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The benefits of digital marketing are well documented: wider reach, interactivity and extreme cost efficiency. Put simply, the digital age has transformed the way we communicate and opened up a myriad of new marketing opportunities.

Yet the mistake many companies make is assuming that this spells the death of traditional marketing strategies, such as direct mail. While digital has its advantages, there are a host of features inherent to print marketing that you cannot replicate or replace online. Direct mail is one of the most effective forms of print marketing—and the best part is, it can be tied in perfectly with a digital campaign.

Related: Direct mail stats: Response rate, open rate, ROI

Why is direct mail so effective? Well, in a recent study on consumer response rate, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found that direct mail achieves a 4.4% response rate, compared to just 0.12% for email. The DMA concluded that consumers have become saturated and overwhelmed by cluttered email inboxes. They're more receptive to receiving physical marketing in the mail. In fact, the DMA found that the response rates for direct mail can be 10-30x higher than digital.

Print marketing has something that digital doesn't: physicality. People like to hold things. The haptic sense is intimately tied up with building a sense of trust. When a consumer can hold something tactile, like a flyer or a brochure, they feel a deeper connection to your brand than they would if they were reading an email.

A recent study carried out by the U.K.'s Royal Mail showed a resurgence in the use of direct mail in recent years. The report concludes that direct mail's enduring success stems from the fact that "giving, receiving and handling tangible objects remain deep and intuitive parts of the human experience."

So, how can direct mail fit within a digital campaign? It's time to stop thinking of print and digital as enemies, and start viewing them as powerful allies. Print and digital can create a powerful synergy, producing a marketing effect that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Here to help you boost your efficiency, we bring you a guide to combining direct mail with an effective digital strategy.

How to combine direct mail with digital marketing

Option 1: Start with direct mail

Direct mail has a far greater response rate than email. As such, it can make sense to kick off your marketing campaign with direct mail and follow up with digital. The printed media that you post should always include information that will lead your customers back to your digital presence—social media channels, website, email addresses, online promotional offers, etc.

Target prospective clients by location or by demographic, and make sure your print designs are eye-catching, captivating and clear. A week after your target consumers have received the mail, follow up with an email.

Companies can generally afford to send up to four follow-up emails per printed mail piece; any more than that and you risk alienating customers.

Option 2: Start with digital

Bear in mind it's not just print mail that can lead back to digital channels. You can also flip it around and start with digital marketing, which you use to boost your print results. The relationship between the two is best conceptualized as a conversation: They work best when they support each other.

One great way to complement direct mail is to use a digital opt-in form. If your website and newsletters contain a link for customers to sign up for print materials, then the effectiveness of your print marketing will soar dramatically.

By opting in online, consumers are far more likely to engage with the physical mail they receive. They've made an active choice and want to see what you have to offer. One great example is the power of print catalogs. Loyal customers love receiving catalogs in the mail from brands they frequently shop online. Of course, they know they can find the information elsewhere, but there is something undeniably satisfying about flicking through the pages of an actual catalog. Remember, direct mail is even more successful when triggered by a digital opt-in.

Include a call-to-action

A call-to-action is a simple command that guides consumers to another part of your brand. For example, you might include a message on your direct mail that reads: Why not visit our blog? That way, your print media becomes an ad for a particular online service, source of information, or action.

The great thing about a call-to-action is that you can use it to measure the success of your campaign. For example, let's say you send out 1,000 newsletters by direct mail, each directing the reader to a new offer on your website. If over the next week, you track 400 new unique visits to this specific landing page, you can estimate a print response rate of around 40%. This gives you a strong sense of the ROI of your direct mail.

The best way to make calls-to-action irresistible is to give consumers an incentive to follow your command—for example, a discount or an exclusive offer. What's more, you can include a digital code as part of the offer, giving you an easy way to track individual response rates and gather data on each consumer.

The key to an effective call-to-action is simplicity. Don't make the mistake of trying to get consumers to do too many things at once. Keep it clear, helpful and friendly with specific phrases like "Why not follow us on Facebook?" or "Check out our new collection."

Use QR codes

QR codes can also help you track the efficiency of your direct mail. QR codes are digital tags that can be printed, meaning they provide a gateway between your printed media (flyers, leaflets, brochures) and your digital content (websites, videos, online promotions). Your audience can unlock a whole world of digital engagement every time they hold one of your printed pieces. What better way to tie your direct mail to your online presence?

You can enable a QR code to perform a whole host of functions when scanned: open a website, show a video, play a game, make a phone call, or even send an email. You can then track these digital responses via a URL referrer, allowing you to precisely measure ROI and adjust your strategy accordingly. A QR code is a great way to make sure your direct mail leads consumers back to your digital campaign, as it cuts out the step of them having to go online for themselves.

Use augmented reality

Another way to track ROI on your printed media is the use of augmented reality (AR). An increasingly popular alternative to QR codes, AR apps like GizThis offer the same features, but thanks to innovations in image recognition technology, they use pictures instead of codes.

By leveraging this new functionality, you can use unique designs, beautiful photos, or even brand logos to trigger a whole new world of digital content. This is a great way to ensure that the design of your printed media remains aesthetically pleasing, while also serving its most important function: leading people to your online content.

This is the perfect synthesis of both strategies, because you can harness the tactile, personal qualities of print marketing while enjoying the precision and data-generating capability of digital.

Control your reach

Print and digital can be used to target very different audiences. Where direct mail is specific to a niche local audience, digital marketing can immediately reach a broader, international audience. With this in mind, it makes sense to tailor your printed media to the demographics of each location. That way, you have more control over your reach and can target the specific type of consumer you're reaching out to.

By researching the desires and expectations of different areas according to gender, location, age and taste, you can make sure your direct mail is highly personal, a great counter-balance for more wide-reaching online strategies. This will make your whole campaign more accurate and more cost-effective.

Key takeaway

Direct mail is a tried-and-tested method of engaging consumers that has a great response rate. It entices prospective customers and rewards existing ones. However, in the modern age, no direct mail campaign will be truly effective unless it's carefully coordinated alongside a strong digital presence.

Use opt-in forms on your online media to trigger active responses to direct mail. Make sure your printed materials are highly aesthetic and, above all, designed to draw people back to your online campaign. When print and digital work in harmony, they really are unstoppable.

Ready to build your own campaigns in minutes? Learn more about the direct mail features in Lucidpress, and give it a test drive.

Direct mail in Lucidpress

Author Bio

Chris Collins is the head of marketing at ChilliPrinting, a leading online printing company that offers cheap, premium-quality offset printing products in the U.S. He's in charge of online and offline marketing strategy, customer relationship management and support. If you want to read more marketing and design tips, feel free to visit the ChilliPrinting blog or follow them on Twitter