I hear a lot of misinformed people dismiss direct postal mail as an obsolete marketing technique.

“Direct mail is dead,” pronounce the naysayers, as they trumpet newer, interactive media.

I founded an email marketing firm so, of course, I champion online technologies. But I’m here today to trumpet direct mail. A local roofer inspired me to do so.

I received a letter recently from the roofer who had just worked on a neighbor’s house. “You have a similar roof. From the street, we spotted a few potential issues that you might want us to examine more closely,” said the roofer in the letter. The letter offered two options: schedule a free inspection and visit a web page to download a free report — “Seven Signs That Your Roof May Need Repair or Replacement.”

I visited the web page, entered my email address, and instantly received an email with a copy of the free report. On the web page, the roofer noted that I would receive additional emails in the future with home maintenance tips.

I called the roofer to ask him about the letter. “Why did you offer the free report?” I asked.

“We used to send a similar letter without the email offer. The only option was to call for an inspection,” he said. “We had decent response, but not great. Since adding the free report, we have gotten more calls for inspections. Plus, for every one person who calls we get about 12 people who download the report and join our email list. Over time, we’ve been seeing good numbers of people on that list schedule inspections, too.”

“How many people who called soon after getting your letter had downloaded the free report first?” I asked. The roofer didn’t know, but I assume there were several. That would explain why he has received more calls for inspections. I read the report and learned a few things that allowed me to spot issues I otherwise would not have noticed. Because of those issues, I will likely schedule an inspection.

Direct mail is not dead. It’s just evolving. Everyone still receives postal mail, and people open and discard commercial mail at about the same rates they always have. Direct mail remains a great way to introduce a business to prospective customers.

Savvy marketers have driven direct mail’s evolution by integrating it with online technologies. Instead of simply sending a letter that says “call today for an inspection,” the roofer has combined direct mail with his web site and email.

The free report offers a compelling — and low-risk — reason for the reader to visit the web site and download a report. The web site and the report reinforce the roofer’s expertise, driving more people to schedule inspections. Those who download the report but don’t schedule an inspection are qualified prospects with whom the roofer can now interact via email. Many will eventually become customers.

When combined with online technologies, direct mail can be more effective than ever.

This column originally appeared in St. Louis Small Business Monthly for which Tom Ruwitch writes a regular marketing column. 

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