in this overwhelmingly digital world?

First, although it appears to be comparatively expensive, direct mail captures attention for much longer than an easily deleted email or forgotten social media post. Almost four in five consumers will act on direct mail immediately compared with 45 per cent who say they deal with email straightaway. Targeted direct mail also has a 37 per cent higher response rate than email, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

Second, it’s far less common for marketers to employ direct mail, allowing those who do the opportunity to stand out. Even the former CMO of US marketing automation company Salesfusion, Malinda Wilkinson, believes in the power of direct mail. “We are over-exposed in the digital world, but it’s rare these days to get anything interesting in the mail,” she told Demand Gen Report. Further, businesses can use direct mail to promote their digital calls to action.

Then there’s the benefit of reciprocity, as Robert Cialdini explained in his best-selling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In short, it’s the opportunities that flow from “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. Studies have shown that when someone gives us something, we like them more … and we tend to do things for people we like.

It’s why inducements such as giveaways and gift cards influence prospects to buy from you and not your competitors.

How to do it

Dave Rigotti, Head of Marketing at US attribution and planning software company Bizible, offers five ways B2Bs can take advantage of direct mail.

* Awareness mailers are designed to make a positive first impression. “Think of this as a billboard or TV ad,” Rigotti writes.

* Appointment mailers have a strong call to action and often have an incentive to convert warmer leads into opportunities. "We're sending chocolates along with an Amazon gift card."

* Shareable mailers get more people involved in the deal. “This can be something simple like a box of cupcakes or something clever like a popcorn machine for their office.”

* Closer mailers are sent to the decision maker of the deal. “These are highly branded and personalised. It can be something physical like a bottle of wine with a Forrester report on your product, or an experience like tickets to join you in a suite at a sporting event.”

* Advocacy mailers are designed to help turn customers into advocates, internally and externally. “We’re sending branded boxes with branded swag, a custom letter, and handouts for the champion to share with the rest of the marketing team.”

Rigotti writes that direct mail works for three reasons – it gets noticed, it scales with less diminishing returns compared with ads and it aligns marketing with sales.

“Sales teams love direct mail,” he says. “They see how it benefits them more than some other marketing channels and it’s much easier to integrate into sales stages and processes.”

Jock Purtle, who founded online brokerage service Digital Exits, says B2Bs limiting their marketing to digital are cutting themselves out from opportunities.

“Even though we spend more and more time online and are rarely far away from our smartphones, customers want to engage with people in the real world,” he writes. “The all-important personal touch is tough to achieve from purely online strategies. By neglecting the ‘real world’, you run the risk of neglecting potential customers.”

Do you know of any great direct mail strategies in APAC? Please leave a message for the B2B community below.

B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC events will be held in Sydney, Singapore and Melbourne in 2019. See here for more information.

Further reading: Back to basics: Canon Australia's B2B makeover