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Business Opportunities

Direct Mail

As brands and marketing companies face more challenges regarding the ways they communicate with customers, is direct mail becoming increasingly relevant as end-users favour personal and customised marketing methods?

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A return to form?

One of the biggest challenges to printers and marketing companies over the last few decades has been the steady switch to digital marketing channels.
Direct mail can often be a symboliser of trends and patterns in the industry as it is one of the clearest and most eye-catching forms of printed media.

At the recent Power of Print event at the historic Stationers’ Hall in London, many marketing specialists and direct mail companies presented research and studies that demonstrated the challenges and changes that both print and digital channels are facing.

Mark Davies, managing director of Whistl, told attendees of the event that digital marketing had increased by 60% since 2013, and that social media and email marketing was a big lure for many brands and businesses.

But with increasing problems like the removal of third-party cookies coming into effect in 2024 and more and more digital filters and misinformation flooding the market place, Davies reminded the audience that print is the only option that can give good responses and answers to these challenges.

With sustainability, greenwashing, rising costs, digital fatigue, and new communication methods constantly coming to the forefront, what can the world of direct mail offer print and marketing companies?

Understanding Digital

With direct mail becoming largely a huge tool for marketing, the changes and trends within marketing and the competition/additions in digital alternatives continue to change the industry.

Research by Relay42 found that brands were ill-prepared for a world without third-party cookies earlier in the year. According to the company 72% of chief marketing officers recognised the need for radical changes to acquisition and retention strategies in a cookie-less world, yet many are still unprepared. 

London Research conducted a report into business’ readiness for the loss of third-party cookies

Google has continuously delayed plans to fully transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) as its default analytics tool which could see thousands of brands lose access to valuable data.

Companies like Apple have brought more and more restrictions in place to give users more control over what data they share while initiatives like GDPR have led to a revolution of consumers becoming more particular about the information they share.

Relay42’s research has found that there is no single technology or solution that can directly replace third-party cookies and that the future will involve integrating multiple solutions.

According to Relay42, solutions that are already being used or are in early stages of use are GA4 (70%), contextual advertising (66%), data clean rooms (64%), first-party data unification (63%), and identity management (61%).

O Factoid: According to Relay42, solutions that are replacing third-party cookies include GA4 (70%), contextual advertising (66%), data clean rooms (64%), first-party data unification (63%), and identity management (61%)  O

Tomas Salfischberger, chief executive officer and founder at Relay42, says: "It's really encouraging to see that the majority of senior marketers understand the necessity to make the shift towards first-party data.

“Unsurprisingly, businesses that have already made that investment via a Customer Data Platform (CDP) are much more prepared for the transition and see the change as having a positive influence on their business.”

Relay42’s report into the loss of third-party cookies found that companies equipped with CDPs demonstrate higher digital marketing skills and capabilities. These companies are also six times more likely to leverage AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning, four times more likely to have integrated Adtech and Martech, and twenty times more likely to have first- and zero-party data integration across owned and paid channels.

Linus Gregoriadis co-founder and director of London Research, comments: "The deprecation of third-party cookies is a hugely significant sea-change for marketing which companies typically need to do more to prepare themselves for.

"The onus is falling on chief marketing officers to make sure that they are steering their marketing strategies in the right direction. This research highlights the threat for brands but also focuses on the opportunity for companies that can tackle the challenges.”

As a provider of specialist end-to-end e-commerce logistics company, Whistl Group has seen big changes in the trends and ways marketing is communicated, especially due to the changes in digital marketing.

Davies says: “In planning their 2024 campaigns, marketers need to wake up to the reality of a cookie-less future, and as part of that change, we want them to reconsider using print as part of their marketing mix.”

Mark Davies, managing director of Whistl, recently gave a presentation at Power of Print 2023

In order to compete with digital marketing Whistl Doordrop Media launched Leafletdrop a self-service leaflet campaign booking tool to compete with tools like Google Ads and Meta ads.

