Have you junked mail?

Smartphones never leave our sides.

Technology delivers ever faster, ever smarter, ever more targeted ways to reach our customers 24/7.

The marketing folk tell us the only future is digital.

In the age of e-everything, is print destined for a side room in the museum of marketing?

Can this relic of ancient civilisations really have life left in it- and is it still a real option for the smart 21st century business looking for innovative ways to reach its audience?

Turns out, reports of its imminent demise are hugely exaggerated.

Like a grand old vintage car pitched against those cheeky modern upstarts with their bluetooth, their satnav and their rash of driver aids, it’s still more than capable of holding its own. If anything, time has added to its allure.

Because it’s about connection, it’s about our craving for the human touch, it’s about tactility and it’s about tangibles, in an age of pixels and virtual everything.

But it’s also got a surprising amount to do with great results.

Brace yourselves – there’s even evidence that it can deliver betteroutcomes than its digital cousins. Shocking, I know.

So let’s talk about the renaissance of snail mail.

Although driven in part by GDPR (the EU’s new data-protection regs – which have most small business owners reaching for the aspirin while they try to work out what is and isn’t allowed, and make digital marketing feel so much more complicated) there were already definite signs of renewed interest in conventional mail.

Many businesses who ditched it with indecent haste in the ‘90s are giving it serious consideration again – even if it is just to two-time it with digital.


A flutter of nostalgia? Maybe. But that’s a pretty shallow take on it.

The appeal of print-based marketing lies in the simple fact that we’re dealing with humans.

We’re complicated. We’re emotional. We’re tactile. We get passionate. We get bored. We’re hard-wired in our response to stimuli, be it anticipation, fear, excitement or hope.

And we’re curious beings.

A letter, like a wrapped gift, touches the senses in a way that digital communications just can’t hope to match.

(Honestly, when did you last get a feel-good buzz from a social media message, an e-card, or an email?)

People love the out-of-the-ordinary.

We rarely receive personal snail-mail, so a note landing on our mat stands out a mile among a sea of glib cut’n’paste social media comments. There’s something special – something remarkable – about it.

And, to be blunt, there’s something utterly average about doing it the digital way.

There’s nothing wrong with being average. Just don’t expect to be remembered.

Sending mail sends a signal – one that says you value someone (or their business) enough to spend more time on them than it takes to click an emoji. It takes time, it takes money, it takes imagination, effort, intent. And how often can you say that about email?

Not convinced? How about this: research suggests that direct mail can elicit response rates between 10 and 30 times higher than that of digital. Cynics might say that with a rate of 4.4%, direct mail has nothing to brag about; but email achieves a paltry 0.12%…

Exhibit two: the brochure.

Kids, this is how we used to find out about stuff in the olden days. Like booking a holiday: thumbing through seductive brochures, glass of wine in hand, bookmarking pages with folded corners – before making a decision and asking the travel agent (like, an actual, real, living, breathing, like, person) to turn it into reality. If we needed more information, we turned to print – like the fantastic Rough Guides.

So maybe I do sound like your father…but compared to hours spent online, there’s tactile joy to be found in brochures. Online can all too often mean overwhelming choice, prices that shift by the second, nagging on-screen stats (did 37 people really view this place in the last hour?), and an annoying comet’s tail of email reminders for weeks afterwards. Cue digital fatigue.

The brochure was (is) part of the experience. There was (is) anticipation and – with no 360-degree immersive tours – surprise.

Remember: “the experience” is a big part of 21st century marketing vocab. And that starts with first contact, whether it’s in print or online.

A note of caution: the experience has all the appeal of a lukewarm meal if the quality doesn’t cut it. Badly-written copy. Uninviting images. Sloppy layout. Poor quality paper. Cheap and nasty printing. All serve to undermine the experience – and your brand with it.

But invest in getting it right and you’ll be harnessing a unique aspect of paper – the opportunity to reinforce your brand in a way that digital typically can’t.

There’s nothing quite like running your fingers over beautiful paper, or flipping through well-laid-out pages filled with engaging content and inspiring images. And, unlike the digital equivalent, what’s on paper tends to hang around, get seen, get passed around, and be re-visited multiple times.

Like direct mail, the brochure sends a signal: that your business is a serious player, ready to spend money getting its message into the hands of customers. It’s a great way to get your business noticed and show what you can do.

I’m not here to diss the digital. Notwithstanding the current love for all things retro, no-one’s suggesting you slip back to the ’80s – although, with first class stamps costing a bargain 12p, time travel to a 1980 Post Office has its appeal.

But I am here to remind you that it really isn’t the only show in town when it comes to reaching and retaining your audience.

Print, like digital, is just one part of the marketing picture for your small business. And in the right hands, with a dash of creativity and imagination, the two are perfect partners.

Here’s to the future.

And the past.