Mike Colling reappraises direct mail revealing why it’s on the rise

Submitted by: Jess Taylor 21/06/2016

Mike Colling, founder and CEO of media agency MC&C, gets to grips with the appeal of direct mail and why its on the rise.

The reputation of mail is currently one of bubbling curiosity. If you’d asked me two years ago, I think its reputation would have been, at best, a dinosaur medium. But over the last two years, particularly 2015, marketers have started talking about it again. There are three reasons for that.

The first is the body of research that Royal Mail has done over the last 18 months, which has dragged mail kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. They have made the sort of investment that previously only television, posters or digital media have made in terms of understanding their medium, gaining enterprise-level insight into how consumers use and value mail.

With their Private Life of Mail research, Royal Mail conducted the largest ever neuroscience study by a European media owner, wiring up consumers while they read their mail to understand the impact that mail has on their brains. So rather than doing another case study that just says ‘Mail works’, they did some fundamental research that says ‘This is how mail works with consumers’ brains and in their lives’. It’s groundbreaking.

 

 

The second thing is that we’re seeing a turnaround in mail volumes. We’ve now got two quarters-worth of evidence that clients are mailing more, so there’s real growth in the retail letters business.

Then the final thing is a reappraisal of the efficacy of digital investments. Growth in search has topped out and there are big concerns over data fraud, viewability and even audience engagement in the digital world. There’s a reappraisal of the amount of investment being made in digital media in the UK.

But there are still hurdles for clients and the mail marketing industry itself, including understanding what consumers value in mail. The trend over the last 15 years has been for cheaper and cheaper packs, driving down the cost of production.

That may be the wrong trend. If you look at the IPA Touchpoints data, more than three quarters of us read mail every a day, with the average adult spending 21 minutes per day reading mail.

Now given that each of us only gets around nine pieces a week, that means a consumer will spend up to 10 minutes reading a piece of mail. So why do we send them crappy little envelopes full of toilet paper? It’s like booking a 60-second television spot then creating a 20-second commercial. It turns out that the most effective pieces of mail are highly personalised, highly individualised, highly tactile and highly involving.

Isn’t the insight from this that clients need to invest in high quality pieces created by experts? In the future you’ll see more and more people moving towards trigger-based mail. You’re actually seeing that now, with the interest in digital and on-demand printing, but we see a future where mail will be used like re-targeted online banner ads. If you go to easyJet and don’t buy the flight, why wouldn’t they send you a letter rather than stalk you around the internet? Because you’re somewhere in the region of a hundred times more likely to buy the flight if you see a letter than an online banner.

These are the things that are bubbling around the whole mail industry at the moment, causing clients to reappraise the medium and move back towards it.