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New Study: 18-34 Year-Olds Prefer Direct Mail Over Email

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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Business direct marketing Directed Advertising Online Advertising

I’m Being Stalked on the Internet

Did you ever have the feeling that you’re being followed?

I do. In fact I’m being stalked this very minute.

You know what I’m talking about:  you’re wandering around the internet, minding your own business, when suddenly, you see a banner ad you could swear you’ve seen before. But you think it’s just your imagination, and go on with your life.

And then there’s that banner ad again, and now you’re on the lookout. The advertiser has penetrated your banner blindness. You make a mental note to notice this particular ad again if it shows up, and go back to your life.

Soon enough you see the banner again… and again… and again.

What’s going on?

Well, in case you didn’t know, it’s a form of Behavioral Advertising called Retargeting, and it’s just one of the ways that advertisers get you to buy their products. It’s actually a pretty successful tactic, and one that our clients have used to great advantage.

The way it works is pretty simple, really. If you visit a website and then leave before making a purchase (or any other type of conversion), programming code on that website allows ad networks to tag you so that wherever you go throughout that ad network, they can reach out to you over and over and serve you ads. Retargeting doesn’t just have to target people who visited a site. You can retarget based on search engine results, or even if somebody merely saw your ad on a site within the ad network.

The reason it works is that advertisers have learned that frequency is a critical part of the formula for making a sale. The more times people are exposed to a message, the more likely it is that some of them will buy. And if someone has already come to your website, or searched for you, they have already expressed some interest, so it stands to reason that they might be more easily converted than a total stranger. Even if they’ve just seen your ad on some other website, retargeting to them is a way to ratchet up the frequency. You can even change the messaging so that the target sees different, even sequential messages, attempting to push them closer and closer to a conversion.

Now I don’t usually notice when I’m being retargeted. In fact, while I’m sure it’s happened more than once, the only two of these interactive stalkers I’ve ever really noticed are Trump University and The Trump retargeting went on for quite some time, but I can guess why:  Trump University was my client, and I kept visiting the website without buying anything, and I guess I kept retriggering the retargeting. (They must have really thought I was playing hard to get.)

But it’s different with I was doing research on social media success stories, and is an example of a company that used social media to decrease the cost of customer support and increase sales. They’re so good, they won the 2009 Groundswell Award for B2C Supporting. (Their online community members spend an average of 66% more on credit reports and products after joining the community. And thanks to the community, customer service inquiries declined by 1%, compared to the previous year when they increased 23%!)

I know the day I first went to from my work computer:  Tuesday, July 20th. I’d been there from my home computer the day before, but that was it. I didn’t go there because I wanted to buy anything. I went there for research, found what I needed, and left, happy and satisfied.

A few days later I started seeing banner ads from like this one: banner ad that's been following me for 3 weeks!

And I’ve been seeing them ever since. In fact, this morning, I saw these:

Are you following me? ads on

Now I’m not one of those people who has a problem with behavioral advertising, as long as it’s done ethically, which for the most part it is. I know there’s been a schism about it since the Wall St. Journal article the other weekend (and there’s an excellent post about it, and the reactions among the advertising community, here on Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard blog).

If Behavioral Targeting has one weakness, though, it’s that it’s difficult to really know why someone comes to your website without actually asking them. If I go to a website that sells baby clothes, or even a dozen websites, did I go there because I am having a baby, or buying a gift for a friend who had a baby, or some other reason entirely. Intention makes all the difference here, and behavior can be misleading.

No, my problem has to do with the actual execution of the retargeting advertising campaign is running.

The way advertisers make sure that they don’t show the same person the same ad too many times is called Frequency Capping. There tends to be a sweet spot in terms of frequency: 3 times is probably too few, and 10 times is often a victim of diminishing returns. By then, if they’re not going to buy, they probably never will.  (BTW, if you had to guess, without testing into it, you could do worse than a frequency of 7. But you didn’t hear that from me.)

I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these ads at least a dozen times over the last 3 weeks. Now maybe has tested it, and they’ve learned that their sweet spot is 13. Maybe they’ve learned that people keep saying no until the 13th time they see the ad, and then they magically click on it and buy a credit report.

But somehow I doubt it.

So can someone from or their ad agency please explain to me why I’m still being stalked by their ads, and how long this unhealthy relationship is going to drag on? Because no matter how many times they ask, or how nicely they put it, no matter how much money it costs them to keep retargeting me with their ads, my answer is still going to be the same: I like, but I just want to be friends.

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