Is Direct Mail Dead?

Jan. 31, 2018
A look at whether direct mail is still a viable marketing solution for fixed operations departments.

Dave Immel has heard all about the modest, 1–2 percent response rate that direct mail marketing typically offers. He’s also heard talk that the marketing tactic has become outdated.

Nevertheless, Immel, the digital marketing director for the Lynch Automotive Group in Wisconsin, helps invest more than $200,000 annually in direct mail marketing―a systematic, targeted approach for reaching customers. Because, when the dealership uses direct mail to send out a call to action, customers respond consistently. So, while today’s marketing companies spend more and more time on social media campaigns, and email blasts, Immel remains an ardent fan of including direct mail in Lynch’s marketing mix.

“It’s getting our name in front of the customer constantly,” Immel says. “So we’re going to be top of mind if it’s service or sales, whatever. If we don’t get them in April, we may get them in November when their car breaks down.”

There is still a place for direct mail marketing in the dealership realm, though the tactic has to be used wisely. Even with the highly digitized world modern consumers live in, direct mail still offers benefits like the fact that it’s fairly manageable to track (via simply counting coupon cards that are presented at a dealership, for example). And, direct mail allows a dealership to get in front of customers that it might not otherwise be able to via phone or email.

So, yes, there’s still value in direct mail, notes Immel, who currently devotes around 20 percent of the fixed ops total marketing budget to mail pieces. While mail campaigns typically garner a 1 percent response rate in Immel’s experience, the net return for a service/parts piece may be better than 33 percent, for instance. In 2017, direct mail simply needs to have a narrower focus than in the past; OEM partners or marketing companies can help provide consumer demographics info, allowing dealerships to target consumers within a 5-mile radius, for example. Direct mail pieces should feature a design that catches a customer’s eye (featuring a store’s brand colors, ideally), and should mention consumers by name.

Here are the best current ways to use direct mail marketing for multiple dealership departments, according to a handful of industry veterans.


Direct mail lends itself especially well to reaching out to service department customers, experts say. According to Dawn Gerry, a customer service representative with Hi-Tech Marketing Solutions, targeted direct mail campaigns―which cost around $1.25 per piece (on the high end for direct mail pieces)―remain an effective way to capture clients’ attention.

“Customers love free service offerings,” says Brandi Gilstrap, director of operations for industry marketing firm Accelerated Dealer Services. “We like to offer a free basic oil change, or car detail, to make sure we are bringing these customers in for service often enough to build a relationship with the dealership.”

Another successful direct mail tactic these days is to put a service insert inside a sales piece, noting a dealership’s array of service offerings, perhaps offering 20 percent off on a customer’s next maintenance appointment.

New clients can be sent a welcome packet, explaining what a store offers in the way of maintenance options. Such a mailing should include ample contact information for all of a dealership’s departments and available resources.


Direct mail’s main marketing use with regard to a collision center is simply reaching out to a dealership’s new or infrequent customers.

“A lot of consumers are unaware that collision departments do a lot more than fix a vehicle after an accident,” notes Joe Martello, senior marketing director for Aspen Marketing, the custom division of marketing services company Epsilon. He suggests “promotions for dings, minor body work, paint touch-ups. For instance, after a heavy storm, a promo should be immediately sent out with a reminder that the body shop fixes hail damage.”

A typical direct mail message sent to new, potential customers for a dealership could be worded as simply as, “We would love to see you at our store. You’ve never been here before, so here’s an offer to try: a $99 paint touch-up.”


While parts department marketing arguably works best digitally, dealerships can still use direct mail marketing to maintain a relationship with existing customers. Direct mail pieces can keep customers abreast of current parts, or perhaps accessories, that are available to them.

If a dealership group has multiple stores in one market, direct mail pieces can be sent to wholesale customers, noting all the parts brands that are available. Then, ample ordering information, like phone numbers and websites, could be included on the mailing.

Immel says his employer has had measured success with its parts department–related direct mail pieces. And, he adds, sending those marketing pieces to each department’s customers helps give a dealership the diversity, and thus, the value it needs with its overall campaigns.

“And,” Immel notes, “we’re keeping our name in front of people. So, if it doesn’t work one month, we’ll catch them on another month.”

Direct Dispatches 

Fixed Ops Business spoke with a handful of marketing experts, seeking their secrets to making direct-mail marketing a fruitful endeavor in 2017. Here are some of their tricks:

“It isn’t so much that [the marketing piece] would be glossy; Some pieces really call for it, but it’s really the message―it’s what the offer is.”―Dawn Gerry, customer service rep with Hi-Tech Marketing Solutions.

“A good promo should encompass coupons. … If the first offer is a strong offer, it greatly increases the chances consumers look through the rest of the offers.” ―Joe Martello, senior marketing director for Aspen Auto, the custom division of Epsilon Marketing.

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