If you do any sort of marketing at all, you have probably heard the refrain “direct mail is dead,” or some variation of it, repeatedly in the last few years. After all, the new kids on the marketing block, social media and text message marketing, have been getting most of the attention, followed closely by email marketing. A company that tries to market to consumers using direct mail is often called old-fashioned or out-of-touch thanks to their refusal to give up postal mail in favor of Internet marketing.

However, there is one key problem with all of those naysayers: They are wrong. Direct mail marketing is far from dead. Sure, it has more competition than in the past, and few companies find success using only direct mail and no other methods, but marketing via the mail is still a viable and effective way to reach customers.

How effective? One study by the Direct Marketing Association found that the response rate for a direct mail campaign is about 3.4 percent, while the typical email campaign sees a response rate of less than one percent. In actual terms, assume that a mailing is sent to a targeted, up-to-date, and accurate mailing list of 5,000 prospects. Assuming a 3.4 percent response rate, you can expect to get 175 responses. That same piece sent via email might only receive an average of 60 responses.

Still think that direct mail is dead?

Why direct mail matters.

As if receiving nearly three times as many responses wasn’t enough, there are several other reasons that direct mail is still an important part of any marketing mix.

1. Greater accuracy. Studies suggest that the average person changes email accounts about once a year. That’s not even taking into account people who create “ghost” accounts specifically for marketing emails (which they never check) or people who use administrator accounts when signing up for newsletters, etc. — which again, are never checked. Physical addresses do not change as often, though, meaning that you’re more likely to actually reach your prospects.

2. Demographic preferences. Studies show that direct mail is virtually the only way to reach males over age 50 with any type of success. However, it’s not just older males who respond to direct mail. Considering that only about 45 percent of people over age 65 actually have Internet service or check email, when you’re trying to reach older, more affluent customers, direct mail is a better choice than online marketing.

3. Rise above the noise. According to one recent report, the average person receives about 125 emails per day. However, a large percentage of those emails go unopened; in fact, there are applications that allow users to delete emails automatically without opening them based on sender addresses.

However, physical mail is more likely to be read; in fact, about 98 percent of people check their mail every day, and more than half go through their mail immediately. Granted, there is always going to be a certain amount of mail that is tossed out or recycled without being opened, but a physical piece is more likely to at least be looked at.

4. More creative freedom. Can you send a sample of your product via email? Can you send an email in a colorful or unusually shaped envelope, or add a compelling photo to the outside that spurs the recipient to open it? Of course not — but with direct mail you can. Depending on your budget, you can send more information in more creative ways, increasing the likelihood of a response.

Keeping Direct Mail Alive in the Digital Era

Just because direct mail is still alive and well doesn’t mean you can just send out any old piece and expect a positive response. If you are going to compete with digital marketing, and grab your customers’ attention, your direct mail pieces must:

1. Include a compelling offer. Don’t make your customers look for a better deal — give it to them. Free shipping, discounts, and bonuses shouldn’t be found online.

2. Drive traffic to your site. Research shows that the majority of catalog shoppers actually buy online and use the catalog for reference. Take advantage of that, and use your direct mail pieces to spur customers to use your website.

3. Make your piece stand out. If you mail something that looks like a bill, recipients will treat it as such. Make it interesting and unique to capture attention.

4. Target your list. Know who your customers are and what they want, and then give it to them.

Direct mail isn’t dead. It’s still an important part of your marketing mix, so look for ways to leverage its power to meet your goals and impress your customers.