Step forward and select the right direction

As direct mail’s star continues to rise among the public, six DM specialists answer questions posed by Marketing Week about the sector’s burning issues. By Ruth Mortimer

Pete Markey (PM):

In our business, direct marketing is taken very seriously. In the past three years we have invested in resources, data and creative capability, which has helped deliver real change in our business with the full backing of our leadership team. The key here is about credibility and effectively monitoring, measuring and reporting to prove that direct marketing works.

Andy Grant (AG):

I think direct mail holds greater weight in the boardroom if it is executed very well. High (perceived) value direct mail is an excellent vehicle to get cut-through and a call to action. A physical piece of creative and relevant direct mail will give your target a greater opportunity to consider your offer, unlike an email, which is too easy to delete.

Marc Michaels (MM):

We should not confuse direct mail and direct marketing as one and the same thing. Direct mail is a subset of the direct marketing toolbox – inserts, door-drops, emails, phone and face-to-face are all important channels and should be part of the board’s considerations as much as direct mail. As an industry, we are not taken seriously at board level when we fail to demonstrate the value of the various direct media in terms of effectiveness and contribution to the bottom line. When direct marketers speak the language of the boardroom and show the contribution in terms of immediate returns – and more importantly lifetime value and improved customer relationship – then the board will sit up and take notice.

Carol Wright (CW):

Within my own organisation, direct mail and its impact on the growth of our business is taken seriously. This is because we get the buy-in for our campaigns, log and monitor all responses and ensure that we capture any revenue. This enables us to show return on investment – an essential requirement, particularly in the current business climate. If DM activity isn’t properly measured, it won’t be taken seriously.

MW: What are the greatest recent innovations in DM?

AG: You cannot ignore personalised messages that also include video. If I received a personalised video, I would take the time to watch it because someone or a company has put a great deal of effort into developing and choosing me as the target. I would take the time to watch and see what they are trying to sell me. I must stress, though, that it is more about the message than about the video graphics and production value.

DH: Things like scented mail [a new innovation from TNT Post] are merely tactical devices. Major innovations come through new ways to target customers or finding new markets for existing products. The biggest innovations in 2010 will probably be better use of web analytics to predict future customer behaviour, with the coming together of mobile and the internet.

CW: Scented mail. What next? These kinds of innovations are generating a new buzz around the tried-and-tested mail channel and, to be honest, everything plays a part in DM. The more you employ the five main senses of touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell, the greater chance you have of gaining an interest. Use everything you can to engage the recipient. And, watch out for news on Volunteered Personal Information (VPI) – information only the customer knows and which therefore only the customer can share. It may include personal details, interests, product preferences or plans and intentions. New technology makes it possible for customers to share this information while keeping it under their own control.

MM: The physicality of DM – print and face-toface – needs to be recaptured as a core benefit of direct channels to complement the virtual nature of the web interface. In an otherwise virtual world, a growing appreciation of DM’s ability to physically put something in people’s hands will have an ever increasing amount of impact.

Sensory experience in mail door-to-door, inserts and face-to-face is an important development, but it is matched by innovations in the data world. There is a much greater focus and value placed on data collection, actionable segmentation and what I call “individualisation” (as opposed to just personalisation), with highly customised content, words and imagery specifically addressing the benefits to them and knocking down that customer’s barriers. Greater use of personalised URLs and tailoring of website content to the individual is also of note. If a company is to achieve true customercentricity, it must master the on and offline channels to market seamlessly and measure the effectiveness of those interactions.

PM: In our business, the greatest innovations have come from within the team. These have predominantly been around further improving our data use and targeting, coupled with pushing our creative work even harder. One big success this year has been our “pet birthday” mailing for pet insurance, where we wrote on behalf of the pet to the owner asking for pet insurance as a birthday present. The response was phenomenal and demonstrated how fusing the right use of data with a strong creative can make all the difference.

MW: A recent DMA survey suggested that physical mail is more popular with consumers than email. Do you agree? Why do you think this might be?

MM: Despite the plethora of digital channels and the accessibility this provides, people are still social animals at heart. They like to shop even though they can buy online. They like to read books and newspapers even though they can download PDFs. So they like the physicality of mail and the convenience of having it in front of them.

Not everyone is online (10 million people aren’t), not everyone is a heavy user of the internet (half the population aren’t) and, contrary to some media planners’ beliefs, we aren’t switched on all the time, and even improved mobile access won’t necessarily change that. We like coupons for response too – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We’re real people. That’s unlikely to change.

