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September 20

6 Reasons Why Direct Mail Is the “New” Secret Sauce in Enrollment Marketing


Since direct mail has been around since the dark ages, I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t super excited about it these days.

Digital marketing tools tend to be front and center in strategic planning for good reason. They’re agile, trackable, and target prospects wherever they are online.

Meanwhile, your direct mail efforts may be sort of on autopilot. 

You generally see value in using direct mail to maintain awareness of your institution’s brand, but you wonder whether it’s really moving the needle.

Well, there’s some evidence to suggest that done right, direct mail may just be the secret sauce your enrollment campaigns need to reach today’s – and tomorrow’s – prospects.

What’s “New” About Direct Mail?

Direct mail is far from new, but there does seem to be something new going on with the response to it among traditional-age prospects.

Specifically, we’re talking about Generation Z, which in 2021 encompasses the high school students and young adults you’re courting.

There are signs that direct mail may be surprisingly effective for this tech-savvy generation – and beyond. Print may prove useful in reaching Gen Z’s younger siblings, Generation Alpha, as well.

Here are six reasons to get excited about using direct mail to reach young people today.

1. Tactile experiences matter.

One thing that sets Gen Z apart from Millennials is the way they push back against complete digital immersion. 

Millennials are the Facebook generation, embracing digital life and all the access to the world it affords. But Gen Z folks have more of a yearning to physically touch the world around them.

It shows up in the way they shop:

“Eighty-one percent of Gen Z prefers to shop in stores and more than half do so because it allows them to disconnect from social media and the digital world for a while.” – Vogue Business

It’s not that they aren’t on social media or checking their email any less obsessively than anyone else. The takeaway here is that they crave something more.

Young people today recognize the value of physical contact with things that are real. Mail is one of those rare methods of communication that connects them with the physical world.

Consider that the purpose of direct mail may not be to build and maintain awareness anymore. 

Instead, to many, it’s proof that your institution truly exists in the real world.

2. Gen Z prefers physical books and magazines.

Studies show that unlike the Millennial embrace of e-readers and digital text media, Gen Z tends to prefer printed materials.

This appears to be the case for both recreational and educational reading:

  • They spend about an hour each week reading magazines.
  • Printed learning materials help them focus.
  • They prefer printed books over ebooks.

Of course, they are also Googling for information, scrolling social media on their smartphones, and doing everything else you’d expect digital natives to do.

But they’re also information-savvy. This generation tends to trust print publications more than digital media, recognizing that fake news is easier to disseminate on the Web than it is in print.

Mail from your institution delivers information in a form young people prefer, respect, and recognize as legitimate. 

Direct mail carries value that gets lost in all that electronic communication.

3. About half of Gen Z folks take the time to read direct mail.

Common sense says that the older a person is, the more likely they’ll pay attention to the mail. It’s what older generations grew up with. Wouldn’t they respect it more than email?

According to at least one recent study, the reverse is true. The older a person is, the less likely they are to actually read their mail before throwing it out.

As it turns out, 45 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds read all their direct mail before tossing it. Another 16 percent read most of it, meaning well over half read all or most mail.

Whatever the reason for this (generational psychology, or have young people simply not gotten cynical about mailers yet?), enrollment marketers should be paying attention.

Generation Z is reading what you’re sending them. Make sure you’re delivering the message you want them to receive.

4. Direct mail gets a terrific response rate among Gen Z.

Let me preface this by saying many factors go into any given campaign’s response rate. 

Variables such as the quality of your creative, frequency of communications, target area, etc., make it tough to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

Still, it’s worth noting that a recent study by the Direct Marketing Association concluded Gen Z’s direct mail response rate was 10-30 percent higher than their email marketing response rate.

At the very least, this suggests that direct mail doesn’t just build awareness. It can and does elicit action among young people today.

5. Direct mail is an opportunity for your institution to showcase sustainability efforts.

It may seem paradoxical when you consider the 21st-century push to “go paperless” to reduce paper consumption, but print can actually tap into Gen Z’s interest in sustainability.

Paper today is understood to be easily recyclable and readily biodegradable. Gen Z is less concerned with your institution’s use of paper than with your carbon footprint.

All it takes is an investment in recycled paper stock. Just below your recycled paper statement (“Made with 100% recycled paper”), you’ve got a terrific platform for showcasing your sustainability efforts.

Does your institution:

  • Have a goal to go carbon neutral by a certain date?
  • Invest in eco-friendly bio-fuels on campus?
  • Contribute to reforestation efforts?
  • Participate in the fight against climate change in some other way?

If so, this is a great opportunity to tell them with a couple of lines of copy. Your commitment to sustainability can be an important differentiator.

It could make a difference among graduate and adult studies prospects, too. Millennials and Gen Z have this interest in common, with over 65 percent in each group agreeing that “climate change should be a top priority to ensure sustainability for future generations.”

6. Generation Alpha may be even more enamored with direct mail.

Born in 2010 or later, Generation Alpha has been immersed in the digital world since birth. It will likely take some new tactics to reach them as they approach college age.

While Gen Z folks have been early adopters of portable screen technologies, Gen Alpha hasn’t known anything different

Entertainment, education, communication – it’s all coming through screens.

In this environment, direct mail could have an even stronger effect. Well-crafted communication that isn’t screen-based could come across as exotic, carrying the potential to enthrall them.

It’s too early to present hard evidence of this. Anecdotally, some members of my team have young kids and have observed their fascination with mail. 

Digital communication is an everyday thing. But taking the time to prepare something tangible, address envelopes, pay postage, and send off a piece of mail – that’s something special.

They may not be quite as mystified by mail when they’re 16 or 17 as they are now, at 11 and below, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that sense that mail is something special sticks with them.

Time will tell.

Excited about direct mail? Now align all your print marketing strategies with your digital strategy.

It’s good to be reminded that your investment in direct mail is a good one.

What’s even better is to start leveraging digital and print marketing in harmony with one another.

My team and I have been working in partnership with Think Patented for some time now. While we offer strategic creative services, their Mail 360 tools bring these campaigns to life.

We’ve helped clients align their email marketing with direct mail, coordinating communications while adding additional channels like text messaging and ringless voicemail.

If you’re interested in aligning your direct mail efforts with your digital campaigns, let me know. Just reach out to set up a no-commitment consultation today.

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