Which channel is most effective at finding, reaching, engaging and motivating influencers to spread the word about your product? In the next four posts, I’ll take a look at the pros and cons of the most widespread channels, beginning with direct mail – hope you’ll join me and share your thoughts.

When VCRs achieved mass-market success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many pundits predicted the demise of the movie theatre. Who would want to drive to a cinema and sit with a bunch of strangers to watch a new movie when you could now do it in your own living room or bedroom? A lot of people, it turned out. VCRs, then DVD players and other home movie systems, didn’t kill off old school movie-going. They simply created a new channel for Hollywood to market its product. Both have lived together quite successfully ever since.

The same, it turns out, has happened with direct mail. Pioneered on a mass scale in the 1950s by Lester Wunderman and others, this way of reaching consumers and businesses caught on with marketers because, unlike traditional print, billboard and broadcast advertising, direct mail’s effectiveness could be tested, measured and improved on in subsequent campaigns. Despite the advent of email marketing in the 1990s and social marketing today, marketers still consider direct mail a viable and effective way to engage consumers in general and influencers in particular.

Why? Well, for starters, there continues to be a segment of the population that likes to receive things in the mail. While I’m selective about what I like and don’t like to find in my mailbox – I’m not big on grocery flyers, for instance – I do like when I get useful information about products or services that I can hold right in my hands.

I’m not alone and marketers know it. After all, with 90% of word-of-mouth happening face-to-face (Keller Fay Study, 2010), marketers understand the usefulness of offering influencers something tangible they can carry in their purse or pocket and pass along to the friends and family members they’re influencing – like a brochure, a catalogue, even a business card with a name, email address or url printed on it.

And direct mail is also still the king of easy and accurate personalization, in spite of digital marketing’s advances. Plus it continues to beat traditional media in its ability to target industries, regions, niche markets and other highly specific local audiences.

Finally, as effective as marketing via email, Facebook or mobile may be, none has (yet) managed to beam a sample or gift into consumers’ homes without using direct mail to get it there. The tactile surprise and delight factor that direct mail offers highly engaged consumers cannot be underestimated. You know they’ll open it immediately and pay particular attention to the contents from a brand they know and trust.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll focus on direct mail’s spry marketing cousin: email. It’s fast and inexpensive, but is it influencing influencers? Tune in next time when we discuss…

Gillian MacPhersen

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