Battle for mats and minds

The sharp growth in direct mail volumes is a mixed blessing: while more customers are failing to open mail, a growing number are also responding

The Direct Mail Information Service (DMIS) has carried out research into consumer attitudes towards direct mail every two years since 1985.

The research is designed to provide a meaningful insight into the direct mail medium, how it is perceived and used by consumers and how it relates to other media.

Over 14 years, the Consumer Direct Mail Trends Survey has monitored receipt of direct mail by the amount consumers say they have received in the previous week. Receipt has more than doubled in just four years, from two items in 1995 to 4.4 in 1999.

Direct mail continues to take an increasing share of the overall letterbox and, for the first time, the survey covering 1999 shows that this share has risen to almost half.

Those who are described as “heavy” receivers – receiving more than three items a week – also continue to grow. Almost half the consumers surveyed now fall into this category.

Given this huge increase in mailing volumes, it is not surprising that levels of opening and reading are declining slightly. But they still remain encouraging. Three quarters of all direct mail is opened and 53 per cent is read.

Levels of opening seem to be slipping more among women than men. In 1997, 59 per cent of the direct mail received by consumers was read, which in real terms means that about 1.9 items of direct mail were read by consumers each week.

In 1999, reading figures fell to 53 per cent, which means that, in general, consumers read at least 2.3 items each week. This is evidence that, although there has been a decline in the percentage of direct mail being opened and read, the rise in volumes has meant that more items have been treated positively.

It is clear that levels of opening and reading are being affected by the greater marketing literacy of UK consumers. Increased exposure to direct mail has meant that 51 per cent of consumers could identify the last item received as advertising and 71 per cent knew the sender before opening the envelope. Levels of opening and reading are greater among those who knew who sent the item but didn’t realise it was advertising.

Another knock-on effect of ever-increasing mail volumes is a steady rise in the number of people who have ever responded to direct mail. At the end of the Eighties, just under half of consumers had ever responded (49 per cent). By the end of the Nineties, this had increased to a record level of 67 per cent. Some 47 per cent of consumers claimed to have responded to direct mail in the past 12 months.

The growth in buying through direct mail is clearly fuelled by satisfaction with the products being purchased. The 1999 study showed that 86 per cent of those questioned were either “very satisfied” or “quite satisfied” with the items purchased.

Those who were “very satisfied” (45 per cent) are also clearly potential “loyalists” and are likely to be good targets for future promotions. Overall, 76 per cent said they would reply to an ad from the same company again.

The satisfaction with products bought, and the propensity to reply again to advertising from the company that sent the direct mail, have both risen steadily since 1989.

Most people (three quarters) say they strongly object to telesales.

The proportion saying they strongly object being written to has also risen this year, but this figure is not as high as it was in 1993, when more than two thirds said they strongly objected.

Almost half (49 per cent) of consumers still expect an advertiser to use information it has about them and target them appropriately. ABs and heavy receivers are more likely to feel this way. A further six in ten consumers feel they can’t do much to reduce the amount of direct mail they receive.

The two thirds of consumers who feel it is very important that a company gets their name and address right can take comfort from the fact that personalisation is getting better in recent years, with 47 per cent of consumers now stating that their mail is correctly addressed more often now than ever before.

Factfile is edited by Julia Day. Chris Oliver, DMIS marketing and research manager contributed


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