Back to the Future: Why New Mover Direct Mail Still Outperforms Digital/Social/Email Marketing

Direct Mail Marketing has been around just about as long as mailbox service to homes has been. Barring an apocalypse, there will always be direct mail.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you need to use it to get the word out about your restaurant. I may own Our Town America, a national direct mail marketing franchise, specializing in reaching people who have just moved to the community, but I recognize there are other ways to market your business. Boy, do I realize that.

With mailboxes looking emptier by the day, an especially appetizing piece of direct mail can sometimes be the resident’s main course. 

However, direct mail has been with us throughout modern civilization and continues to flourish because it works.

In fact, studies have proven it. For instance, in 2015, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General worked with Temple University to conduct a neuromarketing study that concluded that direct mail outperforms digital media when it comes to engaging with the consumer, getting them to recall what they’ve seen and ultimately, when it comes to them actually making a purchase. It may pay off to remember that, the next time you’re looking at your marketing budget and wondering how to most effectively reach segments of the public.

A Little Trip Down Memory Lane

You can go way back in history and find examples of direct mail — for instance, you could argue that direct mail began with the printing press — but it really started to take off in the 1800s and, ever since, has been continually evolving.

The New York Life Insurance Company is believed to be the first company to begin using direct mail promotions, in 1872. In 1905, Buckley-Dement and Company became the first direct mail agency, founded in Chicago. In 1917, things really took off when the Direct Mail Advertising Association was founded, which is now the Data & Marketing Association.

World War II was rough on direct mail; an October 20, 1945, New York Times article mentioned "paper restrictions and wartime production problems" that occasionally plagued the direct mail industry. However, once soldiers started returning home from the war, home building became more common, giving direct marketers new customers.

In fact, root through the New York Times archives, and you’ll see that the direct mail industry really soared after World War II. In 1946, it was a $334 million industry and, just 10 years later, a $1.6 billion industry. Then, in 1964, it was a $2 billion industry.

You get the point — direct mail has been around for generations, and while the industry has taken some lumps with the advent of the internet, it’s nonetheless a $42 billion industry, according to the Data & Marketing Association.

If homeowners didn’t respond to direct mail, it would have disappeared long ago, with the milkman and video stores.

Why Direct Mail Still Works Despite All Logic

I get it. Why send marketing materials to people at houses and apartments, when it’s considerably cheaper to bombard people with marketing messaging over email?

Well, there are several reasons.

Emails from marketing are often ignored. Email may be faster and cheaper, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective. Virtually every business has a marketing program that includes sending emails to potential customers. You know that, so it’s no surprise that many emails touting the latest specials or coupons automatically go into the spam folder. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, a promotions folder.

At least when the postal service delivers mail, the recipient, not a computer algorithm, can decide what to do with it. Sometimes it gets read right away, sometimes it goes in the trash, and often it goes into the kitchen counter’s mail pile and is looked over at some point.

People like getting mail. I’m guessing you don’t have too many friends who say, “I get about 100 emails a day. I love it!”

But according to a Gallup poll taken a few years ago, four out of 10 Americans look forward to checking their mailbox.

That can help when you’re trying to reach potential diners. Consumers are genuinely interested to see what came in the mail. Restaurant owners are particularly lucky when it comes to direct mail, because when consumers check their mailbox after work, they’re often thinking, “I wonder what I’ll have for dinner”. So, if it’s not their curiosity that gets them to be interested in their mail, then it’s their hunger. 

Whereas if you’re selling home water heaters or aluminum siding – something you don’t purchase and consume three times per day like you do food – you basically just have to hope that you find somebody who really needs your product at that very moment.

The mail people receive is not usually thrown away immediately. Sometimes, yes, it is, but according to reporting by the retail website,, direct mail often languishes in a household for up to 17 days. In other words, you have good odds that your direct mail piece is looked at by a family member at some point. An email sent by a restaurant probably receives a second or two of consideration, if that, before it’s moved to the trash folder — if the person even sees it.

Many people think direct marketing isn’t effective. That’s bad for the direct mail industry, but it’s very good for the businesses that utilize direct mail.

During the recession, when nobody had much money for anything, direct mail was clobbered, but since 2015, it has seen continuously modest growth. The fact that it hasn’t had phenomenal growth is good news for the businesses that use direct mail. After all, if all businesses were sending out direct mail as much as they do email, people’s mailboxes would look like a 3-D version of a spam folder.

But chances are, you’re just getting a few pieces of direct mail a day, if that. You may only receive mail a few times a week. That means your direct mail is likely to stand out even more than it would have in say, 1993, when people were swamped with direct mail – including bills and even handwritten letters.

Now, bills are often sent by email, rather than direct mail, and handwritten letters and cards have almost disappeared altogether.

People receive packages sent from online businesses, but those are mostly left on the doorstep. Your mailbox, in other words, is fairly lonely.

For the restaurant owner who understands that it’s not always smart to sweep foundational history under the rug, direct mail can work the same wonders that a special of the day or a limited-time offering can. With mailboxes looking emptier by the day, an especially appetizing piece of direct mail can sometimes be the resident’s main course.