Why some marketers are shifting their focus from inboxes to mailboxes

Belardi Wong, an agency that specializes in direct marketing, is helping more than 80 brands work on their first direct-mail campaigns this year.
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Blues Clues/Nickelodeon via Giphy

· 5 min read

For the generations that grew up on Blue’s Clues, mail time is pretty few and far between these days.

As a Gen Z/millennial “cusper,” Emily Loof, development and marketing manager at education nonprofit Colorado Youth for a Change (CYC), said she’s pushed for an increased use of direct mail in her current and past roles. Since last year, she said CYC has “about doubled” its direct-mail marketing budget.

In addition to seeing increased donations, Loof said she’s also received feedback that indicates younger people may be itching for more things in their mailbox. One person “tagged our organization on Facebook and said, ‘This is so cool. Like, I never get letters from people that I donate to,’” she told us.

Given growing data-privacy concerns, clutter in online advertising, and demand for brand authenticity, some marketers we spoke to said the best way to reach younger consumers could be through some good ol’ fashioned snail mail.

You’ve got mail

“What were the last five things someone sent you in the mail?” Lauren Alt-Kishpaugh, VP of marketing at offline marketing automation platform Postal, asked. “I could name the last five brands that have sent me something in the mail. I can’t do it with people who email me.”

While email inboxes are overflowing, a USPS study found that “62% of millennials tend to read through the advertising mail they receive, rather than discarding it without reading.”

Considering that most people are bombarded with hundreds of ads per day online, Alt-Kishpaugh said, “it makes sense that brands are wanting to lean into offline.”

It can also feel nostalgic: “The younger marketing generation is now saying, ‘Oh, shoot, this is something kind of new,’ even though it’s not new,” she said. She said 49% of Postal’s clients cited “attempting to scale personalization” as the reason they wanted to invest in offline channels using the platform’s automation tools.

In a world of texts and emails, getting a handwritten note has become somewhat novel, and could be part of what’s driving the success of these campaigns. Alt-Kishpaugh said many of Postal’s clients choose to use an AI handwriting tool to approximate the look of an actual letter.

Loof said when CYC ran an end-of-year campaign in 2019 with handwritten thank-you notes from kids involved with the organization, it was able to double donations from the year prior, when it sent only emails. She said CYC has also seen better results when letters have an executive signature versus no signature.

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With mail, it feels like brands are “actually…putting effort into [their advertising],” Loof said, adding that “millennials or Gen Z are so used to being on an email list or being on social media…It’s hyper-targeted, but it’s not personalized.”

Going offline

Polly Wong, president at Belardi Wong, an agency that specializes in direct marketing, told us “the huge resurgence in the mail is being definitely led by the millennial consumer.” More than 90% of Belardi Wong’s 400 clients are DTC companies, many of them millennial-focused, like Blu Dot and Allbirds. Wong said it will help more than 80 brands work on their first direct-mail campaigns this year.

But while a 25-year-old may have an emptier mailbox and more appreciation for a catalog than a 40-year-old, she said that for brands, growth expectations, data-privacy laws for online ads, and the oversaturated online market could also be driving them toward direct mail.

a print ad from Blu Dot

Blu Dot

“They’re having challenges with their digital marketing and they’re looking to find a new marketing channel to help drive revenue [and] sales growth,” she said, adding that customers from print have “at least a 20% higher lifetime value” than online ads.

Teju Prabhakar created direct-mail agency Share Local Media to help e-commerce companies expand into offline marketing without the dollar minimums or lead times that made direct mail more expensive and time-consuming than online campaigns when he worked in e-commerce.

With reduced barriers to entry and more pressure to diversify marketing strategies, he said he’s seen increased interest from clients—many of whom are targeting the 25–45 age range—over the years. The company has worked with brands like Harry’s, Casper, and Grubhub.

a Harry's ad in the mail

Share Local Media

“Most of our other clients, they’re heavily invested in email, Facebook, AdWords. Those channels can be pretty messy [and] pretty cluttered with the number of ads that an individual recipient is getting on a daily basis,” he said.

According to Prabhakar, having more real estate to work with and a 100% share of voice in a physical mailer can also play to brands’ advantage in forming relationships with customers.

As more brands catch on to the value of community among younger consumers, time will tell if they see brands as welcome pen pals or recycling-bin fillers.

As Alt-Kishpaugh said, “A bad offline impression could be worse than no offline impression at all…That’s why personalization is important, and making sure that you’re sending stuff that matters, not just crap.”

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