Why Consumers Trust Direct Mail Marketing

While the history of direct mail precedes our 16th president, one of his famous quotes underscores why modern consumers trust direct mail marketing.

Trust is the basis for all commercial transactions, and marketers work hard to build and maintain it. It is the underlying foundation for the exchange of goods & services. Yet, many digital marketing tools have been misused in ways that undermine that foundation.

Why Is Trust In Decline?

Unfortunately for marketers, trust in institutions, including those that spend money on marketing and advertising, is in decline.

Global communications marketing firm Edelman has been publishing their annual “Edelman TRUST BAROMETER™” since 2001. The 2018 report concludes that “trust in the U.S. has suffered the largest-ever-recorded drop in the survey’s history among the general population.”

The 2017 survey states “that trust is in crisis around the world. The general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media — has declined broadly, a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment”. (Check out Edelman’s Summary)

More specifically, as pointed out by the blog of noted digital marketing guru Neil Patel, there’s been a massive spike in low-quality digital ads – “the new junk mail” that have collectively made us suspicious and less trustful of digital channels. How do you feel about opening emails regarding credit card offers?

Marketing Channel Trust Survey

Consumers are increasingly skeptical of everything. (Note that business and media are specifically called out in the Edelman Barometer).

The team at Marketing Sherpa asked 2,400 consumers which type of advertising channels they trust for purchase decision information. The results are pretty eye-opening.

76% of consumers trust direct mail when they want to make a purchase decision over digital channels.

This is even more true in the United States. Americans feel more comfortable when receiving direct mail than any other promotional material. And over 91% of direct mail gets opened and read.

It turns out that the top 5 most trusted marketing channels are older, offline, and generally regarded as either in decline or flat-lining by many marketers.

“Online pop-ups” had the lowest trust rating. If the scale measured consumer annoyance, surely pop-ups would have won! (See Ad Blocking Happens For A Reason).

5 Reasons Why Consumers Trust Direct Mail

Of the top 5 most trusted advertising channels, direct mail marketing is clearly in a renaissance. Technology leaps have changed the value proposition in the eyes of marketers. But additionally, survey after survey, consumers have indicated a preference for direct mail.

What are the reasons why consumers trust direct mail marketing? 

We asked behavioral science expert Nancy Harhut for her thoughts on why.

1.) Brain Science – Just The Facts

Brian D’Cruz Hypno Plus

Neuromarketing – the application of neuroscience to marketing, is a hot new field. There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that consumers trust direct mail because of the unique way that paper based advertising connects with the parts of the brain that control how we feel and remember things.

According to Nancy, “Brain imaging and eye-tracking studies show our brains actually process paper-based advertising differently than digital advertising. These studies show that paper-based advertising, like direct mail, requires less effort to understand, seems more “real,” and generates more emotion.”

In fact, a 2015 study by Canada Post showed that direct mail marketing “requires 21% less cognitive effort to process and elicits a much higher brand recall” than digital media.

Learn more about how direct mail is being used to boost brand awareness, while generating leads!

2.) Direct Mail Is Personal

Direct mailers have been deploying “mass customization” via variable data printing for many years.

Why? Because consumers want personalized experiences. According to a recent Salesforce.com study “63% of Millennial and 58% of Generation X consumers are willing to share data with companies in exchange for personalized offers and discounts.”

It makes perfect sense. Why would impatient consumers want to waste time with offers they don’t care about?

Savvy marketers are now using direct mail automation services to combine the scalability and speed of digital marketing with the personalization and trust of direct mail – with some amazing results.

3.) Direct Mail Is Targeted

As the cost of mailing has increased, the relative value of each piece sent has increased along with it. It no longer makes sense to “batch and blast” offers indiscriminately.

Modern database marketing and segmentation techniques enable direct marketers to put offers in front of people who are likely purchasers. Want to target a specific zip code with new homeowners over a certain income range? No problem. How about a B2B list of executives at companies in a particular industry and size range? Easy.

When brands put relevant offers in front of consumers, they build trust. Even if they don’t act on the offer, the brand is building recognition in the mind of a likely customer. Integrated marketing expert Lianne Wade points out, “Direct mail today is highly targeted based on consumers’ needs, behaviors and insights, which makes it more relevant and, in turn, more trustworthy.”

4.) Direct Mail Is Tactile
Why Consumers Trust Direct Mail - Tactile

Consumers trust direct mail because they can touch it and feel it.

The fact that direct mail ads are physical has a big impact on how consumers perceive the messages contained within it. Harhut states “Being able to touch and feel direct mail means we experience it differently, more profoundly, than text and image on a screen. And science has shown that the things we touch influence our thoughts and feelings about them.”

The neuromarketing experts in the Canada Post study explain that the physical, tactile nature of direct mail has a direct, positive correlation to the ability of our brains to recall messages. “Cognitive Load” is “a measure of the mental effort required to understand a stimulus”. In a test that compared the impact of similar direct mail and digital media campaigns, “participants’ recall was 70% higher if they were exposed to a direct mail piece (75%) than a digital ad (44%).”

5.) Direct Mail Isn’t Intrusive

Consider two scenarios:

A.) You come home from work. Walk to your mailbox, grab the mail, put it down.

You sit down to eat with your family. Grab the mail again, and sort through items addressed to each member of the household.

Take your mail, sit down, and watch TV. During commercials, you open your mail and decide what to do with it. You review your credit card transactions between sips of a cold beverage.

Maybe hop online to respond to an offer (that online experience better match the direct creative!).


B.) You log on to your email and see that there are 50 new messages in your inbox. You don’t feel right until your mailbox is empty.

You need to pay your bills, so you’re looking to see if you’ve gotten an emailed credit card statement. You delete messages from unknown wealthy relatives stuck in jail in Kenya.

You find what you think is your credit card statement – while looking hard at the “from address”  – is it a phishing scheme at play?

You click on a link to look at the transaction history of your credit card. A pop-up ad is screaming at you to sign up for the exact credit card that you’ve been using for the past eight years.

You need to find your username and password. Wait, you wrote it down somewhere…

Direct mail doesn’t stop you from doing what you need to do. You deal with it when you want to. At the pace that you want to. If you don’t have time, you deal with it tomorrow.

Consumers Trust Direct Mail – Does Your Marketing Team?

Experts at Marketing Sherpa, senior marketers, and neuromarketing researchers in the Canada Post study believe that consumers trust direct mail for clear and important reasons. Science and common sense combine to make a strong argument. That being said, digital marketing has incredible leverage for many organizations and is commanding a larger and larger portion of marketing budgets.

For marketers, then, the question is what to make of it. Have you tried direct mail recently? Have you thought about integrating direct mail with your digital initiatives to get the best of both worlds?

The evidence is pretty overwhelming that you should send direct mail.

Especially if you hope to build trust with your audience.

Learn More. Check Out Postalytics

Get Free Account