Direct mail has been around for a long time. A very long time. In fact, the first known example of direct mail was found in Egypt, and it dates back to 1,000BC! Over the millennia, there have been a few strategies that have stood out, and stood the test of time. Let’s take a look at the history of direct mail, and the best lessons we can learn from the past.
A Great Offer
The first known example of direct mail was from a rich Egyptian, who was offering gold in exchange for information about a runaway slave. Thank goodness we’ve moved on from that, but the lesson remains: if you want a good response to direct mail, make sure that your offer is golden (literally or figuratively!)
Volume Is Key
Around the same time that Egyptians were offering gold in return for information, Babylonian merchants were carving their offers on clay tablets and distributing them when they traveled. That was time consuming and costly, so it wasn’t until the 15th century when Johan Gutenberg and William Caxton invented and perfected printing presses that direct mail really took off. Cheaper printing costs made mass mail possible, and that really kicked of direct mail as an option.
Market Anything and Everything
Direct mail was a big deal in the new world too. In fact, from pamphlets by William Penn in 1681 that triggered an influx of German and Dutch immigrants to Pennsylvania, to seed catalogs and politics in the 18th century, large chunks of American history have direct mail to thank.
Catalog Marketing Changed Everything
Direct mail had changed a lot of things, but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that it really became an American staple, when the Sears Catalog was first published. By 1896, what had started with one page had become 500, and Sears was making millions selling sought after products in every corner of rural America. Catalog marketing proved that it was possible to sell almost anything to almost anyone with direct mail, and it really set the stage for things to come.
Catalog marketing also proved that direct mail doesn’t have to be a postcard sized flyer. People will welcome hefty tomes of products if they’re high quality, sought after, and otherwise hard to come by. That’s probably why catalog marketing still works for so many big companies today.
New Technologies, Old Strategies
Today, direct mail is more technologically advanced and accessible than ever. Printing processes are better, which has lowered costs, making mass marketing more affordable for small businesses. Colors and images are brighter and clearer, making showcasing products easier. Technology has made advances like QR codes and seed embedded papers possible, and given marketers new tools to create quirky, scalable campaigns that tie in with websites and social media like never before.
The fundamentals of direct mail haven’t changed over the centuries: create a great offer, distribute it widely, and make it easy for customers to take advantage of the offer you’ve created. If you can combine all of those things into your direct mail campaign, then you’re using a winning formula that has truly stood the test of time.