A recent report by research company Borrell Associates titled Direct Mail Falls, Email Soars has sparked widespread discussion in the direct marketing world.
What caught my attention was that the study, as reported on page 1 of DM News, predicts that over the next five years direct mail will “fall from the No. 1 position for ad revenue to No. 4, behind the Internet, broadcast TV and newspapers.”
Yikes – newspapers. Considering their revenue has plummeted 28.3% during the first quarter of 2009 alone, that’s not an industry I want to get in line behind.
The comments I’m reading from the direct marketing community are focusing on the relative merits of email vs. direct mail. They quite rightly point out that email is a lousy prospecting tool, and a tremendous amount of online activity is fueled by direct mail and catalog mailings. That argument skirts the bigger picture.
For one, email isn’t the only alternative to direct mail. SEO, PPC and social media are becoming an increasingly large factor in prospecting. In addition, I’m sure more online alternatives will develop – well, at Internet speed.
For two, prospecting by mail will only increase in difficulty. While rising costs pummel the USPS, their revenues continue to shrink. Revenue from financial companies, traditionally among the largest direct mailers, is evaporating. The rising popularity of electronic bill pay is further reducing mail volumes. And economic realities are forcing catalogers to tighten up their mail plans.
For all these reasons, it’s imperative to develop prospecting strategies that don’t depend on mail. It’s far wiser to hedge your bets by testing new alternatives now, rather then when your very existence may depend on it.
That’s my assessment anyway. What’s your take?