Mark Ritson on branding: Royal Mail delivers results - now for the brand

What a difference a year makes for Royal Mail. Revenues are at record levels and last year's £300m losses have become a profit of more than £500m. Staff morale seems to be on the rise and chief executive Adam Crozier, who once promised to resign if Royal Mail did not improve, has just received a £2.2m bonus for a job well done.

Arguably, much of Royal Mail's turnaround success can be attributed to price rises, cost savings and a company that has an effective monopoly in a massive market. But one thing that cannot be ignored is the remarkable improvement in the performance of mail delivery itself.

Crozier and his team went to great lengths to ensure a representative and rigorous measurement system to record the post's performance. They brought in independent WPP firm Research International, which set up a stringent system whereby 30,000 pieces of mail were sent by 8000 research agents to 121 different postcodes. To ensure complete objectivity, this independent measurement system has also been audited by accountancy firm Deloitte & Touche.

The recently published performance figures for the final quarter of the 2004-2005 year show that 92.8% of first-class letters were delivered the following day, a nudge away from the target figure of 93%, while 98.7% of second-class letters were delivered within the target time. Not bad for an organisation that missed 15 out of 16 targets the previous year.

Yet despite these enormous strides in its objective performance, criticism of Royal Mail continues to bubble over. Last weekend The Sunday Telegraph reported on the mass of 'anecdotal evidence' suggesting that Royal Mail continues to disappoint its customers. It referred to the many letters it continues to receive from angry consumers and quoted one, who complained that his 'local sorting office keeps to no set pattern, mail comes sometimes late afternoon and is frequently delivered to addresses bearing no relation to the address shown on the envelope'.

Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone has been collating the experiences of her constituents and takes a similar view. She claims Royal Mail's current performance is 'not acceptable' and is seeking a meeting with Royal Mail to press for action.

Worse still, Postwatch, the independent body set up on behalf of consumers, has openly questioned the methodology used by Royal Mail and Research International in reporting the performance figures. Alleging that the two organisations have become too close, Postwatch argues that Royal Mail knows who the mailers are and that consequently the impressive performance levels for 2005 are questionable - an allegation rejected by Royal Mail.

So are Royal Mail and Research International massaging the numbers? If so, it is a scandal of unprecedented proportions involving one of Britain's most established brands and one of the world's most prestigious and independent market research companies.

More likely, we are witnessing a classic situation in marketing. Objective performance improvements are not quite the same thing as subjective interpretations.

In marketing, we concern ourselves with both topics, but the ultimate emphasis falls on the latter.

After three years of negative editorials and word of mouth, it will be quite some time before the brand catches up with the service. Until then, newspaper journalists, MPs and forthright customers will continue to lambast Royal Mail for its past sins.

Either that, or, improbably, the biggest scandal in the history of market research is being perpetrated by sinister managers hell-bent on delivering spin, rather than the mail.

30 SECONDS ON ... ROYAL MAIL

- Three years ago, prior to the appointment of chairman Alan Leighton and chief executive Adam Crozier, the Royal Mail was mired in industrial dispute, negative public relations and a daily loss of £1.5m.

- A year ago more than 14m letters had been lost and a Channel 4 documentary showed untrained postmen dumping bags of mail, rather than delivering them.

- Earlier this year Royal Mail announced a 145% increase in annual profits to £537m, triggering a bonus of £2m for Crozier and more than £1000 for 180,000 postal workers.

- These bonuses amounted to £218m of Royal Mail's profits.

- 30% of Britain's postal market is exposed to competition. The government's planned introduction of full competition by 2007 has been brought forward to January 2006, because the industry regulator, Postcomm, has been so impressed by the turnaround in Royal Mail's performance.

Discussion

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

Latest

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
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer