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10 Myths About Mail Surveys

While considering study methods, many research teams unfairly write off the classic direct mail, or “snail mail,” survey as a viable tool. This venerable method of obtaining responses has fallen out of vogue in the face of online, email and mobile surveys, but without good reason. The decline most likely stems from generally-accepted truisms that are, ironically, not based in actual data. Persistent direct mail myths can negatively affect the quality of study data as teams who would benefit from mail questionnaires never even consider it an option.

Shake off these untruths and give direct mail a new chance by reading on as we bust 10 of the worst mail survey myths.


Myth #1 — No One Uses Direct Mail Anymore

Considering how popular online tools like search engines and social media are, many people unfairly assume that direct mail is passé. While search engines may very well be a great tool for getting your information out there, so is direct mail. Even the search engines seem to think so, considering that Google is one of the most enthusiastic users of direct mail on the planet.

Myth #2 — Mail Surveys Won’t Get Enough Responses

Mail survey response numbers may seem low on the surface, but compared to email and web-based requests, they are extremely favorable. A 2012 study found that direct mail campaigns have a 3.4% response rate whereas email campaigns have a miniscule 0.12% response rate.

Myth #3 — People Are Less Enthusiastic About Mail Surveys

How about offering a tantalizing incentive? One mail survey campaign saw an incredible 91.88% response rate from printed and mailed versions of their questionnaire after offering the chance at winning a prize. Three participants would be rewarded a prize valued at $100 by random drawing.

Evidently the chance to win something did not click with online browsers, who only had an 8.32% response rate.

Myth #4 — Online Surveys Are a More Perfect Data Gathering Tool

Abandonment and non-completion of online or email surveys is much more common than mailed-in surveys. Even in 2002, when online users were more likely to be tech-savvy and educated, non-completion of online surveys was an issue. The authors of the study that discovered this early trend chalked it up to online users being more easily distracted and prone to multitasking.

Myth #5 — Mail Surveys Are Too Expensive

The same 2012 study that discovered direct mail’s favorable response rate also noted that the costs were comparable to other forms of solicitation. Looking just at cost-per-response, letter-form direct mail was cheaper ($51.40) than paid search ($52.58) or email ($55.24).

Myth #6 You Have to Really Stand Out with Direct Mail to Get Noticed

Oversized letters had only a 0.16% increase in response rate while having an unfavorable increase in cost-per-response compared to normal letter-form mail.

Myth #7 — Direct Mail Respondents May Become Confused Without Help

The vast majority of online and email surveys are unassisted, as in they do not have someone to explain the questions. Telephone and in-person surveys are favored for this reason, but they naturally have much higher administrative and labor costs. While no one is there to answer questions, direct mail surveys allow recipients to read questions at their own pace with limited distractions.

Myth #8 — Mass Mailed Surveys Do Not Allow as Much Variable-Testing

Online-based surveys can deliver variant question forms to test for how phrasing influences responses. Direct mail can simulate this effect by creating several variant hard copies. You may not be able to have as many versions, but you can ably form controls or add variable tests with minimal added effort.

Myth #9 — People Prefer Email or Web-Based Surveys to Direct Mail

People actually tend to trust direct mail messages and enjoy receiving them with higher frequency than email.

Myth #10 — I Don’t Need Direct Mail Surveys if I Have Online Ones

You can test for additional variables and get additional responses relatively cheaply by adding mail surveys to your other methods.

Want to Find Out More?

Learn more about the benefits of a varied survey design and other top tips by reading our guide to survey design best practices.



Topics: survey design , data collection

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