Charity mailers should be wary of growth

In a perfect world over the past 5 to 10 years for everyone that makes a living from physical mail, ad spend on mail and door drops would have continued to grow, while online investment would have fallen.

Sound like a pipe dream?  A utopia for mailers? Of course, across the board and across sectors it is. However, there is one small corner of the marketing universe that seems to be swimming against the tide.

According to NFP Synergy, spending on direct mail by charities was £238.9m in 2013, an increase from £190.6m in 2004. Albeit, over a shorter period of time, the picture for door drops is even more surprising. More than £14m was spent on leaflets, up from £8.7m in 2008.

Look elsewhere, and you find more contrary behaviour. Internet ad spend has gone down. Yes, you heard it, down – £6.6m in 2013, down from 9.6m in 2009 and south of its recent £10.2m 2011 peak.

This is extraordinary stuff. But is it the power of mail’s engagement and ROI that is keeping it so firmly in the hearts of charities or is it the quest for a low-cost direct response channel that requires little future thinking?

Forgive me a sit on the fence for a moment but in the absence of any facts on returns, it is difficult to say for sure. What I can say is that door drops and unaddressed mail should not be growing in volume.

In the data age where targeting and segmentation is so precise, there is no need to send and spend as much on mail, regardless of how effective it proves. More door drops or unsolicited mail simply adds to people’s readiness to dismiss all as “junk”.

Spend on direct mail appears to be falling in the last five years – £238.9m last year from £267.3 but it is quite possible that some of that money is going to the less discriminate door drop.

This is in no way meant as a sleight against mail or door drops, they have a place. However, there is a whole world of effective direct marketing channels that can achieve more with less. The days of carpet-bombing should be over but reports like this raise concerns that lessons have not been learned.

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