The demise of direct mail – strictly a grand illusion

By: Dan Kennedy on: March 24th, 2015 18 Comments

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
– Mark Twain

Mark Twain was addressing his critics who were spreading rumors that he had passed away. In fact, Twain was very much alive and his popularity with readers was peaking.

Twain also could have been talking about direct mail marketing, that tried-and-true form of advertising that’s been around for over 100 years and still going strong.

The fact is direct mail is hardly dead. It is still being used aggressively and regularly by all kinds of savvy marketers. It’s a critical part of their overall marketing mix, especially when it comes to prospecting for new customers.

It’s been called many things, including junk mail. But in reality the new junk mail is actually all the messages you receive in your digital mailbox every day.

How many emails do you delete without even bothering to open? Maybe half of them, probably a whole lot more. It’s not unusual for someone to delete as much as 90% of emails received without ever opening them. The average person now receives 20, 30 or more emails each day soliciting everything from weight loss to travel deals, from miracle drugs to the latest ramblings of so-called experts.

Yes, email marketing is an extremely effective medium for communicating and selling customers. And it is certainly more convenient and much less expensive when compared to direct mail.

However, if you’re looking for new customers, direct mail wins hands down. On the back-end, direct mail is cheaper when figuring out the cost-per-sale.

When it comes to crafting a multimedia campaign, your best bet is to use a combination of different messaging platforms which could include email, direct mail, free standing inserts, print ads and more.

Let’s take a look at how the old way of doing things (direct mail) stacks up favorably when compared to the relatively new kid on the block (email):

Ten advantages of direct mail versus email marketing

  1. Direct mail is more reliable, trustworthy – According to an Epsilon study, 50% of consumers prefer direct mail to email, 67% think direct mail is more personal, 70% preferred direct mail to email when it comes to unsolicited information from unfamiliar companies and 25% perceived direct mail offers to be more trustworthy than email. 
  2. Direct mail can be three-dimensional, unique – You can touch and feel it, and in some cases like scratch ‘n’ sniff even smell it. It has texture, visual impact, a sense of realism and validity. Email is strictly one-dimensional, a message appearing on your computer or smart phone screen. There is little differentiation from one email to another. 
  3. Direct mail projects a personality – The creative execution options are virtually unlimited, from different shapes and sizes to snap packs to scratch and reveal to windows, die cuts and intricate folds. Direct mail enters a home through a mailbox. Emails can be released into never, never land with a simple click of a button. 
  4. Direct mail has longevity – A direct mail package can remain on a coffee table or desk for days, even weeks for future reference. When it comes to emails they are very disposable, they are rarely kept or referred back to. Emails tend to be a one-time, extremely brief, quick shot at gaining the attention of a prospect. 
  5. Direct mail has a higher perceived value – When it comes to email prospecting campaigns, 95%+ of all emails are never opened. Direct mail will at least capture a glance. Prospects may not read every word, but there is a level of brand and offer awareness that doesn’t exist with emails. 
  6. Direct mail has a much higher delivery rate – About 95% compared to less than 50% for most email lists. Plus more and more ISPs like Yahoo, AOL and gmail are taking steps to block unsolicited emails, and this trend is expected to continue. 
  7. Direct mail provides more details vs. short email content – The life span of an email is literally seconds. A direct mail package can actually hold the attention of a prospect for a much longer period of time, especially if there is an interest factor. 
  8. There’s less competition in the mailbox compared to an email inbox – Since more and more marketers are choosing to flood email in boxes, the competition in the mailbox has been reduced. A direct mail package has a much better chance of being, opened, read and retained compared to an email message. 
  9. People are more receptive to direct mail – When it comes to prospecting for new customers, direct mail will consistently beat email, usually by a significant margin. According to a DMA (Direct Marketing Association) study, direct mail is 10-30 times more effective than email when it comes to generating new customers. 
  10. Direct mail can rely on emotion to illicit a response vs. the cold, hard facts of an email – An emotional tug can help marketers sell products and services. It’s much easier to touch upon someone’s feelings with direct mail when compared to the one-dimensional, fact-based content of most email campaigns.

Can direct mail and email team up to bolster a marketing campaign?

It’s been proven time and again that direct mail improves email response rates. Here’s a way to combine the power of these two mediums to optimize impact. About 7-10 days before a scheduled email blast, send all recipients a postcard talking about an upcoming special email offer that will soon be arriving in their in box.

This approach has been known to boost open and click-through rates. The email recipient is much more likely to keep an eye open for the soon-to-arrive email and much more likely to open and read the email, increasing the possibility for a sale.

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Dan Kennedy is internationally recognized as the 'Millionaire Maker,' helping people in just about every category of business turn their ideas into fortunes. Dan's "No B.S." approach is refreshing amidst a world of small business marketing hype and enriches those who act on his advice. For more money-making marketing tips, tactics and strategies, go to

18 Responses

  1. Jules says:

    Hi Dan,

    You are right about the emails. First thing I do is delete 90% in my inbox. I also throw away 90% of what I receive in the post.

    My neighbor once complained that he never received anything nice any more – all he ever received in the post was bills and trash. So I sent him a beautiful card which said “This is a nice card from your nice neighbor, which proves you do receive nice things in the post after all! Put out the intention and it will happen!


    Have a wonderful Wednesday!

    • David Hunter says:

      Nice one, Jules!!

      I’m always writing thank you letters, and I try to pick up cards when I’m shopping to send to people. It doesn’t have to be much, but everyone appreciates receiving a handwritten letter in the mail. Even if it’s just to say, “Hello.”

