The Future of Direct Mail in Changing Times

Today’s successful direct marketing programs bear little resemblance to their predecessors of a decade ago, to say nothing of their (not quite) prehistoric origins. Smart marketers know the days of mass mailing a single offer to as large an audience as possible (with fingers crossed) are, literally, history. Evolutions in technology—wireless, manufacturing, and data—have given way to omnichannel marketing that continuously pushes the future of direct mail in new and exciting directions. 

Direct mail, like the times, is always changing

Sometimes though, that evolution is influenced in wildly unpredictable ways by forces beyond anyone’s ability to predict or control. Case in point; COVID-19.

To say the global pandemic has upended the marketing apple cart is no exercise in hyperbole. What hasn’t changed is the need to stay abreast of the effectiveness of marketing channels, as well as evolving consumer trends and preferences. It is crucial for today’s direct mail providers. 

To that end, the marketing team at SG360° wanted to shed light on

  • what marketers are doing to reach today’s consumers,
  • which marketing tactics resonate with consumers,
  • what effects the pandemic has had on both marketers and consumers,
  • and how direct mail fits into it all. 

Our approach

In the Spring of 2021, we worked with outside research and marketing firms to survey:

  • 400 B2C marketers that use direct mail, learning what channels are working for them, how they use them, and what their immediate and near-term plans contain
  • 1000 consumers, querying on the effectiveness of the marketing communications directed at them                                 

The Future of Direct Mail report highlights

The key discoveries that arose from the resulting data form the basis of our report, The Future of Direct Mail: An Opportunity for Unified Marketing Strategy. Here are a few highlights from the report.

1. Direct mail combats digital fatigue

In reaction to the onset of the global pandemic, marketers went “all in” on digital advertising. In the moment it made perfect sense, what with millions and millions of consumers sitting around and engaging with their electronic devices at unprecedented rates. 

But our survey found over 70% of consumers feel overwhelmed by the number of digital ads they are exposed to every day since the pandemic began. The data also shows marketers are seeing this fatigue reflected in their results. See our Digitally Fatigued Customer Tip Sheet for tactics to overcome digital fatigue and get unprecedented results.

The good news for marketers—according to our consumer audience—is direct mail’s proven ability to drive consumer engagement could be the antidote for this growing challenge. Fully 72% of our consumer respondents said they “feel positive about receiving direct mail.”

Some of the actions taken by consumers after receiving direct mail include:

Actions Taken

2. Direct mail easily adapts to new technologies

Some of the latest marketing channels are seeing quick adoption by marketers.

Streaming Media Adoption

The full report has data on eight omnichannel tools marketers are pairing with direct mail, including VACTA (voice-activated call to action via smart speakers).

Yet despite all the attention on new and existing digital marketing tools, direct mail remains at the top (second place—just missing first) of B2C marketers’ preferred marketing channels for the next three years.

3. Relevancy drives engagement

Nearly three-fourths of consumers feel positive about direct mail. The number one reason for these positive vibes? 

Good Deal For Me Quote


… i.e. it’s relevant to their needs.

The number one reason for dislike of marketing mail among the remaining consumers? “I don’t find marketing mail useful.”

Increased relevance, i.e. targeted messaging/offers, is also the top choice of all consumers when asked what would make marketing mail more attractive to them. 

To stand out in the mailbox, marketers need to:

  • Make offers tailored to the individual’s interests or needs
  • Use imagery representative of expressed interests
  • Send at the right time
  • Send visually interesting mailers that maximize interactivity
4. Direct mail: The next generation

It’s almost fruitless to discuss the future of direct mail without examining how generations are affected by it. One of the most intriguing revelations to come out of the report highlights the growth in engagement between younger generations and direct mail. It seems the generation born into the digital age, for whom pixels are as easy to navigate as breathing, value the physical world. As a result, they value touching and holding paper, leading to positive feelings about direct mail… so long as what they are seeing—and feeling—is personally relevant to their wants and needs.

Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X also rank higher than Baby Boomers in actions taken as a result of receiving direct mail, including:

Generational Actions Taken


A roadmap for the future

Delivering hyper-targeted personalized direct marketing pieces that stand out in the mailbox packs more power than ever. Direct mail has a very bright future, and marketers would be wise to leverage the impact targeted direct mail can have on their results.

The insights we gleaned from this exercise have proven vital to our ongoing mission to help clients improve their marketing programs and grow conversions. As a result, we will repeat this survey, adjusting as needed for future industry developments, on a regular basis and look forward to sharing with you each new insight.

To read the full report and see the data behind SG360°’s discoveries in The Future of Direct Mail: An Opportunity for Unified Marketing Strategy, download your free copy.

The Future of Direct Mail Cover


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