Print DM seeks a digital future

Print DM looks for digital innovation
Print DM looks for digital innovation

Royal Mail wants to use technology to boost the effectiveness of direct mail, writes Alex Brownsell.

In the oft-criticised world of paper-based direct marketing, genuine innovation has been hard to come by. With digital marketing spend in the ascendancy, Royal Mail, which depends heavily on brands' direct marketing investment, has turned to technology in an attempt to reinvigorate the reputation of the medium.

Its 'digital watermarking' service enables smartphone users to take a photo of a mail pack and then, via an app, access exclusive content and special deals through their handset.

This is not the first time mail distributors have sought to beef up their proposition through gadgetry.

A couple of years ago, Royal Mail unveiled its Sony eBridge branded DVD service, which, when consumers logged on, offered personalised messages. However, although novel, and trialled by automotive brands including Honda and Mercedes-Benz, the initiative proved too costly and weak on ROI for some.

Royal Mail has higher hopes for digital watermarking. Developed by software maker Digital Space, it aims to take up where Quick Response (QR) codes have left off, and capitalise on the prevalence of smartphones.

Integrating technology

Chris Whitson, planning partner at direct marketing agency Stephens Francis Whitson, praises Royal Mail for using direct mail as a driver of online traffic, as well as trying to take advantage of consumers' distaste for email marketing.

'There have been many suggestions that direct mail is no longer a powerful sales driver and has been superseded by email, but we are seeing a big change in the medium as a strong driver of online interaction,' he says. 'The email channel has been so badly abused by brands that view it as a quick and cheap way to communicate without giving thought to content, that we have all witnessed a decrease in openand click-through rates and, ultimately, in sales.'

Brands' use of QR codes has increased, with the likes of Nike, Debenhams and Waitrose integrating the technology into their ads. The latter incorporated QR into its TV campaign featuring Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith, offering recipes for those scanning the codes.

'We were the first UK retailer to use QR codes in a TV campaign, so there was a fairly low awareness of them at that time,' says Fiona Hall, manager, innovation, at Waitrose. 'There is still a lot of work to do across the industry as a whole to raise awareness of QR codes before they are adopted by the mainstream. Our Christmas campaign was a success as the number of scans well exceeded our expectations.'

The free Digital Space app for digital watermarking will be available in the Apple and Android app stores. Despite this, Garry Moore, head of digital planning at below-the-line agency DAD, questions the potency of content that can be accessed only by downloading certain software.

He argues that advertisers risk disappointing consumers if the content does not match the effort required to access it. 'If it just takes me to a normal website, I'm going to delete the app, and that is a barrier to entry,' he warns.

Philip Ricketts, head of door-to-door strategy, sales and marketing at Royal Mail, claims the venture proves the organisation is adapting to 'meet advertiser needs'. It is perhaps more demonstrative of a medium in search of a dose of razzle-dazzle, and the ability to measurably prove its worth.

'We need to change the perception of the medium,' says Ricketts. 'We have traditionally invested in creating a value offering for advertisers, but digital watermarking creates awareness of their products and provides a direct measurement point for advertisers.'

Signal of intent

Although Royal Mail is yet to recruit any brands to the scheme, Ricketts insists there has been 'strong agency and client interest'.

Ultimately, digital watermarking may prove an early version of more viable and affordable future technologies, but the display of creativity is important for the direct mail industry.

As Ricketts ruefully observes, less than 1% of the total annual marketing spend in the UK is accounted for by door-drops, and that figure will only diminish further if innovation is confined to offline services.


87% of people surveyed recalled leaflets posted through their door.

9% v3% - Door-drop response rates versus direct mail industry standard.

25-34 - Age group most likely to respond to door-drops.

Source: Mail Media Centre 2010/DataTalk/TGI


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers