Mail is back! What a relief after the last five years of wondering what was happening and worrying about how fragile the market for the physical mail product was at last there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you hadn’t noticed how the number of letters you received seemed to disappear from the door mat. Or the constant encouragement to go online with your bills and statements. And to add insult to injury we were asked to pay for a paper bill. It all started looking better at the end of 2012 and the demand has continued to increase through 2013. Continue reading
The passion surrounding the issue of ‘reversions’ (Royal Mail‘s surcharges for bulk mail that doesn’t meet their processiong specifications) is hardly surprising given that there are millions of pounds in lost revenue at stake – a huge figure for the mailing houses industry whose profits are built on slim margins. On the other side, it’s understandable why Royal Mail is pressing ahead with its programme of improving operational efficiency, which is why it is sharpening its focus on improving industry compliance with bulk mail processing specifications.
Securing the long-term success and prosperity of the direct mail marketing industry is the DMA’s responsibility and an objective shared by Royal Mail and other DMA members affected by the issue of reversion surcharges. As reported by Print Week, the DMA convened the Post Haste summit to bring its members together to find a speedy, equitable solution that is satisfactory to all.
The summit was the first time that Royal Mail unveiled its proposed plans for tackling the issue of reversions. It was pleasing to see that Royal Mail has made strong progress in creating a framework for providing information and support to bulk mailers to prevent them from incurring reversion surcharges in the future. This includes commitments to publish a ‘league table’ of the most common faults that lead to reversions and advice on how they can be avoided; regular reviews of their bulk mail processing specifications; and a more proportionate approach to surcharging mail that doesn’t meet specification. Taken overall, the proposed changes should provide a level of transparency, fairness and consistency in the application of reversions that many bulk mailers have perceived as being lacking to date.
The framework Royal Mail presented at the summit was a ‘work-in-progress’, though; how effective it will be in meeting its objectives will be decided in the details. Delegates at the summit responded to the proposals by raising a number of concerns about problems ranging from how envelopes should be sealed to flexibility in the guidelines for how letters must be addressed. Above all, there was agreement in the need to improve the lines of communications between Royal Mail and mailing houses. This was of particular concern given that Royal Mail typically does not have contracts with mailing houses, but as the originators of the mail it’s the mailing house that foots the bill for the reversion.
While the problems cited by both sides at the Post Haste summit are difficult and require careful thought, they certainly aren’t intractable. An encouraging outcome of the summit was Royal Mail’s expression of genuine desire to work with its wholesale customers and suppliers along the chain to arrive at a set of effective solutions. Equally pleasing, many DMA members have already made investments to improve their envelope sealing processes in recent weeks leading to improved quality control and adherence to specification.
However, in spite of the positive moves being made on both sides, there is still much work to do. All parties are intent on finding a solution but we need to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. As the only organisation that counts all parties as members, the DMA is in the perfect position to serve as the impartial host of a working party representing all of the main stakeholders. To that end, the DMA will continue to mediate and provide opportunities for communication on this issue and others until it is resolved.
From the start, let me clarify that I don’t believe for one minute that the UK door drop supplier market is currently able to mount a serious challenge to direct mail.
But if we’re talking cold acquisition, is the door opening?
The imminent postal charge increase has led to a frenzy of speculation of how that may affect direct mail (outgoing and inbound), so has there ever been a better time to test cold door drops versus cold direct mail?
From an image perspective, many marketers currently see door drops as a scatter gun approach in comparison to the rifle shot of direct mail – but that too is changing.
Door drops mirror many of the attributes of direct mail in terms of being a tangible and physical medium. And to some degree, may even hold some aces in terms of the types of format which can be easily handled and delivered.
Already this year we’ve handled the delivery of interesting die cut items, designed to create stand out on the doormat – and client feedback is already confirming that is happening.
It’s interesting that at the same time as increasing postal charges, Royal Mail door-to-door has raised the upper weight limit for door drop items from 100 to 200 grammes on its rate card – and possibly even beyond.
For an item weighing in a 180-200 gramme band, can delivery be achieved at just 15p per household?
With pretty much any direct mail piece probably fitting within RM D2D’s maximum size specifications, their door has arguably been flung open for advertisers to test.
And with the remainder of the door drop sector continuing to improve its ability to target and deliver door drop items in units of hundreds of households, rather than the thousands commonly associated with postal sector door drops, the pieces of a jigsaw are starting to fit together.
For clients willing to look at test programmes, it will be critical to determine at the outset a client’s primary target market and there are reliable processes to complete those tasks.
