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An Update on 2021 Direct Mail Trends

Welcome to the Dove Direct Print and Marketing Blog. Today's post, "An Update on 2021 Direct Mail Trends," reexamines critical 2021 trends based on a recent survey conducted and shared at the Variable Data Print & Mail Summit.  These findings were analyzed by Who's Mailing What, a Summit participant, and a host of print and mail executive respondents.  Since we are in the 4th Quarter, understanding some of the direct mail highlighted trends should help position any business for a successful end-of-year marketing campaign.  That said, it's not just about direct mail; moreover, it also sheds light on the digital marketing channel and how the two marketing disciplines, when used together, can solidify better response rates. Further, the US CDC is reporting that Covid-19 cases are on the decline.  If that trajectory holds throughout the holiday season, both marketing and retail sales may realize a banner year.  In retrospect, 2020 left many reeling, having experienced an unpredictable sales year led by a recession, moral and civil difficulties, political infighting, all anchored by an out-of-control pandemic.  None of the forecasters were able to predict such a calamitous ending to 2020.  Yet, we contend that utilizing digital or direct mail marketing in this climate is indeed a difficult task.  However, the forthcoming analytical trends should be a consideration for developing 4Q marketing initiatives.

Our Quote of the Day:  "Trends come like a series of ocean waves, bringing the high tide when things are good and, as conditions recede, the low tide appears. These trends come unexpectedly, unpredictably, and they have to be weathered with temperance, poise, and patience — good or bad."  —Jesse Lauriston Livermore

Interactive Digital Ascent

There is an increase in online response initiatives driven by direct mail's success at engaging targeted audiences.  A review of the survey respondents found that companies and organizations that create a clear pathway for customers to respond to direct mail offers grew in popularity.  The data portrayed how the consumer or donor chose to interact with a brand or organization via a digital channel:

  • Whether it was a social media channel
  • Or the selection of a QR code
  • Or the directive promoting a website visit

The direct mail response indicators doubled over the last four years!  The range of data examined from 2000 through 2021 included:

  • Visit our Website
  • Order Online
  • Usernames "@username"
  • QR Codes and Digital CTAs
  • Follow Us

Multiple businesses and organizations were using a combination of direct mail and digital elements, with the top 3 being Non-profits, Financial, and Retail.

Postcards Increasing in Value

The report describes how over the past 12 years, postcard usage has risen over all other mail formats.  Two reasons for the increase are cost and size. First, higher postage and paper costs are driving the popularity of postcards.  Second, there is a shift in how and what consumers read.  Consumers have an appetite for snackable content.  Postcards, on average, are smaller, comprise less text, and consequently render faster read times.  The short messages trigger quicker response rates or visits to a digital destination where consumers can gain in-depth information leading to the final decision-making process.  Simultaneously, while the postcard usage boom occurs, many industries are shying away from envelopes or letter packages.  On average, the decline in envelop usage is 15%. Marketers and brands still consider envelope usage; however, not as much.

The industries that experience the most significant envelope decrease are:

  • 51% Delivery and Shipping
  • 51% Retail
  • 33% Restaurants
  • 35% Business Products
  • 17% Business Services
  • 17% Recreation and Travel
  • 10% Health Care

The report also noted how marketers are changing campaign strategies by using fewer pieces and shorter copy. The report highlighted Kay Jewelers, who previously used envelope campaigns for Valentine promotions, but switched to postcards in 2020.  Nevertheless, envelopes are a proven method for delivering sales messages and confidential or exclusive offers.  Therefore, expect more deliberation for creative ideas that boost open rate envelope strategies.

Variable Data Displays Sophistication

Jeff Fannin, owner and CEO of PrintUSA, states, "We will see increased interest in more sophisticated variable data projects from our direct mailing division. Also, I think we will see some printing companies, such as ours, thinking more outside of the box with metallic inks, specialty folds and die cuts along with other ways to get the customers attention and to retain the message the mailing piece was designed to present."

Increased Usage of QR Codes

The report also advises that QR codes are growing in direct mail marketing usage.  The following excerpts highlight some of the factors behind the growing use of QR codes.

  • The USPS has offered campaign discounts as high as 2% for campaigns that include a QR code. That said, stricter requirements now emphasize the value of designing an improved customer experience.
  • There is also a greater appreciation for multichannel communications.   When this practice logically integrates mail collateral with digital, the benefit for the consumer and the organization is noteworthy.

In addition, customers are more familiar with QR codes, which provides a sense of comfort.  We see QR codes in signage, restaurant menus, and print ads that link directly to digital information that customers find engaging and helpful.  Add to that the intrinsic value of accessing fresh, up-to-date, high-tech, and contactless capability almost instantaneously, and all parties realize a win.

Shorter Word Count

Word content is becoming more concise, and this report declares that during the past 20 years, direct mail copy has become more straightforward. As of 2021, content is a whopping 62% shorter!

From 2000 through 2004, word count averaged just below 1000. Fast forward to 2021, and the count is a hair above 500!  Take Amazon as an example. Over the years, Amazon would use direct mail to remind prime members that prime video was part of the added benefit for members. However, Amazon significantly reduced the word count in 2021 with the following differences:

  • Shorter Sentences
  • Much smaller paragraphs
  • A few bullet points

Conversely, you should note that restaurants have shown a tendency to use more copy over the last four years, increasing word content by 98%. Note that while restaurants have embraced postcard usage, the content reflects a 98% increase in the word count. In certain instances, it is in the details.

How Well Does Direct Mail Work?

According to the data analysis, direct mail marketing does work and works quite well.  Many organizations that contain divergent age groups leverage direct mail.   Businesses founded as far back as Proctor & Gamble to new organizations created in the "digital era," including many trendy startups, are all integrating direct mail as part of their marketing mix and strategy.

Although more than 20% of the companies that the World Market Watch highlight in the survey have been around during the past 20 years, along with various new startups, they all employ direct mail marketing.

The Net-Net

There are a ton of metrics and trends being collected, tabulated, and analyzed 24/7, and it's a tough job to keep track of all of them. But it is critical to ascertain which trend(s) you may come across or experiment with that makes sense for your brand, product, or service. Furthermore, the ground beneath our collective bottom lines is continually shifting, including consumer behavior habits, which applies to both B2B and B2C sectors. To successfully leverage any trend, including direct mail, paying attention to details, and placing a measurement system in place will significantly aid in determining if that trend can successfully work for your organization. Thanks for reading "An Update on 2021 Direct Mail Trends."

Let's talk about integrated business solutions and how they can move your messages forward, help grow your business, change behavior, and improve the customer experience. Let us show you how to improve your document processes to optimize your workflow, reduce costs, and maximize your organization's printing, letter shop, and mailing capabilities. Dove Direct has an official USPS certified bureau located within our offices to save you time and money. We can even create a demo file for you. For more information, call Carla Eubanks at 404-629-0122 or email Carla at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dove Direct, your Atlanta vertical integrated print and mail solutions provider, offers organizations end-to-end data, printing, and mailing solutions:

  • Data Management
  • Variable Digital/Data Printing
  • LetterShop and Fulfillment 
  • Digital Mail Scanning Services
  • Fully Automated MLOCR Presort Bureau
  • Marketing and Production Management Support
  • Secure Data Life Cycle Management

If you don't want to wait, you can reach Dove Direct today by calling 404-629-0122 or complete the Contact Form.

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