Dear U.S. Postal Service: Please Stop Encouraging Direct Mail!

Brian Halligan
Brian Halligan



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Yesterday, CNNMoney published an article reporting on a new U.S. Postal Service campaign that has made some of us here at HubSpot a little queasy. Calling all inbound marketers: it'll probably make your stomachs turn a bit, too.

In a nutshell, the campaign is a push to encourage small businesses to send more direct mail (AKA junk mail), in an attempt to boost the suffering U.S. Postal Service's revenue stream by 'hundreds of millions of dollars.' More direct mail? As a marketer, this is the phrase that's supposed to make you feel a little nauseous.

USPS' 'Every Door Direct Mail' Campaign

The ailing U.S. Postal Service, which reported a $5.1 billion loss for the year ended September 30, has put a year-old online tool at the forefront of its new campaign, entitled 'Every Door Direct Mail.' The web tool supposedly helps small businesses micro-target direct mail by allowing companies to target customers by neighborhood or zip code -- no names or addresses required!

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The Postal Service is reported to be releasing three new television commercials to promote its new direct mail campaign starting this week, airing on CNN, local news, CBS' "60 Minutes," and during certain sporting events. We're told one even features a dancer dressed in a chicken costume.

Without even getting into the obvious environmental implications of USPS' new campaign (we'll leave that for the eco-centric blogs to criticize), let's chat about why USPS' campaign isn't the most respectable move for the Postal Service.

Direct Mail Is No Longer the Most Efficient Marketing Tactic

Direct mail, a form of outbound marketing, doesn't exactly have a great reputation these days. Consumers are continuing to ignore these interruptive communications, and much of the junk mail people receive ends up in their trash bins. The fact is, traditional marketing strategies that businesses have long adopted -- including direct mail -- are less effective now that the internet has changed the way people research and shop; it's the other marketing tactics that adapt to these changing buyer behaviors that are gaining traction among marketers.

Just consider the less obtrusive, less expensive, and more effective marketing alternatives that have cropped up under the inbound marketing umbrella. We're talking things like search engine optimization, content creation/business blogging, and social media marketing -- these tactics all leverage the ways buyers naturally research and make purchasing decisions these days, rather than interrupting them with marketing they don't want or need. HubSpot's recently released 2012 State of Inbound Marketing Report, which analyzes the effectiveness of various marketing channels, highlights this very discrepancy.

When asked about the average cost per lead of both inbound and outbound marketing lead channels, only 34% of marketers surveyed indicated that direct mail generated a below average cost per lead, compared to inbound channels such as blogs (52%), social media (45%), and SEO (38%).

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Furthermore, when survey participants were asked which sources of leads had become less important to them over the last six months, direct mail topped the list, with 51% of marketers indicating it had decreased in importance, followed closely by other outbound-based channels.

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While we support an integrated marketing strategy that connects offline and online marketing, it's hard to support a government organization in its attempt to coerce businesses into sending more and more junk mail, considering the fact that many smart marketers are understanding its inadequacy to help them effectively and cost-efficiently generate leads compared to other marketing alternatives.

Now, we get it -- the postal service industry has obviously suffered greatly from the rise of the digital age. But surely there are better strategies to employ that adapt to the changing ways people and businesses are communicating rather than pushing adoption of an increasingly inefficient marketing method.

On the other hand, I don't know about you, but I certainly can't wait to find out what a dancing chicken has to do with USPS' new direct mail campaign. While you're using your DVR to fast-forward through the commercials between your favorite programming, be on the lookout this week.

What are your thoughts on the USPS' direct mail push?

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