How Central Pennsylvania marketers are finding value in mail

Poor snail mail. Once the darling of anyone trying to sell anything, it’s now paired with the image of a garden grub hauling a sack of junk no one reads.

Never mind that print is often declared DOA. Or that postage rates keep rising. Or that cheaper, faster email campaigns boast superior analytics to measure results for every dollar invested. The truth is, that grub still chugs along, garnering a surprising degree of respect among local marketers paying a premium to reach target audiences.

“(Snail mail) still has its place and, because it hasn’t been used as much lately, it stands out in a sea of digital messages,” said Susan Cort, director of communications at JPL, a Swatara Township-based marketing firm. “Sometimes getting something in the mail with a stamp on it just stands out from the crowd.”

Snail mail also owes its survival to the age of some target audiences.

“A lot of my clientele aren’t so young. They don’t feel comfortable giving their email address,” said Kirsten Rettberg, owner of The Plum, a women’s clothing boutique with stores in Lower Allen Township and Harrisburg. “I probably have 500 snail-mail addresses on file, but I only have 150 email addresses. I get hundreds of emails a day, so I’m also reluctant to give mine out unless it’s someone I really want contacting me.”

Rettberg said she reaches out to clients about every three months, usually by snail mail because that’s what works. If she sends 300 postcards, she expects about 50 customers to respond; 150 emails typically brings in five people.

But the generation gap is closing. Hope Graby, public relations director and client manager at Lancaster’s Scheffey Integrated Marketing, said digital approaches are gaining traction.

“Sometimes (print) is still a lot more effective than email because print is how a certain demographic gets information,” Graby said. “But seniors are using Facebook and shopping online because it’s convenient — they’re not as resistant to it as they were just five years ago.”

Email campaigns were especially popular when the economy sank and marketing budgets were slashed. The tactic was fresh then, which made them more effective. But today’s burgeoning inboxes keep snail mail alive and well.

“Years ago you got returns from email, but print has come back because everyone is inundated with so much email that it just gets deleted. People recognize the return they get from print now,” said Sarah DiCello, sales and publication manager at Graphtech, a marketing solutions provider in Susquehanna Township.

And print-campaign results are becoming easier to track. In the old days, companies sent mailers to everyone just to hit the few for whom their product was relevant. Now, bar-coded coupons identify who redeems them; postcards feature URLs tracking website visits driven by postcards. More sophisticated data mining targets mailers to those most likely to use a service or product, resulting in less junk mail and richer returns.

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