Direct Mail: How Much Has It Really Changed Over the Last 20 Years?

It is extremely special to be celebrating Belardi Wong’s 20th Anniversary as I have had the pleasure to be associated with the company the entire time; first as a client, and for the last 11 years, as member of the team. And for it all, I have been a consumer.

It is easy to forget what the industry (and retail!) was like just two decades ago. With so many changes in technology, consumer habits and industry trends, it can be difficult to remember that some of the more traditional ways of doing business are still applicable.

As I reflect over the past 20 years, a few well-known phrases are still quite relevant today.

What was old is new again.  This idea comes to mind when I think about the 85+ new premium retail brands that have launched into the Direct Mail channel with Belardi Wong. Many have their origins in the digital space and are breaking into print communications. Print catalogs help brands cut through the email clutter and the saturation of digital marketing. In other words, the catalog stands out today!

If it isn’t broke – don’t fix it.  Don’t worry, I am not advocating for complacency. That said, some brands aspire to target a specific customer, and in that pursuit can alienate or overlook the current customer base. The most popular case is the pursuit of the millennial customer.  Others aim for a more ‘upscale’ target or ‘trendy’ customer. These are worthy goals but we emphasize: be mindful of the core customer who was cultivated over time and a major contributor to revenue.  In this scenario, the phrase, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” also applies.

The players may have changed but the game remains the same.  I recently came across a listing of the top catalogers from the late 1990’s. What was most striking? How many brands are no longer around today. A few are still at the top such as L.L. Bean and Lands’ End.  Other retailers are still here, but no longer the power-houses they once were, while some have moved up in the rankings. The most interesting notion is that many of the big names of today weren’t even on this list…nor did they exist at all (yet).

Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  USPS: I am talking to you.   The PRC (Postal Rate Commission) is considering a significant rate hike. We are talking BIG. So big that our President, Donna Belardi, spent time last month on Capitol Hill with the ACMA to lobby for postal reform and our support for Bill HR756. Back in 2007, rates increased and volume plummeted. This was before the explosion of the internet. Fast-forward to today and a hike of this magnitude will most certainly have a negative impact on volume. As the saying goes: been there, done that.

The sun will come out tomorrow.  Despite the gloom of impending postal increases, we know from experience that direct mail continues to be a crucial part of the marketing mix.  In fact, a 2016 stat shows over 100.7 million adults in the U.S. made a catalog purchase.  Three things to keep in mind to weather the storm (so to speak!):  know your customer, unique merchandise offerings and keep your mail file updated and clean.