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Dove Direct Print and Marketing Blog, “Direct Mail Exceeds All Digital Channels”


Welcome to the Dove Direct Print and Marketing Blog. Today's post, "Direct Mail Exceeds All Digital Channels" unveils new data complied by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) from 2018 that paints a very competitive picture regarding the effectiveness of print versus digital. For starters, the DMA report states that direct mail response rates eclipses all digital channels! That statement may be a bit hard to swallow, however, with the overcrowding of digital ad campaigns, the response rate challenges of digital are being eviscerated by the massive ad numbers consumers and prospects are experiencing.

The DMA report goes on to stipulate that direct mail outperforms all digital channels by a whopping 600%! That statistic is a show stopper that all brands and marketers should take to heart. As a result, precious marketing dollars are under the gun for ROI performance, and according to this report, digital needs all the help it can receive from the marketing mix.

How Digital Channels Stack Up

The DMA report breaks out the response rates by digital platform in comparison to direct mail. The following list from 2015 depicts those response rate results as:

  • Mobile - 0.2%
  • Paid Search - 0.1%
  • Social Media - 0.1%
  • Email - 0.1% (including prospect and house lists)
  • Internet Display - 0.2%

And since 2015, direct mail response rates continues to improve over and above digital channels. Moreover, direct mail response rates for both house and prospect lists practically doubled in 2018. House response rate lists grew to 9%, while prospect response rates grew to 4.9%.


Direct mail leads all mediums with CPA (cost per acquisition). CPA is a factor when computing response rates versus sell through rates, and to arrive at a CPA number, which then turns into ROI, the response rates must be efficient to begin with. In DMA's study, direct mail ROI grew by 12% and surpassed online display. That is the takeaway of direct mail's dominance with CPA and ROI.

Conversely, it's true that over the past few years direct mail usages sheer volume is in decline, however, it is critical to understand that more digital channels came to the forefront over the past few years, by which most marketers and brands chose to invest marketing dollars into these newfound channels.

House and Prospect Lists Response Rates

Most brands and marketers are in possession of both in-house and prospect lists. To that end, marketing strategies and tactics revolve around being able to gain traction from prospects and customers that make up the volume of those respective lists. That said, lets examine how direct mail response rates performed over the past 15 years:

House Lists Results

    • 2003 - 4%
      2004 - 4%

    • 2005 - 4%
    • 2006 - 3%
    • 2008 - 4%
    • 2010 - 3%
    • 2012 - 3%
    • 2015 - 4%
    • 2016 - 5%

    • 2017 - 5%
    • 2018 - 9%

As one can see, the response rates for house lists from 2003 through 2015 on average were 4.125%. That number is much higher than the cumulative 0.62% average digital channels were able to achieve. Additionally, big data fueled by technological advances gave way to print's variable digital printing methodology that provides a much deeper dive into demographic and psychographic data.

Prospect Lists Results

    • 2003 - 2%
    • 2004 - 2%
    • 2005 - 2%
    • 2006 - 2%
    • 2008 - 2%
    • 2010 - 1%
    • 2012 - 1%
    • 2015 - 1%
    • 2016 - 3%
    • 2017 - 3%
    • 2018 - 5%

Prospect lists response rates are always going to be lower than house lists. Why? House lists generally are made up of current and past customers who have a familiarity with the brand, from its history, products, services, and brand reputation. Similar to house lists, project lists also doubled response rates beginning in 2016.

Objections to Using Print

Nonetheless, many marketers operate with the assumption that direct mail marketing is more expensive than that of the digital channel offerings. Interestingly enough, investment costs should be evaluated against lead generation. In the event that direct mail generated leads are presenting new opportunities, and the conversion of those opportunities bring enough sales to exceed dollars invested, marketers and brands should be singing direct mail praises. If not, then possibly the tracking mechanism for direct mail marketing results should be revisited.

Print Campaigns are Trackable

Thanks to advanced technology, print pieces can be tracked in a variety of ways. Multi-channel marketing automation tools can provide a plethora of tracking measures among the various software inherent in these automation tools. For example, QR codes, PURLs (personalized URLs for Direct Mail) and special offers to be redeemed at online locations can all be tracked.

In the case of using email campaigns in conjunction with direct mail marketing initiatives, the automated tools in email automation tools such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, Zoho and others provide a dashboard to review and track open rates, response rates and even sell through rates.

In addition, when a marketer or brand looks at how to ensure the products and customer experiences match the marketing differentiation directives signaled out in the report, the analysis and execution of each of those top 4 answers will propel the brand and product sets down the road to success.

Fewer Brands Using Direct Mail

To be fair, the DMA report also points out that fewer companies are using direct mail. Some would argue that thais drops in email usage is due to that direct mail is failing to produce positive numbers. Make no mistake, most marketers and brands are aware of the print forecasts alluding to a smaller output throughout the United States.

The Upside

Yes, there are fewer brands using direct mail overall. However, of the brands that do understand direct mail's high response rates, one very important aspect that helps brands cut through is the volume rate. The sheer volume of digital marketing campaigns makes it next to impossible to generate the ROI most marketers would expect. Which translates into more expenditures required to reach enough prospects in the digital universe to make sense. Brands with huge budgets can afford to over invest in digital, and to that end, most likely enjoy a pleasant ROI.

On the other hand, consumers and prospects will never have to decide which direct mail piece they are going to read, as their mailboxes fail to contain some 5k to 10k pieces of direct mail marketing collateral. Direct mail by its mailbox limitations, are in direct contrast of breaking through the clutter to illicit responses from their targets.

The Net-Net

These DMA report numbers should serve as ammunition for brands to continue or rethink using direct mail marketing strategies. At the very least, direct mail response numbers have earned a place at the marketing mix table, and pars best against all marketing mediums. Is your digital marketing being all that it can be? We contend that by integrating direct mail marketing into your ad campaign strategy, your ROI numbers will improve. Thanks for reading "Direct Mail Exceeds All Digital Channels!"

Let's have a conversation about direct mail strategies, printing, print software, transactional documents, variable digital printing, brand equity and unified marketing collateral during our next Open House. We invite you to join us on June 27th, from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. Let us show you how to improve your document processes to optimize your workflow, reduce your costs, and maximize your organization's printing, letter shop and mailing capabilities. Dove Direct does have an official USPS certified bureau located within our offices that will save you time and money. And, if you bring us your files, we will 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 based print and mail solutions provider offers organizations end-to-end data, printing and mailing solutions: Data Management, Variable Digital Printing, LetterShop and Fulfillment, Fully Automated MLOCR Presort Bureau, Marketing and Production Management Support and Secure Data Life Cycle Management.

If you don't want to wait for the Open House, you can reach Dove Direct today by calling 404-629-0122 or use the contact form for Dove Direct.

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