Lauren Metaal
Lauren Metaal 28 November 2018

Why Direct Mail is Delivering in a Digital Age

Rewind a few years to the breakthrough of email as a widespread communication tool.  Many industry experts were convinced that the immediacy and targetability of email would cement its position as the direct marketing technique of choice – to the obvious detriment of more traditional methods such as direct mail.

Yet whilst the fortunes of direct mail have fluctuated since email’s arrival, the technique has remained an essential component of the marketing mix.

In fact, today, the medium is on the cusp of a true renaissance – the first consideration for many brands rather than an afterthought. This renaissance is reflected in usage and open-rate statistics. In its recent response rate report, the Direct Marketing Association found that direct mail achieves a 4.4% response rate compared to email’s 0.12%.

So, what are the factors behind direct mail’s popularity and success today? Certainly, advances in printing quality and the creative use of envelopes and document seals have combined to create messages that really stand out. Crucially, this creativity is happening at a time when consumer distrust for all things digital is prevalent.

Analysts are calling this the ‘post-truth’ world, a world of uncertainty in which opinion is umpired by internet voices and accusations of ‘fake news’ abound. This doesn’t negate the great digital marketing work that is being done by leading players. But it does mean that the printed word is beginning to be associated with greater credibility and trust. Consumers understand that mail takes more time and effort to produce, and the perception is of messaging that is more considered and thought-through compared to quick-fire email.

The introduction of GDPR legislation is indicative of the atmosphere of mistrust surrounding digital. GDPR was brought in to better protect the rights of citizens and to govern the way that companies harbour data and communicate with it. Understandably, GDPR caused concern amongst brands who wondered how it would impact marketing results across all channels. However, savvy businesses are working within the GDPR framework to explore ways of delivering messaging that is compliant and that also reaches every possible prospect pool. Direct mail is playing a major role.

Initiatives such as Royal Mail’s Partially Addressed Mail are helping businesses to reach prospects and boost acquisition strategies. Partially Addressed Mail is a GDPR compliant prospecting tool that allows targeted mail marketing without the use of personal data. Replacements such as ‘Occupier’ or ‘Valued customer’ are used instead of the recipient’s name. This service overcomes the potential problem of a reduced prospect pool due to GDPR restrictions, and Royal Mail estimates that businesses can reach up to 30% more households in one mailing than with a personalised cold-list mailing.

Of course, reaching prospects is one thing, influencing them is quite another. Messages will still need to be on point, and design will need to carry enough impact to cut through the digital noise. Again, research points to the advantages that mail carries over email. Mail is tangible and real. Receiving post, handling it and opening it requires more interaction and engagement than clicking a button to view email. In a Royal Mail study, 60% of respondents said the very physical nature of mail made it easier for them to recall messaging at a later date. In a separate study by the DMA, research found that 27% of direct mail is still ‘live’ within the household after 28 days. Clearly, by remaining in household circulation, messages have the opportunity to be read and read again.

There is also a perception that mail only works with a specific audience, namely older recipients. Millennials, so the argument goes, have been raised on digital and have little time for other means of communication. This is far from the truth. Millennials respond warmly to the tangible impact of mail. Indeed, this audience appreciates the care and craft that goes into mail. A Gallup study reports that 95% of 18-29-year-olds have a positive response to receiving personal cards and letters. Clever direct mail marketing taps into this emotional pull.

This is not to say that direct mail should be used in isolation. Marketing should not be a case of either digital or mail.  Those businesses gaining the most marketing attention are using a mix of techniques to reinforce brand qualities and specific messaging. Neurological studies conducted by Royal Mail prove that mail primes other media. In other words, messages delivered digitally are more recognisable if customers and prospects have first been contacted via the mail.

Ultimately, in an age where digital communication has become second nature, direct mail not only persists, it is starting to generate genuine excitement once again. Businesses dismissing the technique as old-hat are themselves in danger of looking rather out of touch. Used creatively and compliantly, direct mail is presenting a stand-out alternative to the digital deluge. Consumers are responding with trust, brand loyalty and share of wallet. 

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