Mind the gap

Thinking along same lines gets direct responses

It appears that marketers overestimate the power of aesthetics not only in stopping people ditching a DM item, but also in getting them to open messages too – 56% think consumers will be happy to open or read DM from a company or brand they know and 19% think consumers will be convinced by an attractive envelope.

Keitch says: “The design is one area that marketers have direct control over, so it stands to reason that they will be extremely interested in getting it right. But they need to understand that consumers object to receiving marketing about stuff that they’re simply not interested in.”

Marketers are also convinced that consumers are lured by the offer of something free, with 50% believing people will be willing to open a piece of DM if they can see a free sample or voucher inside, compared to just 38% of consumers. They are also more excited about competitions – 31% of marketers think the public will open a piece of DM that uses a competition, compared to just 19% of consumers.

More important for consumers appears to be a product or service being tailored to their needs, with 50% of consumers happy to open or read a direct mailing from a brand or company they know and 47% will open it if it is personally addressed to them (marketers believe the figure is around 42%).

Consumers are less convinced by novelty than marketers believe. Just 15% are convinced to open DM because of an “interesting package”, while marketers think it will be 34%. Equally, an attractive envelope turns heads for just 4% of consumers.

David Cole, managing director at CCB fast.MAP, says: “When I started in direct mail, the first thing I learned was the importance of getting the basics right. We were told that was more important than the creative message. But it appears marketers still don’t get it.

“Perhaps it is the power of agencies or maybe it’s the fun of the creative process, but it’s clear that this focus completely distorts the reality of what consumers want from DM.”

Regardless of the differences between the two groups, however, there is reassuring news for the DM industry as a whole in that the number of people who don’t open and read their direct mail has remained at 14% – the same as in 2008. This figure is down from a high of 26% when the research began in 2005, indicating that direct mail is improving its impact, rather than losing ground to other marketing methods.

This means that 86% of consumers do open mailings, defying the pessimism of marketers who expect less than 50% of people to open DM from companies with which they have a relationship.

The topics or businesses that most people want to hear about through direct marketing are apparently supermarkets and stores. Fifty-one per cent of consumers are happy to hear about these by mail, which is in line with marketers’ prediction of 49%. “Life is local,” says Cole. “It’s no surprise that people are keen to receive DM about things that matter to them locally.”

It appears that mail is more popular than email for consumers and this is also understood by marketers. For example, while 35% of consumers say they are happy to receive catalogues by mail (marketers predict 42%), just 18% want this information to land in their inbox (marketers predict 26%).

“Email has now reached a tipping point,” suggests Cole. “To get through the average person’s email inbox is quite a time consuming and irritating process, so it doesn’t surprise me that people are keener on direct mail, which they can absorb in their own time.”

In terms of receiving phone calls for marketing purposes, more than half of consumers have heard of the Telephone Preference Service, which allows them to opt out of such communication, and 30% have enrolled in the service.

Keitch says that although there has been a 3% drop in awareness about the TPS since 2008, he thinks this is actually a vote of confidence in its efficiency. “If you registered for the TPS four or five years ago, you probably don’t get too many of those calls,” he explains. “I think it’s a sign that so many people find it effective that it doesn’t need to be front of mind.”

Marketers appear to underestimate how annoyed consumers are by silent calls. Around two-thirds of consumers object to these, while marketers put the figure at about 44%.

In terms of the sectors that consumers would actively choose not to receive if they could pick particular industries to block from contacting them by phone, loans and credit cards take the top spot with 89% choosing this category, while 85% are also not keen to hear about mortgages or financial services.

Marketers overestimate consumer interest in promotional phone calls, with 53% saying consumers will object to financial services and insurance. While 81% of consumers don’t want to hear from gyms by phone, just 37% of marketers pick up this antipathy.

Marketers have also failed to grasp the dislike more than eight out of ten adults feel towards the eight least popular telemarketing sectors. On average, less than half of the marketers correctly judged that people would opt out of these sectors if the TPS were changed.

When it comes to DM, the way in which consumers want to be targeted is not necessarily in line with marketers’ priorities.

“I think that marketers need to remember that in the end, the nuts-and-bolts of DM will always be more important than the creative message,” says Cole. “Companies need to step forward and ask: how can we communicate better?”

There are also other considerable misunderstandings on the behalf of marketers about how consumers perceive DM. Marketers do not seem to understand quite how negative consumers are about receiving marketing messages by mobile phone. In fact, 74% say they would even sign up for a Text Preference Service if that was available to them.

But since 86% of consumers are still opening DM messages, those marketers that can get it right may well reap the rewards of paying careful attention to the needs of their customers.

Keitch adds: “I find it reassuring that so many people are opening DM. Of course, that doesn’t mean they will respond but each time someone reads an invitation to do business, that’s one step on the way. Whether people respond or not, it’s a first sign that the marketing has worked.”

Since 2005, the fast.MAP/DMA Marketing-GAP Tracking Study has been monitoring consumer attitudes to the DM industry and how marketers are keeping in touch with changes in consumer motivation and tastes. It achieves this via an online questionnaire to 1,376 consumers on the fast.MAP panel (which echoes the UK’s demographic profile) and a panel of more than 300 marketers (made up of DMA members and the fast.MAP Marketer Panel), who answer the same questions each year.

The frontline

Ian Armstrong, Customer communications manager, cars, Honda
Ian Armstrong, Customer communications manager, cars, Honda

Ian Armstrong,

customer communications manager, cars, Honda

The gap between marketers and consumers suggested by the research really reinforces for me what a fast-moving world we now live in. Consumers are changing the way they think and act all the time. It’s very difficult for marketers to keep up.

I think the high numbers of people still opening direct marketing messages is positive. It suggests that brands must be doing a good job in becoming more targeted. That’s very important because the difference between a piece of junk mail and a targeted piece of communication is just relevance.

Perhaps the reason why email seems less popular than mail is because direct mail is more self-selecting – the consumer chooses when to open and absorb the message. Email could be perceived as intruding on people’s days as digital communications are so instant; but if something comes through the door, you can decide whether to open it before dinner, after dinner or whenever you like.

Colin McDougall Head of marketing distribution, AXA Sunlife Direct
Colin McDougall Head of marketing distribution, AXA Sunlife Direct

Colin McDougall,

head of marketing distribution, AXA Sunlife Direct

I’m not surprised that direct mail is opened by so many people. It’s still a core component of our marketing. We’ve dabbled in areas like email but with a largely over-50s group like our customers, direct mail tends to be more popular.

In terms of mail personalisation, customer feedback has been telling us over the past few years that people are less comfortable with highly personalised mail. The direct marketing textbooks might say you should personalise wherever possible with data, but we’ve found our customers don’t want that. They worry that if the mail fell into the wrong hands, someone would have too much information about them.

Something that hasn’t been mentioned in the research is the number of people who open direct mail just to recycle the various bits of it. Our customers tell us that they like to recycle mail so they open it specifically to recycle it. That insight has become very important to our business as a result.



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