There was a time when direct mail was thought to be ‘over’, with digital communications becoming the obvious way forward for any internet-savvy 21st-century business. But, fast forward 10 years and latest evidence suggests that tangible marketing materials still have their part to play in good strategic business communications.  Helen Andrews, director at RizkMcCay send us back to the future with her take on paper. 


The idea of ‘going paperless’ rose when all of the data businesses would ever need could be stored digitally and accessed in a few clicks.

For marketing, this change is highlighted by the increase in email, which is, of course, a proven and viable form of marketing that remains a preferred option for many communications. Due to its immediacy, along with text and mobile phone calls, it remains the most popular substitute for physical post among UK adults.

Battling with the inbox

However, the daily bombardment of our inboxes has left people less receptive to e-marketing campaigns. The sheer volume of emails received on a daily basis means that we are likely to only check those that catch our attention. The email’s subject line and content are important of course and those with discounts, offers or helpful information usually perform best. Concern about cyber threats and warnings about criminals cloning emails have made us warier about opening messages – especially those with lots of attachments. Finally, the rise of filtered inboxes through providers such as Outlook and Gmail means that marketing emails are less frequently making it into the primary inbox, so are often not seen by the recipients.

The growth of the physical

In recent years, consumers have rediscovered the thrill of getting personalised marketing literature or receiving a product sample in the post. According to industry feedback, this move back to physical marketing works. It is particularly effective when it comes to winning new clients, with 62 per cent of consumers who responded to direct mail in the last three months making a purchase as a result.

Direct mail does not have to be the boring, junk mail we received (and inevitably binned) years ago; today’s offering can be much more imaginative. When done properly it resonates with recipients and encourages social media engagement, customer interaction and ultimately purchases.

Unlike with an email that you can get rid of with a single click, consumers have to engage with physical mail after it lands on their doorstep, offering marketers much more opportunity to connect with the consumer.

A great option when looking to make your direct mail stand out is to use “lumpy mail”, by making your mail three-dimensional and awkwardly shaped you can create intrigue about what is inside.

Including a freebie with your direct mail can also create interest and memorability – but make sure you are creative in this area as well.

A brilliant example of this is the award-winning Chunky Mail issued by Kit Kat in 2012. The mailer looked just like the red slip a postman leaves when unable to make a delivery. The campaign was designed as a tongue-in-cheek freebie voucher allowing the recipient to claim a free Kit Kat Chunky – because it was too ‘chunky’ to fit through the post box. This particular example is a clever way to engage the customer, as their initial reaction is to think they have a missed delivery and pick up the slip to find out how they could retrieve their package, only to be surprised with a free chocolate bar.

Finding a balance between online and offline

In 15 years of creating compelling campaigns that achieve significant, positive impact for clients, we’ve learned that the digital and physical can complement each other effectively.

For instance, you may want to use direct mail to tell clients about a new product but might gauge their interest via an email follow-up.

To be successful, you need to know your customers’ preferences. What works well for one client might not be effective for another, so make sure online and offline marketing strategies are adapted to suit the needs of different customers and sectors.

Delivering optimum results will be even more pertinent this year as employers prepare to tighten belts and cut budgets. But ultimately, it’s all about setting goals and deciding which combination of digital and physical works best for you.

Helen Andrews

Helen Andrews is a director at RizkMcCay, a strategic creative design and marketing agency that supports clients on a regional, national and international basis across a wide range of sectors