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PROMOTIONAL FEATURE: How mail bounced back to reach brand new heights

While consumers are increasingly turned off by unsolicited email messages, direct mail is still getting results - for offline and online brands, writes OnePost's Graham Cooper

How many times do you click on an email from a brand owner or service provider in a day? Less, and less, you have to admit. The evidence for this is not just anecdotal: consumer preference for email commu-nications has fallen 5% since 2008,  according to the 2009 Marketing Gap Report from fast.MAP and the DMA, yet nine out of ten people open direct mail.

The same report found that while email may be the new ‘junk,’ consumer receptiveness of direct mail has risen 6% over the same period. What is more, Royal Mail figures show that while direct mail volumes may be down, there are in fact more users of the medium than ever. Indeed, direct mail is experiencing something of a renaissance.

It suffered as a marketing channel for many reasons, not least because of its junk-mail image. But recently direct mail has undergone a change in its fortunes as it adapts to the omnipresence of new media. Integrated campaigns, using a combination of on- and offline channels, have proved to reap the biggest rewards for brands. Add to this its targetability and measurability, and direct mail can significantly boost results, particularly in generating new business.

The online connection
Many highly successful campaigns now link direct mail with online activity. Think of the personalised URL – with it direct mail becomes an eye-catching, highly targeted way of driving people online. Integrated with social media, it enables brands to reward their followers and advocates with something tangible.

A recent example of this is sea-rescue charity RNLI, which used direct mail to great success in a campaign to raise awareness among 15- to 20-year-olds. Twelve influential ‘vloggers’ were targeted with a direct mail pack, resulting in more than 1m viewings of the vloggers’ musings on RNLI. The campaign reached 11% of the target audience.

The campaign turned the charity into one of the most talked about on the internet, and resulted in RNLI and its agency,
Proximity London, winning the 2009 DMA Awards Grand Prix.

For brands that have predominately been online-only, there is now the recognition that direct mail creates cut-through where email may now fail due to the huge volumes hitting our in-boxes daily.

Fashion retailer ASOS.com is a big user of social media, but it also sends out a monthly glossy fashion magazine (left) as a loyalty tool, along with a supplement specifically aimed at driving acquisition.

Another online brand, Firebox.com, sends out a traditional catalogue with the express aim of driving online sales.

An upmarket channel
Direct mail is also being used to communicate with higher-value customers (see below). Mail is tangible, visual and measurable on a level not shared by other media.

There are other factors, too, that have contributed to this rebirth. The biggest reason for the falling direct-mail volumes in recent years is, in fact, a positive one – that of vastly improved targeting techniques, leading to lower volumes but better results.Targeting has become increasingly refined, allowing brands to really pinpoint their desired audience. And with marketers everywhere under immense pressure to deliver more for less, this is greatly significant.

Postal costs are still a significant slice of overall marketing spend, and the need for transparent cost-effectiveness has been met by the savings possible through a wide range of postage discounts and mailing incentives. In fact, the deregulation of the postal market has contributed greatly to making direct mail more affordable.

The number of licence-holders has now risen to 50, and within that there is a huge range of suppliers and services. While busy marketers may lack the time to study all these offers themselves, this is precisely where OnePost has developed its niche. As an independent postal broker, OnePost researches the attributes of the various postal options for clients on both a cost and service basis, and it manages these solutions on their behalf (see below).

As a result of all of these factors, it is without doubt a tighter, stronger, more responsible industry. The junk-mail tag
is dying, too, with recycling targets for 2009 not only met but exceeded, and the industry already ahead of its 2013 target of 70% (76.5% of direct marketing material was recycled last year).

At the end of the day, however, it is, and always should be, the consumer who sets the agenda. And consumers are saying they welcome direct marketing through a multitude of channels, providing the timing, message and medium are relevant to them. And with campaigns such as those from RNLI and Waitrose showing people just how relevant and clever direct mail can be, the future for this medium is a bright one.

Graham Cooper is managing director of OnePost


The flexibility of direct mail means it is increasingly the medium of choice for brands to contact higher-value customers. It can take almost any form, from the simplest of letters to a coffee-table book.

Last Easter, Waitrose sent a hamper to select members of its MyWaitrose online food club with the ingredients for a rhubarb and ginger brulée, to promote its partnership with TV chefs Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal.

LoveFilm, meanwhile, sends out a direct mail pack to its members to pass on to friends (ie, potential customers). Last Christmas, it sent a charades-style pack, offering members two months’ free rental for recruiting friends and family and the chance to win £5,000.

Haydn Tomkins, media manager at TCS Media, says there are good reasons for using direct mail in this way. ‘It is one of the first media considered for higher-value customers because it’s delivered directly to the home, and because of the amount of information it can give,’ she says.

‘Online does have its limits: it is not as measurable as direct mail, nor does it have that "intrusive" factor of putting what you want directly in front of the recipient.’ TCS Media has used it to target higher value-customers for clients including Laura Ashley and AGA, as well as in campaigns to arts and enter-tainment audiences.

Mixed with social media, direct mail can be particularly powerful. A brand could use social media to obtain an insight into what motivates a particular segment, and use this informat-ion to mail them offers and rewards to incentivise action, such as brand advocacy.


With so many licence-holders and delivery services to choose from, making the right decision can be difficult. Postal watchdog Postcomm has a handy checklist of questions to ask at www.psc.gov.uk/competition/reviewing-your-mail-services-provider.html, but the main challenges for any brand, along with choosing the right supplier, are managing delivery times and costs.

When business publisher Crain Communications launched business weekly Crain’s Manchester Business in 2007, it needed to hit its readership on a Monday morning, but its 7pm Friday editorial deadline meant it couldn’t mail out until Saturday morning. Standard delivery time using downstream access, however, was two days.

OnePost sourced independent collections and directed deliveries from the printers into the four Royal Mail Inward Mail Centres in Greater Manchester. Mailing data was split four ways, and separate collections and direct deliveries were set up. This meant Crain’s could stick to its deadlines and gain postal savings of more than 20%.

Any brand can reduce its direct-mail costs. Proper targeting and data cleaning are vital, and green initiatives also help. Prominently displaying ‘recycle’ logos encourages recipients to do so, while moves such as environmental standard PAS 2020 and Royal Mail’s Sustainable Mail product, help marketers make mailings greener, some rewarding with a discount.


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