The mailbox has gotten to be a pretty lonely place. But a growing group of marketers is discovering that all that room means it's a great spot to get consumers’ attention. After all, email can get labeled as spam. Online ads can get hit with blockers and marketers need permission to text consumers.
“The one avenue that’s still open is postal mail," said Neil O’Keefe, senior vice president of customer relationship management and content with the Data and Marketing Association.
While they may have taken a little break, coupons, the paper kind that travel by snail mail, are making a comeback. Last year, marketers spent $44.9 billion on direct mail. But today's coupons are nothing like your mother’s Valpak. More and more consumers checking their mailboxes today are finding offers from new, upscale brands meant to tempt upscale, urban millennials — deals like $20 off a Lyft ride or $50 off a Casper mattress. And they're fancy, multiple offers showing up together in glossy black envelopes, the size of wedding invitations. O’Keefe said paper mail can tempt us in a way email doesn’t. He pulls out a classic example, an offer he recently received from Charles Tyrwhitt, a British maker of men’s clothing.
“This is something that you don’t throw away quickly," he said.
Printed on cream-colored paper with robin's egg blue metallic ink, the coupon looks almost like a savings bond.
“They’ve made it look valuable, right? And it is," he said. "It’s $35 off a $100 shirt. That’s real savings."
The company said the purpose of its classy coupon is to say thank you to loyal customers, and email doesn’t feel as a nice. It wouldn’t have the same emotional impact as paper.
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According to marketing firm Valassis’ annual coupon report, nearly 90 percent of millennials use paper coupons they get in the mail. And the Data and Marketing Association says response rates to all direct mail, ads and coupons are up 60 percent from a decade ago. Paper feels special again. And having a tangible presence can be especially helpful for brands that started online.
“Pretty much every digital native vertical brand that was online first now has some kind of offline presence," said David Bell, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
You can now buy Casper mattresses and Harry’s Razors at Target. Even Amazon has brick-and-mortar stores. And paper coupons are like tiny little neon signs sent right to the consumer.
Lindsey Andrews, co-CEO of Minibar Delivery, an online service that offers bottles of alcohol for same-day delivery in some big cities, said it’s hard to get more consumers to search for services like hers. Paper coupons are a big help.
“Hopefully, people put it on the refrigerator. Other people see it when they come over, so you can get even more eyeballs," she says.
Old-fashioned paper mail, Andrews noted, also allows marketers to target the right refrigerators. The ones in the ZIP codes where Minibar Delivery offers delivery.
"You can just do it in New York, or you can just do it in Nashville, or you can just do it in Denver," she said. She also likes the shared economic aspect of the mailers. Share Local Media, a service that Minibar Delivery uses to distribute its coupons, groups various offers together in the same envelopes.
"If you can split it between five to eight other companies, it becomes really efficient," she said.
And some paper coupons aren’t redeemed for months. In the meantime, even when they’re stuck to the fridge, they can be a constant reminder of a brand, just like the classic Valpak, only classier.
"We're with some great other brands," Andrews said. "All kinds of e-commerce companies that would appeal to the 21- to 45-year-old urban professionals."
There is no contact information available on Share Local Media's website. Instead, the site has only a link to a page with a form that allows customers to request information and has a distinct "don't wait around, we'll contact you" feel to it. A spokesperson for the company denied a request for an interview. Somehow, it seems, the coupon is cool again.