Is direct mail still worthwhile?

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When last did you receive a direct mail sales piece in your letterbox? These days with the decline of postal services it seems that less selling is being done via the traditional home mailbox.

The only direct mail piece that I can think of is some salesy letter that offers instant cash up to a few thousand Rand. It’s one of those sales letters that you almost instantly tear up and throw away because you know the big catch is the astronomical interest rates that this company will charge for loaning the money.

Less direct mail in the home letterbox is also is related to the decline of postal services:

  • Post office branches shut down without warning
  • Postal strikes last four weeks
  • Post office employees being caught red handed opening mail and parcels and dipping in and taking whatever they like
  • Irregular postal services

The only mail you get in your letter box these days are the “official” notices of an increase in your debit order for insurance, cellphone services, channel TV and municipal rates and services. The letterbox has become a scary place because all it tends to bring bad news from companies that have you in their grip and can wantonly increase their rates without warning.

The experts in the direct mail business report that direct mail is supposed to be more potent these days because of reduced direct mail mailings as a result of electronic communication. For a small business this is supposed to provide an opportunity to stand out in the letterbox. Some research done on unsolicited mail and unsolicited email shows that people find mail to be less intrusive than email, less high-pressure, more descriptive and more persuasive.

Yet more small businesses are turning to electronic communication such as email and social media to communicate with potential customers. Because the cost is so low to email, the increase in spam email is huge. In one survey it was found that the volume of spam for 2013 was slightly down but it was still at 69.6% compared to 2012. I have found that on any given day at least 50% or more of emails, depending on my email account, are spam emails. The email account that seems to eliminate spam best is Gmail.

Usually when the costs of communication go down communication is more impersonal and because of this it is a challenge to make your message more effective. The small business emails I receive are little more than uninspiring offers or blatant advertisements that are difficult to open and merely clog my inbox. It’s a nuisance having to clean up my email box to delete all of this spam email.

To really get past the spam barrier you need an expert to help you craft your email messages. Email subject lines and content need to offer value and be interesting so that they can engage potential buyers – something that is becoming increasingly difficult with the number of rubbish emails and the pathetic attempts to get into your email box such as prefacing the subject line with “re-:”. You’ve got to know how to use email to sell. Otherwise your mail will just be labelled spam.

Some may say that social media would be a good alternative but is it suited for building real relationships or making sales? How many sales have you made from social media?

A small business stands a better chance with local newspapers and community magazines which are hand-delivered to consumers’ homes. But the problem with this is that the cost of a display ad in one of these little newspapers or magazines is extremely high for the small retail or service business.

As online shopping increases – recently there was some rudimentary survey research showing that online shopping is increasing in South Africa – there will be a need to increasingly use email to attract potential buyers. Small business owners increasingly make their offers available online. They will need to use email to present their offers to potential consumers and business buyers. This trend will further place pressure on start-ups and small businesses needing to learn how to craft their email messages to escape the dreaded email spam box.

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