For direct mail, less is more

The old adage less is more is true for many marketers. Restricting distribution of a product to make it more desirable, for one, is an example of fewer going further.

Russell Parsons

However, in most cases bigger is definitely better. Higher sales, a larger return on investment and for channel cheerleaders, more is usually more.

This received wisdom was challenged somewhat this week in research from the Direct Marketing Association that proudly proclaimed that an 11.8 per cent drop in items dropped through letterboxes last year – that’s 1bn fewer door drops – was actually a really good thing worth shouting about.

Far from being an unequivocal disaster that some might see it as, less is definitely more in this case, the DMA argues.

Yes, the rise of online communications and the recessionary environment were factors in the decline, the report continues, but the industry is no victim. Better targeting leading to improvements in distribution was cited as the primary reason for the frankly dramatic decline.

So, is this a rather extreme example of industry spin? Turning what is actually a spectacular illustration of door drops’ decline into a positive – “people are not deserting us in droves for bright new things, it is controlled decline to our, and your advantage”, it didn’t but could have said instead.

First thoughts upon reading the summary of the report leant towards the cynical. A drop in use screams to most – “don’t go anywhere near the channel, it’s almost certainly toxic”. However, protracted musing leaves me having some sympathy with the report’s starting view.

Tellingly, the drop in expenditure on the channel was not as steep as that in volume. A decrease of 1.4 per cent between 2010 and 2011, the report adds.

Are door drop business and those distributing are charging more for the same? Or are brands paying more for better targeting and, as usually follows, higher ROI?

The answer to that question is not known but what is clear to me is that the industry should be sending less. The days of carpet bombing consumers already irked by the volume of what they see as unwanted and therefore annoying junk should be by now confined to history.

A continued concerted effort to reduce the volume of direct mail sent is absolutely necessary. Focussing on sending communication to consumers where there is reason to believe an interest should be the desired outcome every time, not the approach previously taken by many of hoping for the best.

External factors and the changing consumer landscape will continue to send volumes southwards. A direction that direct mailers should not be afraid of pushing the channel in the same direction themselves.

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The marginal uplift in sales reported by Tesco yesterday (3 October) may well signal that its recovery is “on track” but the supermarket is by no means out of danger. A complete turnaround depends on the impact of future brand campaigns.


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