Think about the premise of direct marketing. You are sending out an offer to potential customers to try and entice them to buy your service or product. It’s not a general advertisement like a billboard on the side of the road. It is an advertisement sent directly to a person, usually based on demographics or past interest.
One of the earliest examples of direct mail can be found in the American Colonies. Seed suppliers sent catalogues to farmers in remote areas. This helped farmers get the seeds they needed to diversify crops. As a result, suppliers gained an entirely new market.
What most business experts consider the first "real" modern direct mail came from two names somewhat familiar to older Americans: Montgomery Ward and Sears.
These direct mail pioneers would send out catalogs that offered a wide range of products to urban and rural customers. This formed the basis for businesses that lasted for well over a century each. Montgomery Ward closed its stores in the late 1990s, but still remains a name in direct mail marketing. Sears still has stores and a direct mail presence.
Direct Mail and The Last Half of the 20th Century
The society that allowed the direct market of Ward and Sears to success began to change after World War II.
Businesses wanted to take advantage of the changing dynamics of the American life by directing their marketing towards specific demographics. Toy catalogs at Christmas were great for kids. Family fashion catalogs were perfect for women, especially as they moved from the home into the workplace.
Credit cards also made catalog buying and direct mailing easier. Instead of sending a check, the buyer called the company and use a credit card to pay for everything.
Computers and the Dawn of the Internet Age
Home computers started to become a mainstay in American life in the 1980s. With the spread of Internet access in the 1990s, life for direct mailing changed. As more business shifted to the Internet, the idea of direct mailing seemed archaic. Yet, it remains a strong tool in the marketer's arsenal.
Computers and the internet have made it possible for marketers to target their audiences better than ever before. People who visit a charity's website and signs up for the newsletter is expressing a specific interest in what that charity stands for. Sending direct mail to them will give you better results that sending it to their neighborhood or age demographic.
These are just a few ways that direct mail has changed over the decades. If you want to see what direct mail can do for you, talk with the direct mail gurus at PPS in Amarillo, Midland, and Lubbock, Texas.