Is B2B Direct Mail Dead?

Corporate mail rooms were once teeming with marketing messages.  Glossy postcards, carefully-designed envelopes and catalogs filled the corporate inbox.  Industry publications, including large scale formats, proudly promoted the new and exciting.

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Then direct mail in B2B fell out of favor.  The obvious cost advantages of email, websites and social media have cannibalized what was once a powerhouse communication channel.  Social media has viral and two-way advantages.  Direct mail pales in comparison in flexibility, utility and functionality.  RIP direct mail, right?

Not so fast.  B2B marketers from many industries are seeing success with direct mail.  Sometimes a successful campaign gains power from integration with online and email marketing, sharing imagery and message to maximize the “frequency” part of the marketing equation.  Other times an impressive, 3D piece can deliver the message and get it noticed like no other medium.

Some products or situations lend themselves to print.  High quality photography printed on glossy stock gives a much different impression than a website.  Direct mail also has one component that no online media can match: feel.  Holding a quality printed piece in your hands delivers a visceral impression of excellence before a word is read.

Couple that with overstuffed email boxes, crowded social media channels that have become increasingly harder to have your message heard and direct mail makes sense again.

Now this isn’t to say that all you need to do is design and mail a great piece and the world beats a path to your door.

A few years ago, I received a fairly large box at my office.  It was a piece from a marketing agency that featured a real, red boxing glove (just the right one) with the agency’s branding expertly pasted over the “Everlast” branding.  To the right there was an impressive, bound capabilities document titled “Fighting it Out With Your Competition.”  The box was custom designed, including inserts, to hold these two items.

I was so impressed with the piece that it sat on a chair in my office for several weeks and I literally showed it to everyone who visited me.  I was impressed with the impact.  This was a piece that would not go unopened or ignored.  I assumed there would be a follow up and call and sure enough a couple days later the call came.  I enthusiastically told the account exec at the other end of the phone how much I liked the piece.  I started firing questions at him:  What was the delivered cost? ($35) How has the response been? (Fantastic)  Did you develop it yourselves? (Of course!)

A couple minutes into this I realized I had totally thrown the caller off his game and I was in control of the call.  I used that “power” to bring the conversation to a close without the caller ever even asking me for a meeting or whatever his goal was.  I ended it by thanking him and wishing him luck, then hanging up.  I don’t think he knew what hit him.  I got off the call and thought, wow, the most impressive direct mail piece bought them nothing because they fumbled the ball on follow up.  I never heard from them again!

The point?  Direct mail still works in B2B.  But we must still cover the basics, the fundamentals, the follow up.  As the volume of direct mail declines, the remaining pieces have less competition, at least in the physical inbox.

Give it a try.  Consider the advantages of direct mail for your product and execute.  You’ll be surprised.

You can connect with Eric on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/ericlundbohm/

Follow his updates on Twitter @lundbohm

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