Davies adds: “Many advertisers who have discovered doordrops recently consider it the missing ingredient driving improved effectiveness through broadcast, direct, and digital channels. Through Leafletdrop, we have made creating, targeting, and booking a campaign easier than Google and Meta Ads.

“Remember, good new-fashioned doordrop media remains on par unless more effective than digital advertising. It’s time for the new generation of marketers to give targeted leaflet advertising that delivers a go.”

According to JICMAIL, door drops are among the most attention-efficient media channels available, costing 7p a minute of consumer attention which compares favourably to digital channels at 19p for the same impact.

Direct mail and door drops are both solutions for marketing companies that can be provided by mail and print specialists and research and feedback in the industry shows that both solutions can be successful.

In 2022, sustainable marketing agency, WebMart, highlighted the differences between direct mail and door drops, admitting that there was no answer to the question “which is better?” stating that the choice of campaign depends on target audience, brand, and budget.

Compared to direct mail, door drops don’t use personal data and are dropped at houses based on postal sectors, making them far more GDPR compliant.

Webmart prides itself on the way it has pivoted and adapted itself to fit the needs of customers, offering a range of services including print and digital, championing integrated marketing campaigns all with a sustainable focus.

Even digital communications have an impact on the environment, a fact that many brands and marketing companies forget when comparing the model to printed marketing.

Companies like Webmart and groups like TwoSides have worked for many years to bring this information to the masses and allow digital and print to co-exist when tackling the climate crisis together.

TwoSides has highlighted information from the European Commission in 2020 which showed that the ICT industry accounts for 5 to 9% of electricity use, which is more than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If left unchecked the footprint could increase to 14% of emissions by 2040.

Speaking about the focus on sustainability, Strategic Mailing Partnership (SMP) chair, Lucy Swanston, says: “Making sustainable choices has been a key focus for brand owners [this year], however there is an engrained perception amongst many marketers that mail is a less sustainable choice than digital.

“To empirically dispel this belief, Marketreach undertook a robust analysis of the carbon footprint of mail across its lifecycle. The independent study confirmed what we had always known – mail is a highly sustainable channel when the right choices are made. As well as communicating this to the market through a partnership with international media expert WARC, Marketreach created tools to help brands produce carbon smart mail.”

Navigating Choppy Waters

When it comes to printed mail there are just as many considerations regarding data and regulations as there now are in digital.

However, as research shows, the benefits for brands and customers far exceed digital communications as a personalised piece of mail is far more striking than an email or pop-up advertisement.

Experts in customer experiences, Quadient, has conducted research recently that reveals almost two-thirds of consumers are more likely to read a letter than an email. The company has highlighted that the UK government is backing digital technology more than ever, so is warning businesses against disregarding physical media.

Quadient says that communications need to be made in the right way as research has found that almost half of consumers have been annoyed by receiving a letter that looked threatening or alarming such as final notices or medical results.

“Depending on the reason for contacting customers, companies need to strike the right balance between using letters, or emails and other digital communication channels,” says Anthony Coo, product head at Quadient.

“If somebody receives a letter from their solicitor or bank and is concerned it is about something hugely important, then it turns out to be an attempted cross-sell from a partner, they are likely to be irritated. In this instance, digital channels could be more appropriate.”

Speaking about understanding the benefits of digital, Quadient says understanding the need for immediacy and ease of access with emails can better help when selling the individual benefits of direct mail.

“Businesses need to play to the strengths of both letters and emails, it’s dangerous to assume your customers will want one or the other,” Coo adds.

“For instance, businesses serving an older customer base may assume they won’t respond well to email – but this is not the case. People aged 55 and over are more appreciative of the instant, always-available nature of email.

Overall, businesses need to think strategically about the different scenarios in which they contact customers, and which communication channel fits the job.”

The continued changing landscape of various industries has meant many businesses and brands have continued to experiment with different revenue streams and ways of approaching customers.

Gone are the days of tried and tested operations in which marketing companies can invest in established and strong solutions.

