Marketing’s forgotten family member

There is a marketing channel which has consistently shown it can deliver a positive return on investment. It can be targeted down to individual level and is highly accountable. Yet two out of three major companies are not using it.

The reason? Direct mail is out of fashion, lost behind the glare of digital media and unknown to many practitioners. Even among long-established marketing agencies, you would have to sit through 99 presentations on social networks, email and Web 2.0 before hearing one about physical print.

Yet as Kevin Slatter says in his column below, it may be time to “get the hammer out” again. Ask any media planner and they will tell you that when advertisers are neglecting a channel, it is a great opportunity to achieve standout.

Ask Royal Mail and you will find that among the largest 3,000 companies in the UK, fully 2,000 of them say they are not using direct mail. If the consumer’s letterbox really is remaining that empty for days on end, it is a compelling reason for looking again at the medium.

There are problems, of course. Direct mail is perceived as high volume, high cost to enter and with a lengthy cycle to market. Digital print has changed that model, enabling fully-personalised packs to be produced in short runs and with quick production turnaround. There are plenty of moments during the prospect-to-customer lifecycle when planning, preparing and sending a message within a two-week window is not only possible, it can have a big impact.

Cost per item will be high. But this is where direct mail needs to be reviewed and understood as a way to seal the deal with high value targets. Like sending your best salesperson to close on a top prospect, a mailshot can be remarkably effective and deliver strong ROI, even if it costs multiple pounds per pack.

Strong evidence is also emerging that mailings can have this effect across a wide range of demographic groups. While the over-55s are classically responsive to print, Royal Mail’s Mail Media Centre reports focus group evidence that, among young consumers who are digital natives, a mailpack can generate excitement and engagement every bit as strong. DataTalk has been carrying out regular face-to-face interviewing to build a clear picture of these channel preferences that can be used to drive a media segmentation.

There is no arguing that the conventional model of direct mail does not suit the current times. That is why volumes have fallen off a cliff. (Although this could help to alleviate the issues some consumers have with mailing frequency, as in the FRSB story below.) But the comparison needs to be with buying a warm lead online or paying for a hotly-contested search term. If it closes a sale, it is worth every penny.