The Most Overlooked Digital Marketing Channel: Direct Mail

December 22, 2020 | 7 minute read
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Direct mail has changed. Many marketers still think of it as printed letters, catalogues and postcards for the mass market. While that’s still true for some direct mail, direct mail has adopted many new tricks, tips and tactics over the years. With digital printing, smart presses, and integration with other channels, it can mirror much of the functionality we love in email marketing, including:

  • Personalization of direct mail content for both images and copy,

  • Individually attributable results, so that a campaign’s return on investment can be calculated,

  • Segmentation, so direct mail pieces go to people who are mostly likely to respond,

  • Marketing automation software that sends the right direct mail pieces to the right people at the right time, and

  • Omnichannel orchestration which takes direct mail out of its silo and integrates it with broader cross-channel marketing efforts.

Let’s talk about each of those in turn.


Dynamic content that’s tailored to individual recipients is powerful. In fact, in the email channel, Oracle Digital Experience Agency experts consider personalization to be the most impactful tactic they can employ. It can be just as powerful with direct mail.

I’ve helped numerous clients produce really dynamic, modularized, direct mail. It’s very similar to personalization in email. For instance, the mailing panel headline is your subject line, since it’s on the front of the envelope or address side of the postcard along with the address panel, analogous to your email sender name. For the letter or image side of the postcard, high quality inkjet and laser printers can print totally customized text next to a magazine-quality offset printed photograph or graphic for a very polished feel. This allows for the same level of customization that’s possible with dynamic HTML text within an email.

For example, I once built a direct mail campaign for a top global hospitality brand that had more than four billion combinations with all the modules we had built. It could even change the imagery based on your age and family makeup. If you were in your 20s or 30s and unmarried, you received imagery of young couples. If you were a married couple, you received family-related content. And if you were in your late 50s or older, you received grandparent-related content.

That direct mail campaign was paired with a triggered email campaign. Altogether, it was one of the most sophisticated and complex email or direct mail campaign setups I’ve ever worked on. 

Having newly pooled and integrated their customer data flows across their properties, the client was excited to work this wealth of data to better connect with their customers. We ultimately ended up eliminating variables that didn’t influence conversions to make the program even more agile. We showed that the boundaries between email and direct mail were almost non-existent when it came to the ability to personalize content.

Individually Attributable Results

Thanks to personalizing direct mail, brands can also include promo codes unique to the recipient. You can even use custom phone numbers that allow for sophisticated tracking, a tactic that’s easier to do with the widespread adoption of digital phone systems. This allows you to tie any action back to that individual and add it to their profile. 

If you’re driving a broader action where an individual promo code doesn’t make sense, you can drive direct mail recipients to a landing page that you promote only via direct mail. This equates to click tracking, allowing you to calculate the return on investment generated by your direct mail campaign. Similarly, you can also use a phone number that you only promote in direct mail to help attribute responses accurately.


Just as with email, you can deliver direct mail campaigns only to the people you target. This allows you to control costs that can quickly erode your return on investment. For example, you can use direct mail to target recipients that:

  • Have responded to a direct mail campaign in the past X months,

  • Have made a purchase via any channel in the past X months,

  • Has engaged with the brand via multiple channels, or

  • Requested a physical reminder.

Because you don’t need permission to send direct mail, you can also use it to reach customers who haven’t opted in to receive promotional email, SMS, and push campaigns. You can even use direct mail to try to get these customers to opt in to one or more of your digital channels, or, to reengage customers who have become inactive in any of those channels.

Whereas in the email channel you use segmentation to reduce churn and to maintain engagement to protect your deliverability, the principal use of segmentation in direct mail is to control costs and sustain the channel’s ROI.

Marketing Automation

The same marketing automation logic that drives your email, SMS, and push campaigns can also spur the delivery of a direct mail piece to the right person with the right content at the right time. We call this “tactile marketing automation” because it delivers a physical experience that complements the digital experience. Just like automation in a digital channel, triggering a direct mail piece based on a set of actions is one of the most effective ways to spark engagement.

There are lots of ways that automated direct mail campaigns play a key part in your daily life that you may not realize. Here are a few examples:

  • Credit card companies send you a credit card and welcome kit after your application is approved.

  • The electric company sends your power bill once your statement closes.

  • A department store mails a postcard about a sale that you browsed online.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Direct mail can be triggered by any of the huge array of behaviors that we use to trigger email campaigns.

Omnichannel Orchestration

While direct mail’s automation, personalization, and segmentation capabilities are powerful on their own, they’re even more effective when they’re used to coordinate your direct mail campaigns with your digital marketing campaigns. Omnichannel orchestration like this increases the effectiveness of all of the channels involved.

You may be thinking that that level of orchestration must be super tricky, but it’s not. You can easily coordinate across channels, especially if you have an orchestration engine like Oracle Responsys Campaign Management or Eloqua Marketing Automation.

If you don’t have an orchestration engine in place, you can send your direct mail on a specific date and then send an email, or start another digital campaign a week before or after the direct mail is expected to arrive. This one-two punch can have a big impact since it provides both a tangible and a digital call-to-action.

If you do have an orchestration engine, it can be as simple as adding a step in your digital marketing program that triggers a file output for a printer to pick up. The orchestration engine simply pulls the details needed to print the piece from your master contacts list and then outputs it to an FTP server for a printer. Once the direct mail piece is set up with your printer, that’s all it takes in many instances to get your direct mail piece out the door and into the recipient’s home.

Here are the five steps necessary to run orchestrated direct mail in Oracle Eloqua Marketing Automation, if you wanted to send a mail piece to your B2B contact’s home. The process with Responsys Campaign Management is similar, although you can skip Step 4 because you wouldn’t need to confirm the recipient’s home address since there are no sensitivities around sending mail to consumers’ homes.

Two-thirds (67%) of marketers say they have at least a moderate level of integration between their direct mail and marketing automation platforms, according to PFL. And while 61% of marketers told them that direct mail is either “effective” or “very effective,” when direct mail campaigns are branded, personalized, and integrated with broader cross-channel campaigns, 78% of marketers say it’s either “effective” or “very effective” a 28% boost in effectiveness. 

When thinking about omnichannel orchestration and direct mail, ask yourself, “When does it make sense to give my brand a physical presence in someone’s home? When is a digital touch more effective on its own?” A/B testing and experimentation can help you work out the right answers for your brand.

Direct mail marketing may seem stodgy compared to the speed and versatility of digital marketing, but it offers a tangibility and physical presence that’s unique and effective. That’s why 56% of marketers continue to use direct mail, according to PFL. Instead of focusing on direct mail’s relative slowness by deriding it as snail mail, it’s wiser to focus its more positive attributes, like it’s customizability and its ability to reach customers who haven’t opted in to receive digital messages. Perhaps calling it detail mail, prevail mail, or scale mail is more appropriate. Whatever you call it, don’t let your preconceived notions cause you to lose out on the new capabilities offered by direct mail.


Need help with your direct mail campaigns or omnichannel orchestration? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers, partners, and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Handling everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management, we consistently exceed our clients’ expectations, earning a customer satisfaction rate of 96%.

For help overcoming your challenges or seizing your opportunities, talk to your Oracle account manager, visit us online, or email us at

Jonathan McClure

Jonathan McClure is Director of Strategic Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. He has a background in omnichannel direct marketing and is passionate about using data, customer insights, and new technologies to create cross-channel customer-centric experiences to engage customers and help transform a client’s business. Over his career, he has worked with a range of Fortune 500 companies in the financial services, luxury retail, travel and hospitality, and technology industries.

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