How DM can defend itself against media land grab

I had lunch with an experienced marketer recently who predicted testing times ahead for direct mail. The traditional manta, he argued, that direct mail is accountable and targeted is true but the channel is and will continue to lose out to online ads that can be cheaper and more accountable, condemning the medium to a lower position on direct marketers’ pecking order.

Russell Parsons
Russell Parsons

The flight towards digital from all channels is not new news, of course, and it will remain something that both agencies and clients will continue to grapple with in the coming years. However, some say direct mail is to come under pressure from an unexpected foe.

Last week, marketers were urged to consider new television-based targeted and segmented advertising over direct mail.

Attendees at the Westminster Media Forum were told by media observers to target direct mail’s share of the marketing budget by using mooted digital systems such as BSkyB and AdSmart, said to have a greater capacity for personalised and targeted communication, at the direct expense of mail.

David Whittaker, director of business development and advertising technologies, NDS Group, fired the warning shot by issuing this rallying cry: “: “We have to bring new money in. There’s a huge amount of money in the DM industry and – allied with a lot of pressure to stop paper waste – we should be able to target that money.”

Fighting talk and words that will spread fear among proponents of direct mail already reeling from a drop in mail volumes, the wrath of environmental and consumer groups over “junk” mail and the feeling of many that it is an old-fashioned channel from a by-gone era.

Direct mail has long-been under pressure and mail bodies such as the Direct Marketing Association and interested parties including Royal Mail have fought the channel’s corner admirably.

However, more needs to be done. If, and I stress the conditional, direct mail’s traditional strengths – effectiveness, efficiency and accountability – are to be or already have been eclipsed by young digital upstarts then we need to see greater innovation and more promotion of the communication tool’s unique selling point, the ability to physically engage with consumers.

Direct mail is under pressure and may never recapture previous prominence, but its cheerleaders need to recognise its limitations as well as its virtues.

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