The omnichannel value of direct mail

7 minute read

The headlines suggest direct mail is having a moment – driven by home-bound consumers during COVID-19 lockdowns. While the renewed interest in the channel is welcome, this short-sighted message downplays the significant market forces at work that underlie direct mail’s resurgence and its effectiveness in addressing today’s marketing challenges. Direct mail media is positioned for momentous value creation moving forward – and like digital transformation, the channel’s relevance was only accelerated by the pandemic, not created by it.

A research review of direct mail by MarketReach and WARC provides a hefty body of evidence to support direct mail’s value in the media mix. The report finds that campaigns that used or lead with direct mail were more effective than campaigns that didn’t.

The report also found that Gen Z are engaged with direct mail campaigns. Nearly 90 per cent of participants said they preferred a blend of physical and digital marketing, 42 per cent have searched for a brand online after receiving direct mail and 84 per cent have scanned a QR code from their mail to interact with a brand online.

The latest (2021) Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Response Rate Report found that all direct media were set to see increases this year, including direct mail, which saw a 5 per cent lift in volume in 2021 (U.S.).

A 2019 commissioned study by PebblePost found that 88 per cent of key purchase decisions involve the home and verified that direct mail a) drives consideration and plays a central role in the path to purchase, b) speeds up conversion and c) attracts highly engaged shoppers who spend, research and evangelize more.

These findings suggest that direct mail media can create additional value for any brand looking to add or diversify direct channels in their marketing mix to address new business realities and consumer dynamics.

Diversifying channels

Trends related to rapid digital transformation, the rise of first-party data capture and the lean toward DTC marketing and sales models (and the implications related to DTC maturity and increased competitive saturation) are pushing one-to-one commerce into our homes and creating the need for both greater channel integration and channel diversification as brands look to connect with, captivate and convert audiences.

In “How Direct-to-Consumer Brands Can Continue to Grow,” Harvard Business Review found that when it comes to deepening customer relationships and pursuing growth, omnichannel is about value addition, not cost reduction. Channel and customer experience diversification are integral to forming an omnichannel direct approach. It’s also what 85 per cent of consumers prefer – they expect and appreciate a blend of digital and physical engagements from brands.

Three strategies for creating additional value

Omnichannel marketing application is more about design than traditional media planning. It requires a clear and defined investment focus on value creation aligned to strategic and customer priorities (and meeting their phygital expectations). McKinsey has outlined three strategies (existing on a continuum) of how brands can pursue omnichannel DTC marketing, customer experience and sales.


A cross-channel shopping strategy that integrates online and offline channels for digital-first and physical-first brands.


A cross-channel strategy that is comprehensively tailored and targeted for relevant engagement that goes beyond basic retargeting and look-alike analysis.


A cross-channel platform strategy integrated with consumer needs and lifestyles, providing content, offers and community-based interactions. This approach enhances the total brand experience with an always-on orientation where the platform can become part of the user’s lifestyle.

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Omnichannel direct mail

At the crossroads of marketing, sales and customer experience (CX), direct mail media can create additional value within the customer journey to contribute to the effectiveness of your omnichannel approach. Direct mail has a natural role in creating additional value within each scenario. Here’s a look at how.

Omnichannel Direct MailCommerce (cross-channel shopping experience – online/offline)Personalization (tailored, targeted and relevant cross-channel engagement)Ecosystem (rich cross-channel platforms integrated with consumer needs & lifestyle)
Discover/ ConsiderElevate product and offers (better attention, perceptions of quality), enhance product exploration and evaluation.Increase messaging relevance and timing with postal code data and programmatic targeting.Provide dynamic offers based on integrated first-party and postal code data.
Purchase/ EnjoyCreate integrated shopping shortcuts –connecting marketing to purchase.Have omnichannel content support purchase and post-purchase enjoymentEnhance customer experience throughout the entire customer journey to support post-purchase enjoyment and engagement.
Engage/ AdvocateSupport loyalty programs with deeper engagement, incentives and social sharing.Support post-purchase engagement with relevant content based on preference and behavioural data outside of the transaction.Support UGC, community access and new experiences in an intimate, tech-enabled format.

Adapted from Omnichannel: The path to value McKinsey, April 30, 2021.

Cross-channel shopping

Direct mail can influence purchase decision-making to simplify the messy middle and enhance product exploration and evaluation by promoting first-hand brand engagement (products, services, offers, experiences), connecting offline and online shopping and tailoring offers and content.

Integrating sensory experience into the direct mail creative or connecting to a more profound multi-media experience via technology enhances media as a shopping experience. An article in Forbes, written by Pamela N. Danziger on retail and the senses, states, “Shoppers engaged through all five senses in the store spend more time there and are more likely to make purchases.” That fact makes multi-sensory, customizable media channels like direct mail a key in bridging this widening sensory gap between physical and digital brand experiences.