The many disrupters and curveballs thrown at various industries over the last decade has meant printers and mail providers need to navigate choppy waters more than ever.

The many disrupters and curveballs thrown at various industries over the last decade has meant printers and mail providers need to navigate choppy waters more than ever

Regarding increasing mail costs, Coo says: “The increased prices are likely to mean organisations look more closely at the type of mail they are sending in terms of both the content and the recipient.

“With postage now presenting a bigger expense to businesses, they’ll look to ensure that every piece of mail is necessary and is delivered to the right address the first time around. This also means they’ll need to make sure they are using the best Royal Mail tariff and schemes for their business to reduce postage costs where they can.”

“It has been a rocky year for all media channels,” says Swanston, adding: “Brands have been holding back from committing budgets until the last minute, which has led to uncertainty and unease as well as a degree of short-termism. The result is too often quick fix, tactical messaging rather than strategic brand and relationship building campaigns.

Digital fatigue has often been cited as a way for printers to promote the attraction of print

“This year we have seen smarter mail, with brands and SMP members drawing on their collective knowledge and expertise to produce even more responsive, creative, and impactful campaigns.

Collaborating with various associations and businesses within the various print and mail related sectors, the SMP has seen a variety of different research and approaches that continue to change the way direct mail operates.

Swanston says: “JICMAIL data and insight has become pivotal in shaping every facet of mail, influencing audience selection, format, and response mechanics.

“QR codes not only allow the seamless movement from mail to online, but also enhance the ability to track campaigns in real time. Data has been the powerhouse driving campaigns, with many brands using it ever more intelligently to achieve powerful targeting and to drive greater personalisation.”

Swanston explains: “This could be through retargeting customers with programmatic mail, delivering uniquely personal messaging based on customer behaviour or empowering customers to create customised brochures. We are also seeing a desire to produce more sustainable mail, with SMP members spearheading this movement through more sustainable inks, paper, and processes.”

Value in Print

As 2024/25 looks to bring some good news in regard to financial stability and market confidence thanks to new innovations, it's more important than ever to trust the value of print.

The unification of many brands and the out of box ideas that many businesses are undertaking means that direct mail and door drops can be easy and in some cases new avenues for businesses to market themselves.

As seen in the aforementioned research and studies, digital is still a major competitor to print but should also be embraced for both its strengths and its flaws.

Swanston comments: “Mail and digital are both powerful channels that have distinct advantages and achieve success in different ways. Digital’s strength lies in immediate messaging that can be engaged with in the moment, at any time, in any place. Mail, on the other hand, offers a deeper, longer-term engagement.”

JICMAIL Attention Research shows that over 90% of mail is engaged with in some way or form as opposed to the open rate of emails at just 32%.

Research shows that over 90% of mail is engaged with in some way or form as opposed to the open rate of emails at just 32%

“Mail isn’t just engaging consumers by being looked at; it grabs their focused attention at significant levels – vital in this increasingly media-noisy world,” adds Swanston. “JICMAIL attention figures show mail can achieve up to 150 seconds of attention in 28 days.

“Marketreach’s latest research shows that mail achieves consumers’ full concentration; they are unlikely to be doing anything else while engaging with a mailing, remarkable in today’s multi-screen world. People keep mail, unlike emails which are often deleted immediately. Mail stays in the home for days, weeks, and even years, serving as a reminder to consider the brand and take action.”

While it's undeniable that the industry continues to face many challenges, direct mail shares many of the hurdles faced with print.

Digital marketing and sustainability are both areas that can be embraced to embolden print and also become a part of product offering.

Swanston concludes: “Research shows that consumers want both mail and email, and, importantly, most (83%) want to have the choice of how they receive their communications rather than being automatically switched to digital.

“It’s not one against the other, it’s about knowing which channel is best suited to the message an organisation wants to send and the outcome they want to achieve. When you want people to see your message, consider it, spend time with it, and ultimately act on it, mail remains the best choice.”

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