Are Direct Mailers Viable in the Digital Era?
Different areas, demographics of the country respond better to mail sent to their doorstep
Around the world, 178.3 billion emails were sent daily in 2015, according to a report from the Radicati Group Inc. That number is expected to reach 192.2 billion this year. Meanwhile, according to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the U.S. Postal Service processes 171 billion pieces of physical mail annually.
While the digital revolution has left its imprint on the business world, 171 billion pieces of physical U.S. mail indicate that print media still exists, and, in some cases, is thriving.
Per ABC News, 15 percent of American adults don’t use the World Wide Web. More than 33 percent of those non-users opt not to use the Internet or email because they deem it irrelevant, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
In the HVAC contracting realm, direct mail was once a prime venue to attract existing and prospective consumers. And, while some still find direct print marketing to be an important and successful part of their business model, others have moved on from mailers entirely.
KNOW YOUR MARKET
“It’s all about targeting your ideal prospects with the right marketing pieces at the right time,” said Shea Osgood, president of Marketing for Success LLC, doing business as Mail Concepts. “The ROI [return on investment] depends on whether you are mailing a direct response piece or generating top-of-mind awareness [TOMA]. TOMA may not bring in immediate calls, but can be great at generating long-term residual business.”
Tim Flynn, owner of Winters Home Services in Cambridge, Massachusetts, largely agreed with Osgood, saying that direct mail does work in some markets.
“The business operator needs to know his or her market and adjust accordingly,” said Flynn. “If direct mail is not working, then an owner needs to make another action happen. Building TOMA is a huge investment over time. I think direct mail is a small way to achieve that goal.”
Scientific studies have even been conducted to support the inherent value of physical materials over those of the digital variety.
Per a study from Millward Brown: “The brain’s ‘default network’ appeared to remain more active when viewing direct mail. Activity in this brain network has been associated with a greater focus on a person’s internal emotional response to outside stimuli. This suggests the individuals were relating information to their own thoughts and feelings. While in no way denigrating virtual media, which clearly has specific benefits in terms of targeting and interactivity, the study does reveal that there is something special about the physical medium.”
CONTRACTORS HAIL THE MAIL
However, the results of studies go for naught if contractors aren’t finding value in direct mail. In that regard, contractors are encountering a mixed bag of results across the country, with some determining that direct mail is most effective when targeted at specific audiences.
“Yes, we still use direct mail,” said Matt Bergstrom, owner of Thornton & Grooms in Farmington Hills, Michigan. “We feel it’s still an effective way to connect with our customers. It keeps us top of mind and gives them a quick snapshot of what we are doing right now. Direct mail may not be as effective as it used to be before digital avenues, but, for us, it’s pretty consistent, and when we couple it with digital advertising avenues into a complete campaign, all the pieces combine to create a pretty good return on investment.”
Bob Woodall, president of Bob Woodall Air Care Systems in Dothan, Alabama, said his company only uses direct mail to schedule maintenance or send out service specials. “In our area, the slick ‘used car sales approach’ or long letters or post cards just don’t seem to work. We use Facebook to drive people to our website, I’m working on being more involved with Twitter, and I write blogs every few months.
“We’re working on a plan to invite a few of our friends in the business we’ve met over the years to meet quarterly or twice a year for intimate meetings, more of relationship meetings of traveling, sharing, and enjoying the fruits of our hard work,” he added.
Russ Donnici, president of Mechanical Air Service Inc. in San Jose, California, said he continues to use targeted direct mail for existing and potential residential and commercial clients, based on need.
“Targeted direct mail has a decent, but not fantastic return,” he said. “If the potential client gets a direct mail piece and has a need, then we get a response.”
SNAIL MAIL FAIL
“We haven’t done direct mail campaigns in years,” said Bob Keingstein, president of Boss Facility Services in Ronkonkoma, New York. “We now use digital services like MailChimp. It’s much less costly, so we can do [campaigns] more often, reach a much larger audience, and it’s easier to manage lists.”
Brian Leech, owner of Service Legends Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa, hasn’t sent a direct mailer in more than five years.
“At that time, the response rate was .001. It was ineffective, which is why I stopped using it. Now, our three top lead sources for new client acquisition are radio, Internet, and referrals. The order in which these sources land varies from quarter to quarter, but they’ve been in the top three since we stopped using direct mail.”
Paul DeHart, president of Bolster-DeHart Inc. in Pittsburgh, previously used a newsletter service three times a year, but has since stopped that practice entirely.
“It was a great way to keep us in front of our customers, provide new information on our products and changes in the industry, and have a few contests where customers could participate with answers,” said DeHart. “This year, we took a break because we felt, after 12 years, we needed to re-evaluate our Internet marketing and other sources of marketing.”
DeHart is not the only contractor who has decided to re-evaluate a marketing strategy, and, as technology continues to evolve, it will be interesting to track the short- and long-term role of the traditional direct mailer in the HVAC contracting realm.
Publication date: 2/8/2016