Whether it is Trinity Mirror raising eyebrows with the launch of its daily paper New Day or Amazon planning a strategy of opening high street stores, physical marketing is making something of a comeback.
It is fashionable for consumers to feel warmth towards how things used to be. Hence the resurgence in real books versus e-reader sales and the rebirth of the vinyl records trade, albeit on a relatively small scale.
Trinity Mirror is using spare print capacity for New Day to fill what it says is a gap in the market for a paper title to co-exist in a digital age. For Amazon the move into bricks and mortar is one way to reduce shipping costs, particularly for books, and provide a more personal shopping experience.
Amazon is not alone in extending its online offer offline. Digital retailer Funky Pigeon has flown into train stations where its shops tap into the market for last-minute card purchases being made by commuters who have (almost) forgotten an important birthday or anniversary.
Other interesting mergers between digital and physical include Sky’s Buy & Keep offer where viewers can view a film immediately but have a DVD posted to them for their in-home collection.
Paper ads can be more memorable
When it comes to advertising, neuroscientists have discovered that paper ads can be more memorable and have more impact than digital ones.
A study by Canadian neuromarketing firm True Impact, reported by Forbes, used eye-tracking and high resolution brain wave measurement to see how ads were understood, grabbed people’s attention and persuaded them. The research also found that direct mail was easier to process mentally and tested better for brand recall.
That particular finding does not surprise the Direct Marketing Association’s managing director Rachel Aldighieri. She says that although marketers have focused on digital channels in recent years, physical marketing has never lost its impact on consumers.
“Its resurgence is also thanks to these digital channels and the data they allow marketers access to,” she says. “Data is increasingly at the heart of the modern marketing industry, giving brands the opportunity to better understand how their campaigns are performing.”
She adds: “Whether it’s physical or digital, the route to success is ultimately having a clear approach to building your campaigns long-term. Brands must benchmark physical and digital campaigns so they can compare, contrast and learn how to improve on these metrics over time.”
Older customers respond well to direct mail
One company keen to complement its online activities with a strong offline presence is adult-only hotel chain Warner Leisure Hotels.
Head of marketing Marc Caulfield says physical marketing remains important because most of its customers are over 55, although many also interact with the brand on digital devices.
“Their behaviour is firmly rooted in the physical world with 85% of all holidays booked on the phone or at one of our 13 hotels, and just 15% on the Warner website,” he says. “Digital performance goes from strength to strength with ongoing optimisation, but door drops have seen a year-on-year improvement in performance of 39% and direct mail by 35%.”
For every £1 spent on door drops, Warner Leisure Hotels generates about £3.49 in bookings.
Another company still seeing a healthy return from direct mail is property business Loyalty Street which offers consumers money to sign up to a specific local estate agent ranked as best suited to its needs. Loyalty Street uses a number of data sources linked to the local property market to match sellers with agents.
“There is so much talk of social media, email marketing, Google AdWords, Twitter and Facebook campaigns not to mention telesales. However, we are talking about homeowners making a decision about how best to sell what is usually their most valuable asset and one to which there is often a strong emotional attachment. In these circumstances old-fashioned physical mail has proved to be the most effective method,” says managing director Justin Jordan.
He says the company is continually refining its approach to improve response rates.
“We saw a 10% uptake in the first mailing and a further 5% on a second mailing. We discovered, for instance, that business post is much less effective than a letter posted locally using a traditional stamp and an attention-grabbing call to action to overcome reader apathy.”
In the retail sector many store chains are reducing their estate and investing more in ecommerce. Yet one company moving the other way is British fashion brand Joules which is building up its portfolio of physical stores. It now has more than 100 shops and plans to open more in 2016.
High street stores help brands become part of a community
“Overall we are creating ‘one brand one experience’ across our multi-channels, and the stores have a big role to play in this,” says Joules’ marketing director Ronny Helvey. “The shops, and importantly the staff within them, act as ambassadors, introducing the brand to audiences that have often only experienced us either online or through our stockists such as John Lewis or the local garden centre.”
The brand is based in Market Harborough and Helvey says it needs to think strategically about where it opens shops around the country. The company wants to be well-represented in coastal towns where its customers holiday and in stations and airports because many of its target audience commute or travel for work. It also wants to be in towns where it can feel part of the community.
“Unlike other clothing brands we also attend many agricultural and equestrian shows where we have stands with the same look and feel as our stores so we connect with our customers out with their dogs,” says Helvey.
Despite the convenience that digital brings consumers and marketers we are humans and we want to touch and experience products. This could be feeling a newspaper, watching a band live or picking up an item in a shop to feel the weight and read the label.
When it comes to effective marketing in 2016, it could be time for more brands to get physical and go back to the future.