With an increasing number of direct mail recipients asking “Did a tree die for this?”, the DM industry is finally waking up to the fact that its communications are not only seen as junk, but they are also perceived to cause environmental damage.
A further accusation levelled at the industry is that with less than 9 million people in the UK not yet having internet access, does physical direct mail need to exist at all?
Royal Mail head of environmental solutions Matthew Neilson says you can’t just replace paper with digital. “It is almost impossible to compare digital and physical direct mail on a like-for-like basis,” he says. “The decision comes down to whichever mix answers the campaign objectives.”
Indeed, research from the British Population Survey reveals that while only 25% appreciate leaflets – compared with 46% preferring TV marketing, 34% newspapers and magazines and 30% radio – a significant 7% of recipients respond to direct mail compared with 4% response rates for advertising on the internet, radio and television.
The direct mail industry has been undergoing a slow, steady evolution of behaviours. “It’s an innovation that the direct mail community is talking about sustainability at all,” claims Marc Michaels, head of direct marketing for the Central Office of Information (COI). “The fact that people got together and talked it through was in itself amazing.”
Those discussions led to the establishment of a steering committee made up of some of direct mail’s leading proponents, which paved the way towards the creation of PAS 2020 – a set of ten guidelines that if complied with can lead to accreditation backed by the British Standards Institute (see Overview of PAS 2020, page 34).
A significant part of the direct mail industry’s greater focus on sustainability involves cleansing data because it is claimed that if marketers applied the same targeting rigour to direct mail as transactional mail or online targeting, they would see their hit rates grow and their carbon footprint shrink.
One of the biggest complaints about direct mail is how much of it ends up in landfill
Adrian Wray, client account handler for direct mail fulfilment house APS, says/ “One of the biggest complaints about direct mail is how much of it ends up in landfill. You need to ensure that your data sets include the right triggers so that every piece of direct mail has a purpose.”
It is one thing to ensure you are not sending irrelevant mail, but it is quite another to suggest that high volume mailers should seek to speak directly to every one of those chosen recipients.
To those in the CRM sectors, or working across social media platforms, the idea of one-to-one personalisation is hardly new. But for direct mail, where print runs conceivably go into seven figures, the idea of altering content for each individual householder seems a logistical nightmare.
However, innovations in the print process are allowing mass mailers to address individual consumers.
Kodak has been working on streaming technology that allows marketers to input variable data. “When this technology goes live you can bring mail to 500,000 people yet personalise it at the same time. This is the biggest revolution for years,” says Wray.
He believes that personalisation will not see the end to the ubiquitous catalogue dropping through the door, but that such improvements in the printing process will cut waste significantly. Wray suggests: “Instead of the 72-page catalogue, it could be reduced to an eight-page leaflet that has the products only the recipient could be interested in.”
Richard Owers, director of Beacon Press, agrees. “The key innovation at the moment is the way that digital printing is changing the landscape. We now have an opportunity to produce bespoke materials that in a way seems the reverse of what direct mail was about.”
Owers also believes that digital direct marketing is a logical partner for direct mail, not a replacement because consumers still prefer to read lengthy documents in paper form. “Take the university prospectus,” he says. “Instead of a 250-page book being sent to thousands of prospective students for whom most of the content is largely irrelevant, begin the process on the website where students select the courses and areas of interest and are then mailed a 48-page edition instead.”
Richard Madden, Planning director, Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw
One green innovation direct marketers could embrace is to be less mealy-mouthed about dispelling some of the environmental myths of direct mail.
“There goes another rainforest,” says the vocal one in the focus group when DM is raised. But most paper for DM comes from farmed timber in Northern Europe, so direct communications actively sustain forested hectares rather than destroying them.
Direct mail has to be transported – which has a carbon emissions impact – but even if direct mail disappeared tomorrow, many of those journeys would still be required to deliver personal and business mail. And consumers would be paying a lot more for their stamps were it not for the bulk mail that comes along for the ride.
Considerably less direct mail is now being sent out. This is partly thanks to the shift of much transactional communication, such as bank statements to email, to digital. But it’s also due in no small part to the advances in targeting that have been made in the past few years.
Geodemographics, psychographics and regression modelling might not have turned direct mail’s blunderbuss into a sniper rifle, but they have significantly narrowed its blast radius, and thus limited collateral damage to the environment.
The tonnage of mailed material going to landfill has also fallen by 70% since 2003, according to a 2009 TNS survey, commissioned by Defra, the Royal Mail and the Direct Marketing Association. Addressed direct mail now constitutes just 0.28% of non-recycled household waste, and that’s an achievement we should be proud of.
Oxfam’s lessons from innovating in sustainable DM
- Find internal champions who are aware of best practice, top management buy-in and embedding of tools and processes in purchasing ways of working.
- Ensure ownership of objectives at the outset, including both business and wider organisational objectives. Assess ethical and environmental risks at an early stage.
- Respect other people’s roles and challenges and let them “get on”.
- Purchasers need technical knowledge about production and distribution and awareness of labour and environmental standards in the industry.
- Use an open brief to the supply market, for example a performance specification, pre-assess potential suppliers before inviting to tender, and incorporate ethical, environmental and innovation criteria into supplier selection and management.
- Choose a supplier with whom you have good commercial leverage and a trusted relationship.
overview of PAS 2020
- Objective 1 TargetingTarget customers and prospects to whom the campaign is relevant and that are likely to respond.
- Objective 2 SuppressionApply customer and prospect data suppression and maintain data quality.
- Objective 3 RecyclabilityDesign DM communications for recyclability.
- Objective 4 Paper productsEffectively manage the procurement and use of paper products to improve environmental performance.
- Objective 5 Ink and finishesMake efficient use of ink and finishes.
- Objective 6 Printing Use organisations that manage the environmental impacts of producing printed DM communications.
- Objective 7 Mailing housesUse mailing houses that manage their environmental impacts.
- Objective 8 Distribution servicesUse organisations that manage the environmental impacts of distributing DM communications.
- Objective 9 Field marketingUse field marketers that manage their environmental impacts.
- Objective 10 Use by recipientPromote the use of an unsubscribe facility.
Source: Antalis (www.antalis)