There's a temptation to view direct mail marketing as a method stuck in the past. Marketers may think of their personal experiences with mail when they decide whether or not to contract your print service provider for mailings – since many people haven't sent a great number of letters lately, they may discount direct mail's efficacy. However, with an injection of relevant, digital-age practices, you can make "snail mail" into an effective offering, and a cornerstone of the value your printing business offers to marketers.

Not your grandfather's direct mail
Since direct mail is a traditional, paper-based marketing method, some would condemn it to the history books. That perspective, however, overlooks the potential of digital data to shake up the way mailing contents are determined and managed. Print service providers that have taken on a greater amount of client data management and digital marketing responsibilities can let those competencies bleed into their mail-outs.

WhatTheyThink columnist Barb Pellow described one way in which companies are blending the digital and physical worlds: targeting marketing messages in direct mailings based on IP address data. Some organizations are using the real-world neighborhoods and address ranges that correspond to online signatures to determine when to send mailings to specific mailing list members, or to craft campaigns that combine mailings with highly relevant banner ads.

The connection between digital data and physical mail is key, and it represents an opportunity to introduce one of online marketing's best qualities – increased customization – to the world of mailings. Think of some of the reasons why modern marketers may reject physical mailings: Response rates could be low, and it may prove hard to send targeted messages or see whether they've had an impact. Finding ways to link digital data with mailing lists is one way to buck those trends and become more savvy.

Seeing print as an analog marketing method, divorced from modern communications by its very nature, is an attitude that could hold marketers back. It's also very reductive, as tactics such as mapping IP addresses to customer locations in a mailing list can bring the two flavors of marketing closer than ever. Furthermore, even simpler tech solutions such as QR codes in mailings can generate synergy between print campaigns and the digital operations they're supporting.

Staying relevant and current
Improving direct mail with modern, digital methods is one way to keep it effective for your customers and prove its worth. Another approach is to ensure that all best practices are being obeyed. A poorly run direct mail campaign may deliver uninspiring results, ones that may convince your clients that this communication method really is washed up, once and for all. The best way to overcome that stigma may be to simply deliver a mailing product at the peak of its powers, one that reaches its audience effectively.

Printing Impressions contributor Summer Gould warned about a few elements that can derail a direct mailing strategy – for instance, if the campaign is based on data more than three years old that has not received a dedicated cleaning, it's unlikely to reach recipients at an acceptable rate. After a few years, many consumers will have potentially moved, and a list that contains outdated addresses can give marketers unrealistic expectations: Looking at a long list of names, then receiving a low level of responses because the data is bad can be a disheartening marketing experience.

The content of the mailings themselves will also go a long way toward determining whether a campaign reaches its intended goal. Gould noted that when mail goes out without a call to action, its response rate is likely to disappoint. There is no room for subtlety when it comes to selling through the mail. If marketers want customers to do something, they should go ahead and ask. "Go to this link," "call us," "scan this QR code." Those are acceptable calls to action. Just saying "reach out" and not saying how is a ticket to vague or negligible response.

Some industries can thrive
Whether direct mail is right for a company may depend, in part, on that business's field. For instance, non-profit organizations and charities have long been keen users of direct mail to reach out to their members and donors. Appeals for donations can come through clearly in print form. It helps that many of the people who feel financially comfortable with giving to charity are over forty years of age – which is an age range that may be more comfortable receiving info through the mail than digital-native millennials are.

The question of fit is a critical one when it comes to delivering direct mail to clients. Does the method seem like it fits the marketing department's overall approach to outreach and communications? If so, there's nothing stopping your company from offering a well-managed and digitally enhanced version of this age-old marketing method. The best way to prove mail's relevance is to use it well.