OPTICHROME BLOG Hot off the press

Direct Mail and Effective Marketing in the Age of Junk Mail

When was the last time you read the content of a pop-up, the extent of an unsolicited email, or a ‘sponsored’ post embedded into any social media site? In 2016, ‘junk mail’ is no longer a term to describe door-drop pizza menus, but irrelevant, poorly targeted emails, and now even tweets or Facebook advertisements, that most of us won’t even register. Just like its predecessor, junk mail 2.0 goes straight in the ‘trash,’ if it even reaches it in the first place, thanks to increasingly powerful online filters and ‘ad blockers.’ Why is it that we block out, consciously and unconsciously, communications that we might otherwise engage with?

Recent neuromarketing reports on the effectiveness of printed versus digital materials show that the brain’s ‘workspace’ has limited capacity, so as information is fired at us, it competes, and whatever is perceived to be most relevant at any given time will win over our ‘workspace,’ and our attention. This workspace process is inevitably on overdrive whilst we’re using the increasingly busy e-channels, encouraging what is known as ‘active ignoring.’ Our brain is diverting this excess information directly to the trash can, along with an innumerable amount of funds spent on digital marketing. In a staggering contrast, MRIs appear to show that tangible materials – print – leave a deeper ‘footprint’ on the brain – it encourages more mental processing, and generates more vivid memories. Print thus isn’t simply read, it’s internalised, emotionally processed, and actually related to our own thoughts and feelings.

These reports are particularly important when remembering the power of millennials – the first digital natives. Those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, who now harness great spending power, are establishing their own brand loyalties and paving their future spending, are the first generation to have been raised with this contemporary technology. They had email addresses before phone numbers, and smart phones before bank accounts – they are more contactable than any generation before them, but that doesn’t make them so easily reachable. An entire generation of active ignorers, they’re wary of ads in all their forms, and dedicated to blogs, reviews, and the social side of the internet. With 34% of 18-35s agreeing that ‘when a brand uses social media, I like that brand more,’ it seems that they even like their brands social.  However, as Goldman Sachs reports, all ages agree that a strong brand still isn’t enough to secure sales or ongoing business.

So is the answer for marketers a reversion to traditional, generic printed matter? Physical mail is more likely to be opened, and we now know it’s also more likely to be internalised, remembered, and emotionally connected with, and besides, as any big bank will tell you, ‘digitisation cannot offer a viable substitute for [all items].’ It’s not exactly that simple. Countless reports still note that communications that interrupt consumers when they are not receptive to it may have a negative effect on the brand, digital or not. The days of blanket door drops are long gone. They are filtering out just like junk mail 2.0 – because inundating individuals unnecessarily is bad for corporate image, and because it’s extremely difficult to track for effectiveness – it involves dropping generic, untargeted pieces onto doorsteps and hoping for the best, or at least, not to be actively ignored.

Enter direct mail. For many, personalising marketing materials can seem unnecessary or wasteful – when trying to communicate a simple message, or sharing some straightforward content, or when needing real-time information and updates. However in many instances it is the more astute, controlled, monitorable method. Response tracking allows organisations to tighten their mailing lists, with greater control over the ‘who’s ‘what’s ‘why’s and ‘where’s, creating a transparent process where wastage is totally accounted for, and where we can make use of data gleaned from the process for future improvement. With the ability to keep track of how effective you’re being, and ensure the direct mail reaches and markets only to those who are actually receptive to it, we can be more successful and economical. In terms of investment to reward, it is not expensive, and it is proven to demonstrate the customers’ value to them.

These factors, along with the avoidance of the high initial IT cost and investment associated with digitisation, the avoidance of unexpected costs (for example, some companies report that those receiving paper bills are much less likely to telephone in with billing enquires – requiring less expenditure on phone resources) have all lead many organisations toward direct mail. In fact, impressively, it is one of the few types of mail that has not decreased as a percentage of the UK mail bag in recent years – it has actually increased since 2009. Mail volume reports show that this growth, or at least its stability, is set for the next 10 years. Direct mail is proving itself to be somewhat of a phoenix in the industry – whilst many naysayers are crying the death of print; direct mail continues to rise as the preferred method for communication.

So what are all of these figures and reports telling us as printers, marketers, content creators, and communicators? If all of these channels are only somewhat effective alone, which can we rely on to support our goals? Simply put, the only way to effectively market to the masses, and the millennials, is to use an omnichannel, integrated approach, with direct mail at the helm. Alone, these platforms are each not enough to do everything, but harnessing them all with toward a holistic approach is a safe bet. Have a social media presence and utilise digital marketing for brand image, but don’t rely on it to make sales, spend on traditional printed material, but don’t irritate your customers by making it blanket, and utilise the power of direct mail to drive it all home – to track your customers, and your own effectiveness, and leverage the strong brand you’ve now created to generate engagement and sales.


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