Many small businesses and nonprofits are faced with limited marketing budgets. As the marketing lead, spread before you are many options, both print and digital, and your job is to sort through them and make the best decisions for your organization.
You already know the many reasons to use digital channels. In many cases, they cost little or nothing to deploy. You can reach a lot of people with the click of a button, and digital channels are ideally suited for data-driven marketing and retargeting. In the nonprofit sector, in particular, organic content marketing, email marketing, and paid advertisements like search, display, and social are gaining steam.
But are digital channels enough? If you are using a digital-only strategy, are you leaving revenue on the table? If you evaluate your channel mix by effectiveness rather than simply cost or reach, the answer is likely, yes. Digital channels are effective, but they are not a replacement for print. Direct mail remains an essential — in fact, indispensable — part of the mix.
Here are 10 reasons small businesses and nonprofits should not overlook direct mail:
- Direct mail has a higher read rate. According to Gallup, 75% of people read their mail every day. Rather than it being a chore, 41% actually look forward to it. Compare this to the average email open rate, which is 15% – 20%. That’s if you’re a great email marketer and people like receiving your emails. The average click-through rate for display ads is even lower—0.46%.
- Direct mail doesn’t require an opt-in, and it doesn’t get caught in spam filters. For small businesses and nonprofits, prospecting is critical. With email, opt-ins and spam filters can create delays and barriers to communication. By contrast, you don’t need people’s permission to send mail. It reaches where email can’t.
- Direct mail lists are stable. Customer and donor email lists go out of date quickly, and once those addresses are lost, they need to be recaptured and the people opted in again. By contrast, people stay in their residences for years or even decades. National Change of Address and other tools help you keep your list current. (Wouldn’t it be nice if there were NCOA for email?) If you are mailing to businesses, even when someone moves on from their job, the mailer will end up on the desk of the person who inherits their position.
- Direct mail has longer shelf life. Unlike email, which disappears quickly under the avalanche of incoming emails, targeted, relevant direct mail often gets filed, taped to the refrigerator or office cabinet, and kept.
- Consumers’ brains like direct mail. Increasingly, businesses and nonprofit are paying attention to neuroscience, which is the study of our how our brains process information. These studies consistently show that information is more easily processed, better understood, and more easily recalled when it is provided in print. Neuroscience also shows that information in print is more likely to motivate people to action. (See compiled list of links to neuroscience studies related to print here.)
- Direct mail has visibility. With less mail in people’s mailboxes, your direct mail appeal or marketing offer has a near 100% chance of being seen. You can’t say that about email!
- People trust direct mail. Studies consistently show that consumers trust and prefer direct mail for certain types of communications, including those involving financial or medical information or that require more detailed, complex decision-making. According to Marketing Sherpa, 76% of consumers trust direct mail when it comes time to make a purchase decision.
- Direct mail drives digital marketing. Small businesses and nonprofits rely on their online presences to communicate their value, mission, and services to their constituents. But did you know that one of the primary drivers of website traffic and social media marketing is print? It’s often how people find out about your online presence in the first place.
- Direct mail can reach high-level decision makers. Direct mail offers many options for getting beyond the gatekeeper. Information kits, dimensional mailers, and well-designed mail with high-end finishes are all techniques that make it more likely that your piece will end up in front of your C-level target.
- Direct mail has a higher response rate. While you can reach more people for less money using digital channels, the Direct Marketing Association continues to find that the average response rate for direct mail is substantially higher than for digital channels. In 2018, the response rate for a direct mail prospecting list was 4.9%, a number that continues to climb every year as marketers become more adept at targeting. For an in-house list, the direct mail response rate was 9%. Compare this to the average response rate for email, which is 1% both for in-house and prospecting lists.
Each one of these ten reasons is worthy of its own blog post, so hopefully they get the ideas percolating. But wait! There is yet another reason we have to mention.
- Direct mail reaches geographic locations that digital channels can’t. Did you know that 6% of Americans still have no access to broadband? In rural areas, this rises to 24%. Whether it’s generational, financial, or geographic/logistical, there are many pockets in the United States, even entire communities within short driving distance of metropolitan areas, where there no broadband access and no plans to add it. For millions of consumers, direct mail remains the only reliable way to reach them. 
As a small business or nonprofit, keep your digital presence strong. Your website is your primary face to the public, and digital marketing is great for regular, timely interactions with your audience. But direct mail plays a role that digital marketing cannot. Its tangibility, variety, and gravitas, as well as its positive impact on consumers’ brains, make it an irreplaceable asset to both small business marketing and nonprofit fundraising. For the greatest impact, keep your direct mail presence strong.