Here we are again. Amid the anxiety and uncertainty as much of the UK goes through another national lockdown, there is also a feeling of déjà vu.
When the first lockdown was announced back in March, we all had to adjust to new sets of rules and ways of getting things done. What did we learn about consumer behaviour that can help us as marketers this time round?
Commercially, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Lockdown 2.0 has arrived right in the run-up to the festive season. It looks like a vaccine could soon be with us, but even in a best-case scenario, full roll-out is still a way off. With many businesses still struggling after months of disruption, the next few months could be make-or-break.
Earlier this year, Royal Mail’s strategy and research arm MarketReach commissioned research into the way people interacted with – and felt about – media. They also looked at the latest data from the Joint Industry Committee for Mail (JICMAIL), which included the period of the spring lockdown. Their aim was to explore the impact of the ‘new normal’ among both consumers and business decision makers, and work out what it means for the way brands communicate.
The results of the research have recently been published in a free report, ‘Mail matters more than ever’, which you can download here. In a context where effectiveness is now an existential issue for many marketers, it’s an important read.
In-home and online
There were two obvious but profound changes to our behaviour during the initial lockdown. Being confined to quarters meant our homes became even more central to our lives. With our focus on our surroundings, there was more opportunity to notice and engage with what arrived through the letterbox each day.
Even so, the numbers in the report are stark: 88%1 of people said they paid the same or more attention to mail during lockdown. Nearly all physical mail, 96%2, was engaged with, the highest figure ever recorded by JICMAIL. And on average people engaged with an item of mail four-and-a-half times2.
The appeal of mail wasn’t limited to a particular age-group, either. Indeed, the biggest rise in engagement was among the 18-341 age-group.
Simultaneously, much of life shifted further online. From working to shopping, entertainment to exercise: screens took up more of our attention than ever. It was a high-profile spring for Jeff Bezos and Joe Wicks.
Much has been written about this accelerated digitalisation, but it would be a mistake to read this as a ringing endorsement of online media and a refutation of offline channels.
After spending all day on a laptop or getting our kitchen tables Zoom-ready, most of us will sympathise with the two in five people1 who reported suffering digital burnout. The tangibility of mail makes it a welcome relief from the screen, and the research revealed 44%1 of people actually looked forward to receiving mail during lockdown.
The fact that an organisation has printed and sent it also gives mail credibility and authority. When the Government wanted to underline the importance of the first lockdown, it’s telling that it chose to send the famous ‘Boris letter’. The impact of that choice was clear: four out of five1 people recalled receiving a government mailing about the pandemic. And nearly two-thirds1 of these believed it had had an impact on their behaviour.
Of course, digitalisation is not a binary choice between online and offline channels. One of the key arguments in the report is that mail is an increasingly effective method of driving people online. The research found a 70%2 year-on-year boost in online traffic driven by mail. Even the humble QR code has had a surprising second wind.
In an environment where physical retail is likely to be disrupted for some time, the role of mail in long-term brand-building as well as activation is also going to be vital. A recent Gartner report found that the Covid crisis has shifted CMOs’ focus to retention and loyalty, with 60% of marketers regarding these as priority areas3. Direct mail remains a great medium for telling your story, at a time when many people have more time at home than ever.
In many ways the pandemic has been – and continues to be – a test of resilience. Physical mail, sometimes ignored amid the rush for instant measurement, has reasserted its importance in driving commercial activity and engaging audiences.
It looks like it’s going to be a long and bumpy winter. Brands that overlook mail could be ignoring the channel that could help see them through to 2021 and beyond. It’s always been a vital channel. Now it matters more than ever.
1 Royal Mail MarketReach, Coronavirus Research,Trinity McQueen 2020
2 JICMAIL, Q2 2018–Q2 2020
3 Gartner Annual CMO Spend Survey 2020