The Difference Between Direct Mail and Mass Mail (and Why it Matters)


The-difference-between-direct-mail-and-mass-mail-and-why-it-mattersWhat do you think of when you hear the term “direct mail”? A lot of us envision the huge mailings that credit card and insurance companies send out to the masses.

A lot of “old-thinking” marketing was built on reaching as many people as efficiently (and cheaply) as possible. Increased printing, mailing, and postage costs have eliminated the economies of scale that used to exist. But that’s not the only reason mass mailings don’t work for most of us. The fact is that these mailings just aren’t very effective. We call them “direct” mail, but there’s not much direct about them.

Sure, some companies “personalize” these mailings by using the recipient’s name throughout the copy. They may even have use specific demographic information to select their lists. But make no mistake; there’s nothing “personal” about those mailings. They’re mass mailings—designed to hit as many people as possible with the same message.

What makes a mailing a direct mailing? The whole idea of direct marketing (including direct mail) is that you have a chance to deal directly with your clients. You engage them. It’s a conversation. If the way you engage them is to constantly bombard them with a sales pitch, you’re not going to build much of a relationship.

You see, there’s a difference between direct mail and mass mail. With direct mail, you can make a direct connection with your audience. And if you’re looking to establish a long-term relationship, or to promote a high-ticket product or service, that connection is what you want.

Smart business people are figuring that out. The New York Times recently reported on the resurgence of personal thank-you notes in business. As one New York fashion publicist notes, “It not only strengthens the bonds between people, in your personal life and in business,” he said of the custom, “it also rings an emotional chord.”

That’s significant because—even in business—emotions play a huge role in making decisions. People may think they make decisions purely based on information and logic, but they actually make a lot of decisions based on emotion (and then justify those decisions with logic).  The idea with direct mail isn’t to manipulate people by playing on their emotions, but to connect with them by acknowledging them.

A personal note can go a long way in establishing trust with a potential client. When you’ve touched someone personally (“directly”), that action changes the way they perceive your other communications. You may not rely solely on direct mail for your marketing efforts, but it can be a vital part of your integrated marketing approach. And someone who has received a personal note from you will look at other—less personal—messages from you (such as emails or even other mailings) messages differently.

Direct mail can be very direct and personal—something that mass mailings simply can’t do.

Direct Mail Best Practices