And clients’ should never base their targeting criteria on personal preferences or perceptions.
Aspiring to an ABC1 target market is a common trait amongst marketers, but if your targeting profile is wrong, door drops are not going to work – but don’t then blame the medium.
But are marketers willing to listen to new ideas and concepts – and test?
Speaking bluntly, I think such testing rarely appears on many marketers radar.
But how will they ever discover is there are viable alternatives out there if there is no testing programme?
Interestingly, in the last few months, we have come across a small band of marketers – almost exclusively clients direct – from a range of very different backgrounds who were prepared to dip their toes in the testing water.
Some lateral (very in some cases) thinking has been applied and test matrices created.
Only time will of course tell how the door drop activity will fare and compare, but some forward thinking clients are already committing to second stage testing activity, not being prepared to just give it one go and throw it away if it does not produce instant results.
Well done to them I say – they are almost pioneers.
Some of these clients are even undertaking the door drop activity against their agencies’ advice, which could be really interesting in the longer term.
Testing matrices can be created on relatively small budgets, but the learnings can be significant.
So, has there ever been a better time to test door drops?
Guest blogger Graham Dodd is the MD of the The Letterbox Consultancy. He has over 40 years of experience in the UK door drop sector, is a fellow of the Institute of Direct Marketing and a former member of the DMA’s Door Drop Council.
DMA guest blogger Peter Stockton is Mail Solutions Director at marketing services provider Communisis and has 25 years experience within the post and print industries. Peter was recently appointed to the Mailing Houses Council of the DMA, and has also been elected to the board of Royal Mail’s Strategic Mailing Partnership.
Much is being made in the media at the moment about the 40% price increase being levied by Royal Mail on the price of a first class stamp. While it’s been a hot topic for consumers, little has been mentioned in the media about the impact on business mail, including direct mail, at a time of severe economic austerity. As a knee-jerk reaction, many businesses might be tempted to simply direct their communications towards – frankly – cheaper channels. However, I for one would think that to be a short-sighted response to a valuable channel.
The price increase could indeed feel harmful to the industry, especially when marketing budgets are themselves being squeezed for every drop of value. However, as long as the benefits of the channel are recognised, the increased price tag attached might mean it is respected by those users who have misused it for so long.
Don’t ditch direct mail – it works
Direct mail works so well because it’s tangible. A well-executed piece should feel exclusive, intended for the recipient, and if it’s highly relevant it will be remembered and then used for its intended purpose.
Royal Mail’s own research tells us that direct mail is phenomenally engaging. Over the last year, 21.9m British adults have taken action as a result of receiving communication through their letterboxes. Of these, 8.3 million have kept this piece of mail for reference. Some 2.8 million have tried a new product or service. Furthermore, 3.7 million have passed the piece on to someone else. It has made 6.2 million people go online to order something and 7.3 million visit a store or pick something up in person.
According to fastMAP, nine out of 10 people open direct mail. It’s equal with email as most people’s favoured communication route nationwide. And alongside internet and search, it was one of the few channels to see an increase in spend in marketers’ budgets, as confirmed by the last IPA Bellwether report. Not to mention it’s one of the most targetable media through the growing amount of data generated by customers; something which will be music to budget holders’ ears given ROI and minimising wastage are at the forefront of many marketers’ minds right now.
Potential to become a premium DM channel
What we’re starting to see in modern direct mail is not only a more mature medium, but one which is flexible, easily integrated with other channels, and keen to play to its strengths. Direct mail is not just about communicating to the masses. Direct mail is about physical, tangible, personal, one-to-one communication. It’s not easy, and so it should no longer be seen as ‘cheap’. What mail has the potential to become is a premium personal channel. Marketing needs to stop the search for a ‘one size fits all’ channel solution. Given the vast variety of people’s preferences, there’s never going to be one channel which ticks all those boxes. What has emerged is a real toolbox where brands can apply the best tools for the job in hand, in combination, to get the job done right.
In terms of creating the right message and getting it to the right person at the right time, it’s a cliché, but direct mail delivers. Royal Mail research has proven that adding mail to the multimedia mix delivers an increased ROI. At the moment, that’s what budget holders are looking for. Furthermore, even a humble door drop has been proven to be more memorable than a TV or radio advert. The channel connects with people.
The postal price increases are large, and will hit companies in the pocket just when many around the UK could do with a break. However, with judicious planning many can still employ direct mail to good effect – especially as the risk of competing with other campaigns landing at the same time as yours will be arguably lessened.