Rediscovering the lost art of direct mail

Direct mail is in trouble. Trampled under the march of progress and still lumbered with the tag ‘junk mail’, its stock has fallen rapidly amongst brands who have turned their attention to digital communications. Although this makes good business sense, as it’s considerably cheaper to hit a list of prospects with an email instead of a print mailer, I can’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia for the days when direct mail was elevated to the level of art form.

When executed correctly, direct mail can be engaging and effective. This is especially true today when, thanks to the rise of digital, our doormats are somewhat less cluttered than they used to be. Unfortunately, this opportunity appears to be largely unappreciated by brands. Many of the direct mailers I’ve come across recently have been little more than emails in envelopes. This misses the point of the medium completely.

An email usually has a specific focus and typically guides readers towards more detailed content. In contrast, the scope of direct mail is much wider and can tell the full story of a brand in one beautifully designed, well-written piece of collateral. It can also be more personal, like this ingenious example from fledgling bank Atom. I received this postcard a couple of weeks ago in response to a registration form I completed online.150717_Postcard_Runacus_Final 2

Clearly handwritten and posted with a real stamp, Atom’s direct mailer piqued my interest and I immediately wanted to learn more about the company. I was most curious about how the idea behind the postcard came about. It’s clear that Atom’s CEO Mark Mullen, and CMO Lisa Wood, both formerly of First Direct, recognise the importance of connecting with consumers in innovative ways and I imagine they’re aiming to trigger relationships with what represents a more ‘human’ form of communication. And it’s worked (in my case at least).

It’s easy to be cynical about these things, but the team behind the postcard clearly invested time and effort to create each message. In fact, the poor chap who had to hand-write my fulfilment – “Max” – even took the time to check my customer record, as he referred to my ambition to learn how to code. I’m guessing every Atom employee had to sit at their desk with 100 prospect records crafting a hand-written message accordingly!

For me, Atom proves that direct mail doesn’t have to be binned just yet but now it faces the difficult challenge of keeping the conversation going. Has the company got what it takes to earn a share of the market? I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

  1. Totally buy in to the nostalgia point Mark, but I know we are of a similar generation!

    Whilst you don’t mention it explicitly, I know you will have ROI at your heart ; effectiveness reigns in the long run (howsoever the creative impact is achieved).

    The proof of the direct marketing pudding is in results, but I agree with the emotional engagement and now (perversely) the novelty of a well crafted piece of DM landing on the door mat. It now doesn’t even have to compete with many brown envelopes as most transactional businesses and utilities have gone down the “saving paper” (great spin!) route to, in reality, cut administration and postage costs and force us all into direct debits and payments online. Push the local pizza flyers aside and bingo…The opportunity to create ‘attention, interest, desire and action’ (marvellously simple and valid process still!) in an appealing piece of mail is tremendous!

    And done well I bet it still works! And again perversely, a great antidote and coffee-time distraction from the endless flitting from smartphone, to tablet to monitor screen we all now suffer 24/7.

    Bring back well targeted and high impact, creatively clever, great DM!

    I utterly agree with your sentiment.



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