Can You Really Justify the Cost of Direct Mail Campaigns?

Question: How do I justify the cost of direct mail versus the return? What return on investment can I expect?

Imagine an art director, art buyer or photo editor getting hundreds of email promotions every day. Some of those may stand out while others will not. Now imagine the same art buyer’s inbox with snail mail. This inbox is filled with invoices to be approved, invitations to parties and events, a few direct mail pieces advertising publications, programs to make you a better artist and then this great promotional piece that is fun and functional – something that is special, something that is saying “open me, open me.”

One thing to remember about a direct mail piece is that it doesn’t have to be expensive to stand out and be effective. Ted and Debbie, a husband and wife photography team in Los Angeles, have been successfully producing a cost-effective direct mail calendar annually. How can a calendar be inexpensive? Simple – they send out an email promotion to see who wants a calendar instead of just sending calendars out to people who may not want them. The two are very smart with their marketing dollars.

The Marketing Lab Direct Mail Ted and Debbie Photography 01 resized 600

Study Your Contact Lists & Email Statistics to Keep Mail Costs Down

Debbie says “Over the past few years we have taken advantage of the lists we can compile via Agency Access to send email blasts out to find out who would be interested in our direct mail promos. We have sent a desk calendar out every year for the past 15 years – and on earth day we send canvas totes out. It’s been a great way to get people to look at our work and have a dialog with them.”

The Marketing Lab Direct Mail Ted and Debbie Photography 02 resized 600

“Interestingly enough, this year our calendar email campaign got less response than last year. It’s unusual since our calendars have a dedicated following. People get very attached to them and we often get emails from people if we forget to send them one. I think that part of what is going on – and I’ve been tracking it with all the emails we have sent this past year – is that people are feeling inundated with emails, so they don’t read them, unsubscribe, etc.,” says Debbie.

“It is making us rethink the balance between direct mail and email – we have been favoring email over direct mail for a number of years. Instead of two direct mail pieces per year, I think we’ll go with four: the calendar, the bag and two postcard mailings. Traditionally, it’s been a cost issue, especially with the non-postcard mailings. Also I have concerns over the “non-green-ness” of direct mailings if people don’t want to get them – at least with emails you can delete or unsubscribe.”

Above All, Remember to Stick Out

I have always felt that it is important to stand out from the crowd, whether it is a kick-ass, customized direct mailer or a simple, beautifully designed, quality printed piece that the receiver wants to keep.

This piece for National Geographic, designed by Brand Envy, showcases the agency’s talented photographers, who are known for their editorial work but highlighting their commercial side, like this:

The Marketing Lab Direct Mail National Geographic Photographers Brand Envy 03 resized 600

or the special giveaway, like the ones from Ted & Debbie. If you are going to go to the trouble of reaching potential buyers, make a lasting impression!!!

About Suzanne

Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators all over the world, and is also a partner in the Creative Collision video series featured on Agency Access’ blog, The Lab. Suzanne has been heavily involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, giving her the opportunity to work with some of the most established artists in the business. She founded the art buying department at The Martin Agency in 1988 and left in 1999. She has also worked for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and smaller agencies and companies. Suzanne Sease Productions

1. Dialogues Podcast: Do Direct Mail – Without Draining Your Budget

2. Covering All of Your Print Marketing Bases

3. Creative Collision: Do Art Buyers Still Look at Direct Mail?

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