AG: People are still keen to receive physical items. We still get requests for brochures at trade shows. Consumers also like spec sheets because they can refer back to them time and time again. Depending on how creative the piece is, it may even stay on your desk because it is cool or different or it just strikes a chord. This is unlike email, where you read it and either delete it or file it never to read again.

PM: It’s difficult to judge the two disciplines in isolation because both mail and email have their own strong and effective role to play. In addition, both can work powerfully together as part of an integrated campaign. This is enhanced further, from my experience, by outbound telemarketing as a third strand to the mix.

The challenge for email, as opposed to physical mail, has been the amount of spam that has become prevalent in recent years and has had a negative impact on consumers’ full adoption of email as opposed to traditional mail. Marketers raising their game and creating relevant and targeted email communications that have a high impact is key to addressing this challenge.

Ultimately, having a true test-and-learn approach will identify the right customer segments to receive a certain approach. For some, direct mail will be prevalent, for others it will be email or a multichannel initiative. RB: It depends on the audience. Emails are more popular for our male consumers buying Lynx. The key is to know your audience preferences and give them the choice of what type of communication they receive.

CW: As long as it is relevant, there will be an interest. Why play direct mail off against email? Both channels have their supporters and both, if used intelligently, generate impressive results and even work better when used together.

MW: Have you got any real-life examples of how you have used effective integrated campaigns bringing together DM with other marketing disciplines?

CW: One example would be where we did not have email addresses for some of our customer base. We ran a competition in our Postscript magazine, giving readers an incentive to complete a few questions online. The response was tremendous and increased the size of our email base for future marketing. Recent Pitney Bowes research reveals that two-thirds of European consumers believe direct mail and direct-response advertising are the two most effective techniques for driving purchases over the web.

PM: We are seeing a real “blurring” between on and offline channels. Using email and outbound telemarketing alongside more traditional direct marketing tools has been key to our record sales growth this year. Alongside this, effectively using phone numbers on our web and email creative has driven additional sales, again fusing traditional and new media.

MM: Virtually every Government and public sector campaign that my marketing team and I get involved with integrates the direct channels with traditional advertising media, digital media and PR. Change4Life, Tobacco Education, RAF recruitment, CMEC, Healthy Start – the list is endless. Our ethos across COI is to encourage this kind of integration and recognise and evaluate the different channel contributions to ensure as media-neutral approach as possible. This ensures the best mix for the public and helps to improve behaviour change outcomes.

MW: Which brands do you think carry out particularly good DM? Is there anyone doing anything that falls under ‘best practice’?

PM: O2 runs an extremely strong and effective direct marketing programme. It’s highly integrated, multichannel and appeals to both new and existing customers. Adding The O2 venue into the mix has provided a stronger proposition mix to fuel the direct marketing approach, which now feels even more personal and highly targeted. O2’s creative is also very clear, single minded and relevant – critical ingredients for success.

AG: I received an excellent piece from LoveFilm for Christmas; it was personalised, which I still think is cool, and contained friends and family credit card-sized vouchers. It was simple and the message was clear. It is the best piece I have received since I was sent a penguin from Chemistry Digital as the invite to attend the agency’s annual dinner at London Zoo. I still have the penguin.

CW: When a marketing agency looking for work with Pitney Bowes contacted me, instead of just sending a colourful mailer or letter talking about what it was capable of, it had taken the time to create a brief for marketing one of our products.

It was a brilliant ploy and certainly captured my attention. I kept hold of the materials just in case I needed to get something done quickly. That time came a couple of months ago and I’m now using that company to support our campaign objectives. RB: I am a big fan of Virgin communication. It’s always personalised, often to my street and first name in the headline text. It has great calls to action and is only sent when I have interacted with the brand.

MW: What impact have the postal strikes had on your business?

PM: We had early warning that the postal strikes were coming and moved the timings for most of our mailing activity, so the impact was negligible.

DH: The strikes had an impact – probably 5-10% of sales. CW: For customers using franking machines, we had agreed with Royal Mail that they could continue franking their mail on the day it was produced and Royal Mail would accept it when it was either collected or taken to a Post Office – it would not look to penalise customers because of the strikes. Therefore, any potential delays were minimised.

AG: The postal strike did affect a recent mailing in the UK and Ireland, although in a bizarre twist, it actually allowed us to telemarket every contact as we mailed in batches. So it worked in our favour and we had a great response rate for the campaign.

MW: What are the worst mistakes you can make in DM? Why?

AG: A marketer can make three mistakes with direct marketing by using DM that does not have a point, is vague or hasn’t got a clear call to action.

CW: If your message is not relevant to the recipient, don’t bother to send it. Try and identify triggers within your customer base that give you a reason to correspond.