Digital-first brands use direct mail to fill in the lack of physical brand presence and experience that emotionally motivates shopping and brand engagement. Physical-first brands use it to extend reach beyond their physical stores and support ecommerce expansion. The channel also works seamlessly to amplify influencer tactics and social media efforts.

For instance, in 2019, Altitude Sports closed its last brick-and-mortar store, becoming a pure-play ecommerce retailer. Faced with a future without a physical store presence, the retailer used mini catalogues as part of its customer retention strategy to keep the brand top of mind, create an intimate physical brand presence and cut through competitive noise. The catalogues added a 30-day reactivation rate of 4.2 per cent, contributing to its double-digit annual growth rate.

Tailored and targeted

The proposition of the right person, the right message, the right time has never been more responsive for direct mail. WARC found that personalized mail gets read on average 4.5 times and that 38 per cent of success cases using personalization over-indexed on using direct mail.

Driven by data and responding to intent triggers, direct mail can precisely target based on addressable identifiers like name, geography, demographics, interests, behaviours, lifestyle and life stage.
Personalised direct mail can be integrated with CRM systems to target consumers at every customer journey stage. And through digital printing integration, programmatic direct mail can dynamically improve advertising relevancy through both messaging and delivery timing. The technology can go as far as to create custom catalogues and personalized offers based on website browsing behaviour and purchase history. Other media can trigger omni-channel direct mail like out-of-home (OOH) and social media, not just a website.

Postal code data can help marketers take the step beyond name-based personalization into a full spectrum of personalized messaging and offers and customized content and customer experience delivered in a suitable format. Brands like Sephora live at the ecosystem end of the personalization spectrum with a dynamic, cross-channel approach rooted in their app and loyalty program.

Other brands are finding out the benefits of a more omnichannel approach to personalization. For instance, Canadian Down & Feather can sleep well knowing it succeeded in re-engaging high-value website shoppers. Using website interaction data, the personalized campaign generated an average revenue per order 65 per cent higher than the brand’s digital-only marketing streams. The direct mail creative produced a consideration shortcut that helped people tangibly evaluate and choose – 56 per cent of buyers purchased the items highlighted in the direct mail.

Connected to customer journey

A world of technology integration puts omnichannel direct mail at your fingertips to move people toward the transaction, increase participation or create immersive engagement outside of the transaction. Direct mail can be fully embedded in the brand ecosystem to support brand experience, participation, community building and loyalty efforts – anything that aids in building the brand into our lifestyles. New direct channels, smart devices and voice activation create more ways to combine physical and digital experiences.

From shopping to product enjoyment, one of the simplest and most versatile ways to start making these connections is the integration of QR codes into direct mail.

Digital content sharing

QR codes can activate digital content like audio and video to create deeper engagement that supports further exploration or evaluation. Link experiential marketing and direct mail to connect audiences to content that enhances anticipation or post-purchase confidence.

Shopping shortcuts

QR codes can be leveraged to create a shopping shortcut between a catalogue and a website purchase, or even unlock personalized website shopping pages or discounts. Through augmented reality, QR codes can help people see what an item might look like in their home.


Once the QR code lands a user on a web page, use first-party cookie data for retargeting them digitally through display ads and email, thereby increasing the effectiveness of digital targeting efforts.


QR codes help customers take a coupon or limited-time offer to the store (even if they forget to bring the direct mail piece), thus improving conversion.

Customer service

QR codes in a direct mail piece help avoid negative social media comments, complaints or questions by providing a direct way to reach brands. Additionally, use QR codes to get feedback and customer profile information or learn more about the customer.

Golf Town teed up customer experience by integrating data, optimizing channel mix and combining online with offline marketing. The brand knows how important it is to connect with customers by whatever means necessary – whether at home, online, in-store, out of home or on the golf course. Pelmorex weather-app data led to double-digit sales growth following a flyer campaign precisely targeted to capture active golfers who weren’t Golf Town shoppers. The analysis and results helped the brand rethink how it used its paid media channels and data for acquisition and create a more integrated approach to cross-channel shopping and customer experience.

Directly valuable

Direct channels are diversifying, offering more opportunities than ever to create meaningful connections. Brands will need to follow suit and diversify their approach to direct. Direct mail has a natural role to play in creating additional value through omnichannel strategies. The possibilities are almost endless. This versatile media channel and robust postal code data potential provide opportunities to connect online with offline to deliver more value and create omnichannel models that give brands greater ownership over the customer experience and more tools create relevant addressable audience segments and engage people in valuable first-party relationships.

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