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Yes, Print Ads Are Still Relevant

Progressive Grocer talks with Vericast CMO about how consumers enjoy perusing mail, planning shopping trips
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Infographic from Vericast
Consumers report that they trust direct mail ads and find advertisers genuine.

Stop the presses: It’s not time to stop the presses. New research shows that printed direct mail – including weekly circulars from grocers – remains an important and influential marketing tool, even in the digital era.

A survey of 2,000 consumers conducted for marketing tech company Vericast found that 82% of direct mail readers look at ads at least once a week. More than half (55%) said they pay more attention to direct mail ads, versus the 39% who say they take a closer look at digital ads.

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Many consumers said they find mail useful. More than half (53%) look forward to receiving direct mail ads and a similar 54% find perusing such ads enjoyable, with 61% of Millennial parents feeling that way. 

The ongoing emotional connection to weekly circulars and other direct meal pieces is a key takeaway from the research. “We frequently talk with grocers, other retailers, restaurants and telecom companies about the concept that that the path from the mailbox to the recycling bin varies by person, but it’s a very powerful path,” Curtis Tingle, chief marketing officer at Vericast, told Progressive Grocer in a recent interview. “That was reaffirmed with this study, which shows that consumers are looking forward to the mail and feel good about it because it is relevant to where they shop and helps make planning decisions.”

On that point, sentiment tends to turn into action, as half of respondents said they are likely to buy something after seeing a direct mail ad. Additionally, 49% of those polled – and 55% of consumers who are parents – report that they use direct mail as part of their shopping routine.

The staying power of print is underscored in other findings from the survey. Respondents reported spending an average of 1.6 minutes with a direct mail ad, and 88% save ads to refer to later.

Having that piece of paper is, ironically, a differentiator in such a wireless environment. “If you think about email, it’s a very crowded space. There is a physical presence with direct mail – it’s a tactile experience, which tends to be a relevant experience,” Tingle observed. 

Grocers can make direct mail even more relevant to customers. “It’s a very targeted medium. If I am a retailer, I can hone in the neighborhood around my store, and bring the right data and insights to life,” he pointed out. 

Vericast’s consumer survey builds on findings for USPS by Temple University and was analyzed by Dr. Martin Block, professor emeritus in Medill’s integrated marketing communications program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “My assessment and conclusion of the study finds that consumers who use print ads are happy, confident, and consistent. Why is this significant? Years of conducting and reviewing this type of research shows a predisposition for happier people to shop and spend more,” Dr. Block said. “The concurrent validity demonstrated across separate studies conducted by Vericast and the USPS supports the continued need for media plans that include direct mail messages to optimize consumer engagement. What gives print ads their edge, according to the studies, is they are more effective at leaving a lasting impression.”

Finally, the appreciation and use of direct mail ads doesn’t just come from older consumers, as one might assume. “Gen X are heavy users because of the routines they have used throughout their life, but we are also seeing Gen Z and Millennials engage with direct mail. A lot of it depends on lifestyle. In college, for example, they may be thinking, ‘I have a lot of bills to pay and I need to be aware of what I’m buying and what I’m paying.’ They are looking for deals on what to buy,” said Tingle. “Later, if you have kids, you get offers in direct mail that are relevant.”

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