RB: Addressing the letter to “Dear Occupier”. It’s impersonal and puts the receiver off straight away.

PM: Sloppy use of data and poor creative are the unforgivable sins of DM. Not understanding the data you are targeting, using little or no insight behind the data and not aligning your creative behind it is just poor practice. These mistakes can come from a lack of business investment in direct marketing and data capability, coupled with a desire to hang onto what may have been successful in previous years without evolving the approach for a more discerning consumer market.

DH: Failing to properly understand and apply the four basic principles of DM – targeting, interaction, control and continuity, plus a lack of testing.

MM: Worst mistakes include forgetting the ground rules of good direct response communication and pretending to be something else, forgetting that you are talking to real people and treating people as if they are just a “target audience”, poor copy (no excuse for that), poor targeting (not using data and insight) and not making it timely, relevant and motivating. If you make any of these mistakes it won’t work.

MW: Any other predictions for 2010?

PM:We will see an even greater blurring between marketing channels. There will be a need for classic direct marketers to rethink their approach even further. They must understand that consumers no longer think in a purely linear fashion about responses, and use a multichannel on and offline response approach. This will become even more important to future success.

AG: The customer/partner relationship is king and there will be more need to spend time faceto- face, continually working on your relationships with your customers/partners, because it is still people who sell to people, not technology.

DH: The big issue will be data governance, given the T-Mobile leak [in November 2009] and the fact that hundreds of individuals are in control of masses of data, which is getting out of control.

RB: Social networking is here to stay and will mean that direct marketing remains an essential part of the marketing mix. Marketers with DM skills are best equipped to understand how to develop plans in this space that drive return on marketing investment.

The importance of earning and maintaining consumer trust will continue to be paramount. Consumer confidence and trust in big business is at a low ebb due to the events of the last 18 months. We all need to work hard to restore this and our use of DM/data is no exception.

CW: Transpromotional mail – the technique of adding marketing messages to transactional mail like bills, statements and other day-to-day documents – will continue to grow. Businesses are getting increasingly wise to the fact that they can make these communications work harder. Why does it work? Because everyone always takes notice of these and, since these documents are already being dispatched on a regular basis, it’s easy to employ and very cost efficient.

MM: My themes are evaluation, engagement and environment. The growing demand for accountability will reinforce direct marketing’s standing as an accountable set of media options.

Direct will move away from concentrating on acquisition to work across the whole of the customer journey and focus on improving conversion at each stage. Less linear customer journeys and more varied response vehicles will mean the definitions of what is DM become wider.

Search will finally be recognised as a critical response vehicle. Work to really understand what drives search on and offline will become part of the direct stable. Meanwhile, environmental pressures/data privacy issues mean the need for effective industry PR becomes greater. Companies need to be more transparent about how they gather and use data.

Viewpoint: Patrick Collister MMC Ambassador

Marketing Week’s research shows that 56% of marketers believe that direct mail carries weight in the boardroom, while 30% think it is not taken seriously. I think it’s to do with budgets and status. Let’s say you’re a big marketing-driven company with a DM spend of £20m a year. Well, your marketing director is always going to be more interested in the £6m TV campaign. Why? Because the £6m is seen as one pot of money whereas the DM budget will be broken up into projects worth £250,000 here and £250,000 there. Top brass doesn’t get involved in the small stuff, even if that’s where the company makes its big money.

The greatest recent innovations for me are any mailings with an idea that turns a reader into a participant. A lot of people think of mail as “print you can fold”. But it’s so much more; it’s the only medium to engage all five senses. Take Royal Mail’s own “Chocolate Letter” mailing. That was pretty innovative – an entire letter written in chocolate on chocolate. We mailed 3,000 marketers and 8,000 claimed to have received it.

In terms of marketers turning away from email back to direct mail, there is anecdotal evidence that it simply works better. Andy Owen, of Andy Owen & Associates, claims that opening rates of email “are now at an alltime low and they are still falling. Down to 11.9% at the last count. Down 2% in the last 18 months”. The thing about mail is you can turn it over in your hands, keep it for another day or turn it into a paper aeroplane. It is the original interactive medium.

For me, the worst mistake with DM you can make is to be dreary. You can create extraordinary personal relationships through DM, but you wouldn’t want to forge a bond with a colourless, humourless or strident individual.

In terms of what we’ll see in 2010, I think marketing communications have changed. Today it benefits the marketer to be nice, to be polite and to be interesting. Or else. This year, I think we’ll see more evidence of that “else” as famous brands die because they simply don’t know how to talk to people.

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