I can’t remember the last time I got a personal letter. Even my birthday and anniversary cards are likely to come via email these days. But my daughter got a postcard yesterday from her soon-to-be First Grade teacher telling her how excited she was to meet her when school starts in a few days. Not only was it totally unexpected, but the look on my daughter’s face has already sent the teacher’s Brand Perception through the roof in our family.

My daughter is not alone in responding favorably to Direct Mail. According to the August, 2010 Consumer Channel Preference Study by Epsilon Targeting, 18-34 year-olds overwhelmingly prefer to receive information via postal mail compared to any other medium across a wide variety of categories, with one exception (Travel). (You can download the full study here. And thanks to the TM Tipline newsletter for tipping me off to the new study.)

As you can see from the following sample of products and services, the preference for direct mail over email is staggering. In no case is it less than 2 to 1, and in one case, direct mail beats email by nearly 6 to 1.

Product/Service Mail Email
Sensitive Health 43% 9%
Prescription 41% 11%
General Health 37% 11%
Personal Care 37% 10%
Food Product 36% 11%
Cleaning Product 34% 9%
Financial Services 40% 7%
Insurance 38% 8%
Travel 28% 13%

There’s more in the survey. For instance, when it comes to household products, Newspaper Inserts are in second place, preferred 2 to 3 times more than email. For health related products, information from friends, family and doctors is more desirable than email, although still not as desirable as direct mail. (Maybe that’s because direct mail can be more private and less confrontational than asking your best friend, lover or doctor about a medical need?)

The survey also assessed trust, and found, as expected, that for health care, medical professionals are most trusted. For everything else, friends and family are at the top. The next most trusted source is newspapers, followed by company websites. Social Media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are in the basement at 7-8%.

Source Trust
Doctor/Nurse 80%
Friends or Family 57%
Newspaper 26%
Company Websites 22%
Television 20%
Direct Mail Brochures or Flyers 18%
Radio 16%
Email 12%
Other Online Sites 11%
Cell Phone 9%
Blogs 8%
Facebook 8%
Online Forums 8%
YouTube 7%
Twitter 7%
Other Social Media 7%

So what are we to derive from this survey? Well, aside from the premise that more people prefer and trust dead tree communications (direct mail, newspapers) over electronic ones, I think the big lesson here is that you can’t put all of your communications in one basket. At its best, direct mail only reached a 43% preference. That means that 57% of potential customers want to be communicated with through a different medium.

As the Director of Integrated Marketing at Tanen Directed Advertising, a channel-neutral direct marketing agency, this is good news to me. It supports what I’ve always believed: combined arms tactics beat single tactic strategies every time.

It also means you can never stop testing. What works today may not work tomorrow. Just a few years ago, email was outperforming direct mail. Adults 18-34 may prefer direct mail now, but what will that cohort prefer when it’s made up of today’s tweens and teens? Will people who’ve never even read a newspaper trust one?

Media channels may rise and fall in popularity and effectiveness, but I think it’s safe to say that in the rapidly changing world of advertising, there are no silver bullets, no perfect answers. A multi-channel strategy gives you the best chance of success. More importantly, communications across each channel often reinforce each other, creating synergies you can’t get with a single communication.

Even some of the most successful “social media” campaigns in recent memory have been multi-channel. As Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media has said,  “If your customers are there, you need to be there too… You need to listen… see how they behave and act similarly.” He was talking about social media, but I say his insight applies to all forms of marketing and advertising.

People live multi-channel lives. They want some information one way, and other information a different way, sometimes at the same time. So can someone please explain to me why there are still some advertisers who operate with a one-channel-fits-all mindset?

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