Direct Mail for All Generations

Many times, marketers feel that direct mail works best for older generations. While it is true that older generations respond to direct mail, all the other generations do too. By limiting expectations, we are leaving a large chuck of the population out of direct mail marketing.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 12.52.28 PMMany times, marketers feel that direct mail works best for only older generations. While it is true that older generations respond to direct mail, all the other generations do too. By limiting expectations, we are leaving a large chuck of the population out of direct mail marketing. This means you are leaving money on the table. Instead, let’s look at how we can leverage direct mail across all generations while increasing response.

There are four main generations to target currently with direct mail:

Traditionalists: Born 1945 and Before

This group is retired and enjoys getting direct mail. It’s a channel they trust and use when giving donations to nonprofit organizations.

Key Points: community minded, strong on personal morality, civic duty minded, loyal, team players, save money, pay with cash, avid readers, disciplined and self-sacrificing

Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964

Some people in this group are retired, while others are still out in the work force. They, like the traditionalists, enjoy and trust direct mail.

Key Points: self-righteous, self-centered, buy now on credit, women were the first to work consistently outside the home, divorce generation, optimistic, driven, one of the largest generations in history, like hierarchy and tradition

Generation X: Born 1965 to 1976

This group is all out in the work force. They trust direct mail, but have less time to view it.

Key Points: first latch-key kids, individualistic, government and big business mean little, feel misunderstood, cynical, want to learn, want to make a contribution, late to marry and quick to divorce, into labels/brand names, deeply in credit card debt and cautious

Millennials: Born 1977 to 2000

This group is spread between working force and students. Many still live at home with their parents. They enjoy getting mail since they do not get a lot of it. They trust direct mail more than any other marketing channel.

Key Points: very large group, optimistic, focused, omnipresent parents, respect authority, they live with the reality that they could be shot at school, like to work in teams, want everything fast and immediately, they feel special and expect to be treated that way, assertive and prefer a relaxed work environment

After looking at each of these groups, how can we best target our direct mail? Keep in mind that identifying and solving pain points with direct mail gets the best response. By creating personas for groups of people based on buying history, interest, demographics, firmographics, psychographics, as well as generational information, you create a very strong persona to target. By understanding who your recipients are, you are better able to send them the right offers. This translates into greater responses.

Let the power of direct mail be driven by your database — not by guessing. In 2016 you need to personalize your direct mail which will require you to use multiple offers within a campaign. Your recipients expect to get direct mail that is useful to them, otherwise it’s considered junk mail and thrown away. Don’t end up in the trash bin — give them an exciting offer they cannot refuse!

How We Get Generations Wrong

The idea of a generation isn’t actually meant to be a label. No one who studies the topic considers your generation to be what you are or expects all individuals in it to think or act the same. That’s not the point at all.

Thinking about Millennials a couple weeks ago got me deep into a sidetrack: What the heck is a generation, anyway?

The idea of a generation isn’t actually meant to be a label. No one who studies the topic considers your generation to be what you are or expects all individuals in it to think or act the same way. That’s not the point at all.

That’s why when you start talking about “Millennials” in a room that actually has some, the first thing you hear is “Hey, we’re not all the same!” They’re not alone, “Doesn’t feel like they’re part of a generation” is one of Gen X’s iconic traits.

So what is this idea that describes people even when they swear it doesn’t?

What Makes Your generation Unique?
How the generations think of themselves. (Circa. 2010)

Generations are really a shorthand way to think about the shared experiences different age groups have had, and the way those have influenced many in that group.

Some things are unique compared to the other generations: The Vietnam War and the draft for Baby Boomers, broken homes and latchkey kids in Gen X, or growing up with smartphones while graduating over-indebted and underemployed for Millennials.

Other experiences echo in different forms for each generation: The John F. Kennedy assassination, the Challenger disaster and 9/11 serve as similarly dark, childhood/teen traumas for each respective generation.

When computers and the Internet emerged, and what they meant on a personal level, was different for each generation too. For the Baby Boomers, computers were technical disruptors of their adult lives (though not necessarily unwelcome). For Gen X, they were the cutting edge tech as they entered the workforce, and a good handhold to climb into the workforce. For Millennials, they’ve been a constant feature since childhood, no more exceptional than TV or the refrigerator.

What if this generation's dad humor is just washed-up Internet memes?
This! … actually really worries me.

Regardless of the different shared experiences, though, some age-based traits are constant. Younger workers as a whole always seem lazy, disinterested in work, and distant from their elders. That’s not a generational trait, that’s just how young people in any age enter the workforce. Not every young person, but enough that elder generations notice and complain about it, so these adjectives get attached to every new generation.

New workers don’t necessarily understand how to get along in the work environment yet; that’s just what it means to be new and inexperienced. (Frankly,  I’m just shocked the people who say it about Millennials now don’t remember hearing it about their cohort when they were young.)

The thing to remember is this: A generation isn’t a label, a category or a demographic. It’s more like a type of behavioral targeting. It’s studying how people react to their lives, and praxis is figuring out what that means to your marketing. It’s real people, and the specific events they experienced. Don’t focus on who you think that makes them, just focus on what you know: What they’ve been through and how they’ve reacted to that.

Understanding that is the difference between creating ads that speak to your target market in a specific generation, and ads that blatantly pander and make them mock you.