April 25, 2019

Dispelling a Bad Impression with Good Research

research“Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” 2001 study in The Review of General Psychology*

No kidding. At PebblePost, inventors of Programmatic Direct Mail®, we frequently note one of the great ironies of the Information Age. At a time when everyone preaches the gospel of analytics, the rock-solid certainty of data science, many major marketing decisions are still based on gut instinct superstition and hunches.

Outsourcing the Source
As a bit of a cynic, I get it to some extent. People are skeptical that direct mail can remain relevant in the digital age. That’s why we commissioned Murphy Research to study consumer behavior. The results show that, despite marketers’ growing obsession with “mobile” strategies, 88% of the 3,250 U.S. consumers surveyed said that key purchase decisions in three major consumer sectors are still made at home.

So isn’t it logical to assume that reaching those consumers in the home environment, using tangible, relevant and respectful collateral, should be a key part of any marketing strategy? We certainly think so.

Now, if you want to take our take with a grain of salt, that’s fine. Read this Retail Wire report by Tom Ryan instead. In addition to the Murphy Research findings, Ryan also cited a British study by Go Inspire Group, which revealed that “Direct mail was found to outperform email in terms of incremental revenue after campaign costs, but a combination of email and direct mail out performed either medium in isolation.”

By any objective standard, that’s a solid endorsement of direct mail as a viable marketing channel in the 21st century.

We were heartened not only by Tom Ryan’s report, but also by some of the reader comments that followed. For example: “Direct mail offers a balanced approach to ensure that your promotional reach extends to all members of each family, gets noticed longer by all family groups, and can offer the right path to purchase for each marketing segment.”

Yes! Exactly! What he said!

And Yet…
Some people still haven’t caught up with the latest findings. The assumption (which seems somewhat logical on its face) is that digital natives, including millennials, would have little interest in something as old-fashioned and analog as direct mail. And some of the comments following Tom Ryan’s article reflected this lingering misconception. But recent research shows that millennials are actually more inclined than older generations to respond positively to direct mail.

There’s good reason for that. Those older generations lived through the nadir of direct mail back in the 1970s, when it was roundly (and often rightly) castigated as “junk mail.” Millennials, on the other hand, find direct mail a refreshing alternative to spam — which is the digital equivalent of junk mail. (I shudder to think how long it will take digital to rid itself of the damage done to its reputation through all that spamming and other forms of abuse. Even if the industry completely cleaned up its act today, it would be years before consumers fully trusted it again.)

Want to Know What a Millennial Thinks? Ask a Millennial
Our outlook on millennials’ relationship to direct mail is based not only on research (here’s another study, if you’re interested), but also on input from the millennials in our midst, like Jacquelyn Goldberg, our VP Sales, Account Strategy.

One of my favorite experiences on sales calls used to be to watch the trepidation with which clients would broach the “millennial question” regarding direct mail. Jacquelyn would alleviate their concerns quickly and convincingly, not just by citing statistics but also by relating her personal experiences. It was a rebuttal far more effective than anything that a tail-end baby boomer like me could have offered. The relief on the marketer’s face would be so palpable that I would have to stifle the urge to laugh.

But you know what? That hasn’t happened for a couple of years now. For the most part, word has spread through the industry that those millennial stereotypes were just that — stereotypes.


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PebblePost® and Programmatic Direct Mail® are registered trademarks owned by PebblePost, Inc.
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*Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5(4), 323-370. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.5.4.323