Direct Mail Insights: Millennials Love Print—Who Knew?

I took computer classes in elementary school, had a smartphone before I could vote, and now own four smart devices.

Ashley Leone
January 1, 2017
Ashley Leone 583c8b58a4d1d

Born in 1991, I am smack-dab in the middle of the millennial generation.

I took computer classes in elementary school, had a smartphone before I could vote, and now own four smart devices that allow me to pay bills and surf the internet. I have three email accounts, and more than 50 apps on my phone alone.

The millennial generation, born between 1980­–2000, make up a majority of the population with an estimated 80 million members. Currently, the annual purchasing power for this group is estimated at about $200 billion. That number is expected to grow, as Forbes reports that millennials will make up about 50% of the workforce by 2020.

That’s a lot of cash, and a lot of marketers are spinning their wheels trying to find new, innovative ways to engage with a generation conditioned to check their smartphones before they get out of bed. Research, however, is proving time and again that when marketers move towards the latest technology, they are moving away from a channel with proven effectiveness and millennial draw: print.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for many is that the digital natives, who grew up around technology, crave the tactile interaction that paper brings. I may have three inboxes, but I only have one mailbox. Yet, I, along with 89% of other millennials, get our mail at the first opportunity, according to a study by the USPS in conjunction with Summit Research. It seems that millennials love print—who knew?

Print Resonates and Engages Millennials

“Millennials: An Emerging Consumer Powerhouse,” by Customer Focus and Quad/Graphics, states that 77% of millennials pay attention to direct mail, 73% to retail inserts, 54% to catalogs, 51% to magazines.

An InfoTrends study, “Direct Marketing Production Printing & Value-Added Services: U.S. Report,” states that millennials are the most likely of any generation to read direct mail. In fact, 25% of millennials consider reading direct mail a leisure activity, which is probably why millennials spend more time sorting mail and are more engaged with it than other generations.

Of course, just because people consume something doesn’t make it effective. But in this case, not only do millennials enjoy print advertisements, they spur us to purchase.

Print Motivates Millennials to Act

66% of millennials open direct mail, and 63% of millennials who have responded to a direct-mail piece within the past three months made a purchase. According to the Zero Moment of Truth Macro Study, 82% of those aged 18–34 cite print as part of their purchasing journey.

The Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University conducted an experiment using an MRI machine while presenting participants with digital and physical advertisements. Researchers found that the “real” experience of mail helped recipients internalize the marketing message, and spurred action on part of the reader.

Printed pieces are also influential in online-buying decisions. Hard-copy ads spur 53% of millennials to respond online while technology such as QR codes and scannable coupons have made it easy to transition from holding a printed piece to making a purchase online.

Effective Marketing to Millennials Utilizes Print

More millennials have stated a preference for receiving information via physical mail than email (67%) and are more likely to read direct mail than email. The biggest question is why? Is this trend a nostalgic throwback, or is it more easily explained? Maybe it’s a bit of both.

The MRI study shows that printed materials not only make a deeper impression, but are also perceived as more genuine. The research indicates that the “real” experience of mail helped recipients remember the content of the message better and generates more emotion and develops more positive feelings about the brand. Another reason millennials appreciate print is because of the tactile experience. The InfoTrends study found that millennials notice print, paper and image quality more than any other demographic.

Maybe the better question is" Why not print?

While millennials are known for wanting instant access, that doesn’t exactly apply to advertisements, especially when all you want to do is watch cat videos. Pop-up ads are obnoxious and easily blocked by software, and plenty of subscription music and TV services are booming with ad-free memberships. More than 30% of millennials say that social media is for friends and family and don’t use their accounts to learn about new products. As for email, volume plays a big part. Millennials receive about 19 direct-mail pieces a week versus an overwhelming 567 promotional emails in the same time frame. Plus, in a world where screens are everywhere, it’s nice to sit down and look at something without a backlight.

Print has a strong pull with millennials. They crave it, use it, and respond to it. Marketers who are not exploring the possibilities of print are throwing away an opportunity to connect with a demographic they can’t afford to miss.