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Direct mail: is it for our industry?

31 August 2017

Garry Lewis, Marketing & Communications Manager, Mitsubishi Electric argues direct mail is still an essential component in the marketing mix.

We know the tale of the tortoise and the hare. One is slow and consistent while the other is fast paced and gone in a flash. And we know who wins…

Whilst I am by no means saying the results of direct mail and email marketing suggest clear-cut ‘winners’, the analogy of direct mail being akin to the tortoise, slow but steady, is clear to see, whereas email marketing can be completed quickly with a hint of ‘job done’.

The best way to consider direct mail is to work as part of any targeted campaign and here, I would argue at least, it is not only right for our industry, but still an essential component in the marketing mix, even in today’s digital/mobile fast-paced world.

Let’s set the scene. Marketing has many different platforms to choose from, but few would argue that “Digital & Social Marketing” is at the forefront of all the latest development. The explosion of social media, web 3.0 and mobile technology has put it centre stage. And within this, traditionally, Email Marketing has become viewed as the popular, inexpensive way to get attention, quickly.

Just to put this in perspective, it has been estimated that around 205bn emails were sent every day in 2016, with spam emails accounting for 56.52 percent. This equates to over 115,866,000,000 spam emails being sent per day. Globally, that’s enough spam email to send 16 emails to every single person on the planet, every single day. 

With all the attention online, and on our smart phones, imagine the opportunity for the carefully crafted direct mail campaign. As more focus is on reaching customers online, there is reduced competition for direct mail to make its mark and in turn, it’s more likely to not only to get noticed, but also engaged with a target audience. 

Getting personal

As well as ‘email overload’ there is a second reason that direct mail has every chance of making its mark. And this is seen in the rise of personalised marketing.

Personalised marketing has been commonplace in a digital format for some time. For instance, on YouTube countless videos will be showcased alongside the one you have been viewing as suggestions on what you might like… Alternatively you have just finished watching your favourite show on Netflix (or any streaming media operation), and you land on a screen that introduces you to a few other shows you are likely to enjoy, and before you know it you are hours into another series. The same happens when using shopping channels such as Amazon.  

The reasoning is clear to see. A study by Digital Trends showed that 73 percent of customers would rather buy from businesses that personalise their experience.

This has all happened not by coincidence, but by sophisticated algorithms, that will then continue to do an excellent job in personalising your homepage. The theory being, discovering new content is an enjoyable experience and you are likely to find a show or video that is addictive to you, thereby cultivating loyalty. Netflix’s own Head of Content, summed up their brand in these few words: “Our brand is personalisation.”

However, for those concerned about the ‘big brother’ connotations of such personalised technology, direct mail becomes an effective way of engaging a highly targeted local audience. There is a reason handwritten envelopes achieve a 99.2 percent open rate – because it looks like personal correspondence and is impossible to ignore.

Excellent, personalised recommendations are a virtuous cycle of great user experience, loyalty, and an increase in revenue. Again, to quote Netflix: “In a world where time is limited, and technology is constantly evolving, creating a personalised experience for your users is the only way to be competitive.”

Trust in marketing

I’ve touched on this already, but the sense of honesty and trust is another important attribute to direct mail campaigns. 

When you trust someone, you are likely to give him or her more of your time, and come back again and again. Attention is the only metric that matters in this case. Win a user’s attention; you often win their loyalty.

One of the major advantages of direct mail marketing is the ability to get personal. People respond when they believe you’re communicating with them one to one. With today’s technology, adding personalisation to your mailings is easier and more affordable than ever.

But is it trustworthy? With the increasing issues over ‘fake news’ in social media and concerns over “soaring” levels of cyber crime and fraud offences according to latest Police and Crime Statistics, email marketing can learn from direct mail.

Here, getting personal is more than just the technology, whereby content needs to be carefully curated and designed to make an impact. When you know about your target audience, you can create mailers that address specific issues that are important to that audience. Then you’ll see the real power of personalised mail.

And it would seem, according to latest research, such personalisation is leading to customers opting for ‘ink over pixels’, whereby ‘for the important’ information at least, there is a preference to open (and arguably trust) physical post over digital mail. 

Proving the point

A recent Royal Mail MarketReach Report highlighted the need for marketing communication messages to be ‘trustworthy’ and ‘believable.’ This is at a time of constant social, economic and political change, alongside issues such as the introduction of ‘fake news’ scandals and the unprecedented volume (bombardment) of commercial messages we now receive on a multi-channel, daily basis.

Royal Mail MarketReach presented a number of initiatives to explore the reassurance and credibility delivered by various marketing channels – key components in measuring trust. 

The findings indicate that mail can work alongside traditional broadcast channels and digital media to deliver stronger business outcomes. It suggests mail scores very highly in the key components of trust – even more convincing is the medium itself impacted positively on the perceived trustworthiness of the communication.

By example, Royal Mail’s research revealed 70 percent of respondents said mail makes them feel more valued (up from 57 percent in 2013) – and 70 percent suggests mail gives those who receive it a ‘better impression of the organisation’ (up from 55 percent in 2013.)

In contrast, only 48 percent considered email believable. Direct mail is also seen as more likely to grab the attention of the recipient and be perceived as more secure and important.

The report goes on to imply the increase in trust in mail might have been the driver behind an increase in response. In the year between 2015 and 2016, the proportion of the total sample that claim to have purchased something as a result of receiving mail in the past 12 months had risen from 26.7 to 36.1 percent.

Combined power

Now it may seem obvious that Royal Mail would publish such findings. And let’s not get carried away, this isn’t to say email and other digital campaigns should be abandoned. But what is does perhaps suggest is effective campaigns can use direct mail to grab the consumer’s attention, before using digital campaigns (such as email correspondence) to lead them onto the next stage of the purchasing process.

It is this combination that provides the most successful results, it seems, as consumers were found to be more likely to go online after receiving a piece of direct mail. 

An email by itself is considered too informal and 70 percent of respondents of another Royal Mail report (It’s all About Mail and Email) said they received too many. 51 percent of respondents delete an email within two seconds, but 69 percent said they always open a piece of direct mail from a company or brand regarding a product, service or promotion.

In summary, returning to our question, is direct mail for our industry? With the amount of emails being sent and common complaints of email overload, direct mail is making resurgence not as the alternative but as the accompaniment in any successful marketing campaign.

Offering good open rates and levels of return, along with a perceived higher level of trustworthiness, a good direct mail campaign can put your business in front of a target audience for the right reasons. Once this precedent is set, you won’t be seen to be contributing to email overload, but instead personalising messages. Or you could say, you’re helping the hare and the tortoise work together to achieve your marketing goals.


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