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The Power of Tangibility: Why Direct Mail and Catalogs Still Reign in the Digital Age

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

The Power of Tangibility

I’ve been dragged out of my comfortable, cynical cave to talk to you about something that most of you probably think went the way of the dodo: direct mail and catalogs.

We live in a world where your smartphone has more computing power than the systems used to send a man to the moon. But guess what? That doesn’t render direct mail and catalogs extinct.

Far from it.

The advantage Direct mail and catalogs have is all the junk you’ve been receiving online that does not exist in the direct mail world. Having less junk is an advantage. Open your email inbox. How many unopened emails do you have? Hundreds? Thousands?

Now, let me ask you this: how much physical mail did you receive today? Five pieces? Ten, tops?

In a digital world where everyone’s fighting for a pixel of your screen, direct mail and catalogs bask in the luxury of minimal competition. It’s like a backdoor to your prospects.

Your mailbox isn't a never-ending scroll of doom. It's a curated collection of a few select items, making each piece more likely to get noticed. And in a world where attention is the hardest currency to come by, direct mail is sitting on a gold mine. And NOBODY does it, outside of the top guys.

Your mailbox

Advantage number two: Tangibility. In days of bling blings, and iphones, and whatever else that exists, there's a growing novelty – and value – in things you can actually touch.

A catalog is a physical object; it occupies space in your world, not just a fleeting blip on your screen. You can't minimize a catalog to open another tab. You can’t swipe it away with an impatient finger. It lingers in your living space, an ever-present invitation to engage. The only thing you’re worried about most of the time is it being thrown in the trash, so you gotta make it nice enough to NOT be thrown in the trash.

And there has to be something said about the tactile experience – flipping through pages has a certain nostalgia, a sensory appeal that a digital ad can never replicate.

This tangibility creates a deeper, more memorable connection with the brand, something that marketers are desperately clawing for in the saturated digital markets.

Now if you’re going to use them, here’s how:

Direct Mail

Direct Mail

Targeting Your Audience:

  • List Acquisition: Obtain a mailing list. This could be a list of existing customers or a purchased list based on demographic, geographic, or psychographic criteria.
  • Segmentation: Break down the list into specific segments for more personalized messaging (e.g., long-time customers, recent purchasers, geographic location).

Creating the Mail Piece:

  • Design & Content: Design a mail piece (like a postcard, brochure, or letter) that aligns with your brand and message. Include compelling visuals and copy.
  • Offers & Calls-to-Action: Incorporate special offers, coupons, or clear calls-to- action (CTA) to encourage recipients to take a specific step, like visiting a store or a website.

Production & Mailing:

  • Printing & Assembly: Print and, if necessary, assemble the mail pieces (e.g., folding, inserting into envelopes).
  • Postal Requirements: Ensure the mailer meets postal regulations for size, weight, and postage.
  • Distribution: Mail out the pieces through a postal service.

Tracking & Analysis:

  • Response Tracking: Use tools like unique promo codes, QR codes, or dedicated landing pages to track responses and measure engagement.
  • ROI Analysis: Assess the campaign's effectiveness by analyzing response rates, conversions, and return on investment.



Catalog Design & Content Creation:

  • Product Selection: Choose which products to feature and how to categorize them within the catalog.
  • Layout & Photography: Develop an appealing layout with high-quality product photography and engaging copy.
  • Editorial Content: Include additional content like articles, customer stories, or tips relevant to the products and audience.


  • Printing: Print the catalogs, typically in large quantities to benefit from economies of scale.
  • Quality Check: Ensure the final printed catalog meets quality standards.


  • Mailing List: Similar to direct mail, use an existing customer database or a purchased list tailored to your target audience.
  • Distribution: Mail the catalogs to the intended recipients.

Online Integration:

  • QR Codes/URLs: Integrate with digital platforms by including QR codes or URLs that lead to online stores or specific product pages.
  • Multichannel Strategy: Encourage engagement across channels, such as following social media accounts or signing up for newsletters.

Follow-Up & Analysis:

  • Tracking Engagement: Track how recipients interact with the catalog (e.g., which QR codes or URLs are used).
  • Sales Analysis: Correlate catalog distribution with sales data to gauge impact.
  • Feedback Gathering: Collect customer feedback for future improvements.

Both direct mail and catalogs involve a combination of strategic planning, creative design, and meticulous execution. Their success lies not just in reaching an audience, but in resonating with them through relevant, tangible, and often personalized content. As such, they remain potent tools in a marketer's arsenal, capable of creating a lasting impression that digital channels often struggle to match.

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