My interest in direct mail has always been high, even in these days of email marketing. Frankly, mail intrigues me. I like stealthy envelopes that seem important and pique my curiosity. I fall for the ones with enticing snipes on the front. All of them. I open it . . . but realize not every one will do so.

Now, in consulting with clients in Southern California, I decided to take another look at my own biases and confront a contemporary answer to the following:

“Would I recommend direct mail to a client? Why not stick with email?”

The first place I chose to examine this question is in the macro view. Between the poor economy, decline in credit card and mortgage lending, green sensibilities and the rise of email, is direct mail declining as my gut tells me it is? eMarketer, a great source of research data, says it has been. Their data reflects through end of year 2008, but I’m sure we can extrapolate through 2009 when the poor economy by all rights would have squeezed mailers even further.

Still, there’s a lot of mail landing in the country’s mailboxes. Direct Magazine says:

U.S. households received 100 billion pieces of direct mail in 2008, according to the recent U.S. Postal Service Household Diary Study. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming percentage arrived in an envelope. While there may be less in your snail mailbox today than even a year ago, those envelopes must work harder to get noticed — and opened.

But think of this: less mail to sort through means less mail fatigue. Thus, better open rates. In direct mail, getting someone to open your envelope is more than half the battle. More “opens” will equate to more business.

One blogger who proposed this connection is Steve Dammon, CEO of Quantum Digital. He also noted the rise in email marketing projected by Forrester for the next five years. This, in my mind, will simply add to increased clutter in the email. Add it to such email “noise” as:

* LinkedIn notifications

* Notices that I have new friends on Facebook

* eBay “outbid” emails when the good deal on collectibles is getting away

* Mom asking me for my daughter’s latest address

* ALL THE OTHER opt-in information I get and can’t seem to turn off even though I have long since lost interest in the company

You get the idea.

I’m not saying email doesn’t have a place in the marketing mix. It’s a great way to continue engaging a customer or other stakeholder as well as expand relationships. Twitter, RSS feeds, Google Reader and other tools also work. All together, the marketer must ensure they work together in a coordinated scheme.

Woo hoo! Now, if I inadvertently say “direct mail” around a client who’s only into email, I can point to actual facts.

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