      I’m a huge fan of Direct Mail. I love 3D Mail (I sent out mini trash cans, message in a bottle, and bank bags, which are my favorite!!).

      Also, you don’t have to worry about if your mail is going to be delivered. What… they have a 99% delivery rate. Try that with email. How many emails end up in spam folders, or never ever make it to their email period.

  2. Gil says:

    Thank you Dan- I always get so much value from just your free newsletter!

  3. Larry Pelley says:

    Yes, Direct Mail has been around since
    the dawn of time…the ancients used it…
    very effectively by flight…it has endured,
    and will be here when e:mail is a thing
    of the past.

  4. Mike Searles says:

    It’s another valuable tip from DK…

    “Send a postcard to pre-announce a soon-to-arrive email sequence”

    Gonna test this…


  5. Excellent advice early in the morning! A wake-up call.
    My partner in our start up has been adamantly insisting that “direct mail is old hat — dead as a doornail — a waste of time and, most importantly, money.” The very next thing I’m going to do this morning is send this excellent eye-opening article to her (and hope she doesn’t delete it first!)

  6. Elvire Smith says:

    Hi Dan, thanks for the email and the great article, as always fab info (for a beginning copywriter!).
    Question: what are the demographics of the info under 1. Is the young generation more prone to email or is it the more mature market that is fed up with email?
    Was not able to find anything under Epsilon, I presume one has to be associated with that company.
    Love the suggestion of doing an email blast AFTER the direct mail has been sent. Sounds very effective, when I consider my own feelings about that.
    Thanks so much!, Elvire

  7. Hi Dan,
    Awesome article. It is always best to do both email and direct mail so you are not too heavily relying on one channel of customer acquisition.


  8. Francis Ardi says:

    Good Points overall.

    Tor introduce your services to the market, direct mail is the way to go. It makes a more profound impression for a given message. Email is great for follow-up and maintaining relationships since you are already known to the prospect and he would recognize your name in the ‘From’ field.

  9. Couldn’t agree more… I’ve had lots of success building up an email list using direct mail postcards. Mailboxes are getting more and more empty, and giving us direct mail marketers more room to be seen.

    You’re absolutely right about direct mail boosting email marketing open and click through rates. I’ve also experienced similar results, especially when comparing the subscribers I generate through direct mail, compared to subscribers generated from online advertising, the difference is significant.

    One thing I’ll add for those interested in building an email list with postcards, is to rent a highly targeted buyers list first to test with. They are significantly more expensive, but worth it. If you decide to go with a cheaper compiled list, you’ll likely have to do repeat mailings to properly measure your results.

  10. Nick says:

    This entire concept is why I started my business, and joined GKIC also. Mail is not going away anytime soon. And those who understand how to utilize direct mail, and especially the basic concepts taught here will succeed over those who just rely on email, or content marketing, or whatever new trend works for a couple years.

  11. Felix says:

    Yes, nice article and nice comments. But… Has anybody here had any luck with direct mail? Is anybody here actually getting business using direct mail? If so, which direct mailing company is working for you?

    • Felix…

      I am a direct mail (freelance) copywriter. I write for clients in North America, Europe, and Asia. They all find great success through direct mail. They include both B2B and B2C companies.

      Here is why Direct mail works for them:

      1. They make great offers. No matter if the product is aimed at CEO’s or Mr. Mom’s… they create eye-catching offers that answer the biggest question: “What’s in it for me?”

      2. Almost 70% of them mail “touchy-feely” envelopes. From my non-profit that sends out a small brown paper bag in the envelope, to the astrologer who sends out a good luck charm, from the software seller who includes a hard plastic “cheat sheet.”

      3. They identify the market BEFORE creating the offer/product/service. They find the thirsty people then dig the well. That means finding appropriate lists and tailoring their message to match the psycho-demographics of the prospects.

      Direct Mail is not easy…. but few of the truly rewarding things in life ever are…

      Peter T Britton
      The Write Answers

  12. Mae Hay says:

    Thank you for this great article I really enjoyed it very much and agree wholeheartedly. My husband and I started our companies back in 1991 and reused direct mail and the newspaper with a very small ad. We have more clients than we can handle into years by the third year we actually had to let some of them go instead of hiring more people to help us because of the headache of having having employees but since then we do have employees and the younger generation all disagree with me about wanting to do direct-mail. Yes I do have a page on Facebook dedicated to my company but so far I haven’t gotten any calls off of it. After so many years in business of course and being a good company we get a lot of referrals and that again is another avenue Of gaining new clients. Thank you have a wonderful day. I appreciate being allowed my am putting in my opinion. I hope I get to share this with my office.

  13. Joe says:

    Excellent write up…

  14. Kara Jensen says:

    I target new businesses that I want to work with by scouring new busness filings and send them a nice greeting card introducing myself and congratulating them on their new endeavor. It almost always results in a return call.

  15. Pete Lillo says:

    Direct Mail has been the secret to our success for over 44 years.
    The Newsletter business developed the following Dan and I have today.
    Many thousands of subscribers came from Direct Mail, this could never
    have been equaled with Email or Social Media alone.
    Pete Lillo PetethePrinter Since 1974

  16. LYNN HAFFNER says:

    Thank you for such stimulating mails which inspire me late at night. I am only in office behind my laptop 5 days a week.
    It’s good to put a face to a website owner. You are indeed doing wonderful work across your wide spectrum of influence!

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