Direct mail has long been an effective form of advertising, offering marketers a way to reach customers. However, over the past two decades, digital media channels have evolved to dominate the advertising market while the share of traditional media, such as newspapers and magazines, has declined.
Direct mail is generally sent as Standard Mail, which the Postal Service recently renamed Marketing Mail. The volume of Standard Mail plummeted from its peak of nearly 104 billion pieces in 2007 to about 83 billion pieces in fiscal year (FY) 2009 – a 20 percent drop in two years. Since 2009, however, that decline has slowed. Between FY 2009 and FY 2016, Standard Mail volume reduced from nearly 81.8 billion pieces to 80.3 billion pieces – a decline of less than two percent. Despite economic recovery, Standard Mail volume has not returned to its pre-recession levels. In FY 2016, Standard Mail volume generated $17.6 billion of the Postal Service’s total revenue of $71.4 billion.
The Postal Service recently evaluated its brand health and has taken steps to engage the marketing industry through business alliances and partnerships in an effort to promote its brand and products – key among them being direct mail. For example, the Postal Service was actively involved in the formation of the Integrated Media Research Center (IMRC) – an initiative designed to share and promote research, case studies and best practices that help marketers and companies better understand the value of marketing media, including direct mail. As part of its involvement in the IMRC, the Postal Service was able to collaborate with various segments of the marketing industry and showcase its own research about how direct mail can provide a lift to other marketing channels.
Our objective was to evaluate marketers’ perceptions of direct mail and the obstacles they face using direct mail as an advertising channel.
What the OIG Found
Through a series of focus groups and an online survey of marketers, we found that marketers see value in using direct mail to connect with consumers. Specifically, marketers identified that direct mail can stand out as a unique medium among the many advertisements they see and hear daily.
While marketers see potential opportunities in using direct mail, barriers to using a direct mail campaign persist. The Postal Service has taken steps to promote the value of direct mail. However, many marketers in our study indicated they do not consider using mail in a marketing campaign because of their perceptions of the lengthy and inflexible process involved in preparing mail, lack of awareness about the effectiveness of mail and inability to access information about the value of mail, including case studies.
Focus group participants also noted that their views of direct mail are influenced by their negative personal experiences with the Postal Service. News announcements – such as labor cut backs within the Postal Service and financial troubles – also influence marketers’ perceptions of the Postal Service. These “everyday” experiences impacted focus group participants’ business decisions involving the use of direct mail. In one instance, a focus group participant described his arduous experience with the Postal Service when he attempted to renew his passport. After going through the process for more than an hour, he was sent to another location to have a picture taken before having to return to the post office to start the passport renewal process all over again. Focus group participants stated that these types of negative personal experiences affect their decisions as professional marketers.
Additionally, marketers in the survey and focus groups identified difficulties in implementing direct mail campaigns, including:
- High cost;
- Delivery speed, date, and performance;
- Lack of easy-to-use design tools;
- Challenges to complying with mailing specifications;
- Difficulty understanding mailing rates and promotional offers; and
- Difficulty working with the Postal Service.
The Postal Service has made efforts to conduct outreach in the marketing industry by researching the value of mail, attending conferences and industry events, and improving its operations to address some of these challenges. However, survey and focus group participants’ feedback on the value of mail and the Postal Service indicated further outreach opportunities exist. Focus group participants specifically noted the need for a stronger Postal Service presence at marketing industry events and within key associations and groups. By expanding its outreach, the Postal Service has a unique opportunity to connect with marketers to promote the value of direct mail and become an integral part of the marketing industry.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management actively highlight the effectiveness of direct mail through case studies and data. We also recommend management develop and implement a strategy to expand partnerships throughout the marketing industry and participate in marketing industry associations and events with senior-level commitment and presence.