Myth Busted: How Direct Mail Can Actually Enrich the Digital Customer Journey

03/10/2015 03:42 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

Article by Ernan Roman
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E-commerce marketers are increasingly seeing the value of direct mail as part of their integrated mix and, in 2014, direct mail spending rose. Why this surprising trend?

Direct Mail Enriches the Customer Experience
Per ERDM VoC research; Mail has the unique dimension of 'shareability' that enables BtoB and BtoC buyers to easily share and discuss direct mail with business colleagues or family members as part of the decision making process. Per a representative quote from the research, "The mailer makes it easier to discuss the offer with business associates or family, versus merely forwarding an email or the bother of printing out an email or attachments".

Using direct mail as a part of a multi-faceted campaign gives recipients multiple opportunities to engage, but for the History Channel it also provided recipients a valued collectable.

Using direct mail as a part of a multi-faceted campaign gives recipients multiple opportunities to engage, but for the History Channel it also provided recipients a valued collectable.

In a unique BtoB campaign to promote the TV program, History Asia/Photo Faceoff on the History Channel, the company used a series of photo postcards which were delivered twice weekly to the media, clients and affiliates.

The campaign, which played up the notion of a picture truly speaks a thousand words, generated excitement not only for the show but also for the art. Each mailing featuring photos and a description of the series with a call-to-action to tune in to the premiere. The pieces were so well received that the network received requests for the photographic images.

The History Channel states that the campaign generated $1.2 million in PR value through professional interest in the series, social media mentions and requests for the actual art pieces.

Per a recent NY Times article, "For many brands, catalogs are the single most effective driver of online and in-store sales, according to analysts and retailers. Some stores, like Anthropologie, rely so heavily on catalogs that they make them their principal form of advertising. "We don't call it a catalog; we call it a journal," said Susy Korb, chief marketing officer of Anthropologie..."Of course we're trying to sell clothes and accessories, but it's more to inspire and engage."

Direct Mail as Part of the Purchase Journey

In a recent study by Econsultancy, 1/5th of respondents say an understanding of customer journey is a top cross-channel success factor. However, 57% say that they don't understand customer journeys, and can't adapt their marketing mix accordingly."

Online men's retailer Bonobos ran a small test to evaluate the impact of a print catalog on their traditionally e-based purchase journey. The results were so promising that the company tried several more tests. They found that online tools to attract new customers, like display ads and emails, often have just one image or text line, while a direct mail catalog can grab consumer attention with a fuller brand story.

Now, 20% of Bonobos' first-time customers are placing their orders after receiving a catalog. And, they spend 1.5 times as much as new

Direct Mail Helps Build Long-Term Brand Engagement and Loyalty

Homebase, an online UK home and gardening retailer had a problem. Most of their income was generated during the gardening season. Or, as they put it, their spring was every other retailers' Christmas. So the company decided to use direct mail to get potential high value gardening customers to shop early and spend more.

The campaign, which won a DMA Silver Award for the Best Use of Direct Mail, was called," 'Let's Get Gardening.' The 500,000 piece mail campaign motivated potential customers to go to the website with a value-driven piece which included ideas, hints, tips, tools, and checklists. Additionally, to make the mailer even more appealing, offers were valid throughout the season. There was also an online community for engaging with other gardening enthusiasts.

Results; customers visited the site 33% more often and spent, on average, 20% more. In addition, 27,594 customers completed a survey which Homebase now uses to communicate more personally with customers.


  1. Per VoC research, consumers are saying that mail has to integrate with other media. It is therefore imperative that direct mail include your web address for online access as well as social media access. A sample quote from the research; "The first thing I do, if I'm looking to respond to a mailing, is look for a website to go to and do it online vs. mailing back my order. I hate mailing stuff back."
  2. Understanding customer buying patterns allows you to synchronize mailings to the times they are most receptive. This is critical given the higher per piece cost of mail versus email.
  3. Analyzing customer's lifetime value will enable you to develop personalized mailings for specific points in their customer journey, thus building loyalty and purchases throughout their lifecycle.
  4. Use direct mail as part of a larger customer experience to increase brand excitement.
  5. Use direct mail with "dated" coupons at specific times of the year or during special events, to stimulate purchases.
  6. Have tight attribution metrics to track direct mail performance and it's impact on other elements of your media mix.

It's time for marketers to re-examine the role, relevance and ROI of direct mail within today's multichannel mix. Test direct mail at different points in the customer journey. Also test different mail package formats based impact and value, not just cost. When it comes to mail, don't just think about Expense. Consider Yield and Revenue.

Ernan Roman
President, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing Corp., (ERDM)

Inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame based on results companies achieve with three Customer Experience methodologies he created: Voice of Customer Relationship Research, Integrated Direct Marketing and Opt-in Marketing.

ERDM specializes in conducting Voice of Customer research to identify Customer Experience strategies that generate significant increases in response and revenue for clients including IBM, MassMutual, QVC, NBC, Microsoft and Norton AntiVirus.

Named by the Online Marketing Institute as one of the "2014 Top 40 Digital Luminaries" and by Crain's B to B Magazine as one of the "100 most influential people in Business Marketing".

Ernan's latest book is titled, "Voice of the Customer Marketing". He also writes the widely read and Huffington Post published blog, "Ernan's Insights on Marketing Best Practices".