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History of Direct Mail Marketing

How does Benjamin Franklin lead to a one-page catalog that leads to your business reaching its marketing goals? Let’s walk through an abbreviated version of the direct mail history and how recent upgrades to the multi-billion dollar industry means your business can connect with customers outside of the noisy Internet with incredible ROI. 

Direct mail origins can date back thousands of years, but let’s start with the birth of our modern mailing system. The United States Postal Service (USPS) officially began in 1775, with Benjamin Franklin serving as the Postmaster-General for the organization’s first year. During this time, the USPS was getting its foothold as our mail delivery service and businesses weren’t aware of the marketing opportunities at hand. 

It wasn’t until Aaron Montgomery Ward that the direct mail industry really took off. He is known as the Godfather of direct mail and made his fortune through direct mail. His first catalog was one page and contained 63 products. It was immediately successful! His customers hadn’t seen anything like that and they enjoyed the ability to shop from home. According to Ward’s Encolopedia page, the 1876 catalog had 150 pages, and annual sales reached $1 million by 1888. That’s incredible! 

Direct mail started to boom during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and customers’ mailboxes became a hub for business. Unfortunately, this became too much of a good thing and led to the term “junk mail.” Here’s what happened, companies weren’t focusing on the customer experience. Instead of carefully planned campaigns, businesses printed as much as they could and sent pieces of mail on a mass scale. 

Soon a better way to perform direct mail began to form, and now direct mail is a $38.5 billion per year industry. Learn how putting the customer first led to massive direct mail success and where the industry’s future is headed. 

The Successful Customer-First Direct Mail Approach 

During the “Junk Mail Era,” the old way of doing direct mail marketing campaigns meant businesses would choose an area and print enough pieces with as little cost as possible and send them out. Sounds easy enough, but there’s a big piece missing – the customer! 

By investing in your customer experience, you can expect a significant return on your investment. Creating a personalized experience means customers feel more connected to the direct mail piece and are more likely to engage with the offer and act. 

According to Statistica, 26 percent of responding marketers saw three to five dollars ROI for every dollar they spent on personalization! Some nine percent of respondents said the return per dollar spent reached 20 or more dollars.

What are some direct mail personalization strategies? Our article here deep dives into 5 ways you can personalize your direct marketing campaign, but we’ll share three ideas below. 

  1. Adding the customer’s name 
  2. Personalized QR Code or URL 
  3. Personalized offer 

By putting the customer experience first and creating a personalized direct mail campaign, businesses can reach customers through their mailbox and build a successful relationship. 

The Future of Direct Mail 

Customers receive thousands of marketing messages every day from their inboxes, social media sites, and other web pages in our digital age. Direct mail offers a rare opportunity for a brand to have the customer’s attention. Let’s talk about where direct email is headed and why this is important for businesses. 

According to the USPS, an average household receives two direct mail pieces a day compared to an average of 157 emails. That’s an astounding difference! Consumers are receiving way less physical mail than email; with another important factor to consider, holding a physical piece in your hands evokes a different response than scanning your jam-packed inbox. 

It’s not hard to believe that brands that come in the mail are much more memorable with 75% of people who receive direct mail recalled brands easily as opposed to their digital counterparts with only 44% brand recall.

Direct mail marketing campaigns are more important than ever for businesses to consider and act on. Don’t go through this process alone! Find a direct mail partner that can guide you through the entire process. 

Finding a Direct Mail Partner 

With such an incredible opportunity in direct mail, you need to find a partner with experience and a proven track record of success to guide you through the campaign planning and execution process. Our expert team at McAdams Graphics knows how to create a successful direct mail campaign to help you reach your business goals. Let’s get started by having a connect meeting.


7200 South 1st Street
Oak Creek, WI 53154

(414) 768-8080

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