In this digital-first era it would be easy to assume that mail is dying a long and slow death — that people are so welded to their screens, the ping of infinite email notifications might permanently drown out the clattering letterbox.
For the moment at least, nothing could be further from the truth. A clutch of recent studies reveals mail retains a healthy place in the marketing mix. Among them, the finding that Gen Z especially likes the novelty of receiving addressed mail, and that the humble mailpack is highly effective when dovetailed with mobile marketing campaigns.
So far, so good: rumors of direct mail’s demise are greatly exaggerated. But the truth is, the naysayers may have a point. Unless innovation and inspiration come to the channel’s rescue those fortunes might well reverse.
Why New Ideas are Needed to Save Mail
Though it pains me to admit it, I remember clearly the heady days four decades ago when direct mail burst on the scene to a blitz of marketing budgets. The new kid on the block was the next big thing. Measurement was the key.
In comparison to the “see what sticks” approach of above-the-line channels including TV and outdoor ads, mail’s effectiveness was much easier to pin down. The Business Reply Envelope was the medium’s golden ticket.
Fast forward to the turn of the century, however, and questions were being asked about response rates and volume pricing. Mail’s cause wasn’t helped by the arrival of a new marketing idol. Email, and digital channels in general, began to dominate the scene as seemingly the most effective and efficient way of getting consumers’ attention.
And so it has been ever since. But I believe positive change is within reach. Mail can remain buoyant as a marketing channel. But that requires will, and a different approach — not least with pricing.
Reframing the Race to the Bottom
As easy as it is to criticize the UK’s national postal operator, I can’t help but point the finger at Royal Mail. Of course, the company has a number of pressing issues on its plate at the moment, not least the industrial action that began over the summer.
Marketers, too, feel disgruntled. There seems to be a mindset that the best way to fix the market is to inflate costs. The problem with this approach is twofold. Many brands look elsewhere to channels that make more sense, while the whole thing becomes a race to the bottom on price.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many people at Royal Mail who are doing good things for our industry. Equally, there are others standing in the way of progress, innovation and the sustainable future of mail as a marketing channel.
Go Inspire is on a mission to further mail’s cause, making sure it appeals to the masses. It’s the traditional channel for older consumers, where they feel comfortable and certain their brand interactions aren’t open to fraud. It’s also proving a winner with younger people too, as stated earlier.
In a way, mail’s enduring appeal is no surprise. We’ve all got inbox fatigue. We’re bombarded there with email messages from brands such that we become blind to most, tossing them without bothering to read them.
And sometimes, I’ll sift through my junk folder and spot an offer that may have made my debit card twitch in my pocket — if only I’d seen it at the right moment.
Mail, on the other hand, has the power to stop us in our tracks. It can persuade us to purchase something we didn’t know we wanted. Sometimes we keep a mailpack around for days or even weeks while we mull over the offer. Mail is a market creator.
It’s Time to Deliver Mail Innovation
I believe we need a new mail manifesto. One that wraps in all industry players: brands, agencies, suppliers, trade organizations — and Royal Mail.
Let’s discuss and devise ways around the price-dominated agenda. Let’s agree that mail has a bright future, scoping out the benefits of innovation that includes programmatic mail: targeted, hybrid mail-to-digital campaigns that let us see consumer activity in real time.
And let’s create products and value propositions that captivate the C-suite, persuading them that mail campaigns can truly build brand value. Only then will they move to protect its place in the marketing mix.
So don’t listen to the doom-mongers. Mail’s moment isn’t gone, it can grow its share and have a bright future. The Last Post is still a long way off.
Patrick Headley is CEO of Go Inspire Group. Joining Go Inspire in 1993, he has been at the forefront of the Group’s transition to a £70m turnover business and Marketing Performance Partner to some of the UK’s biggest businesses. Spearheading over £20m investment in technology and people as well as a 2016 MBO, Headley is results-driven and determined in his belief for the business. Enthusiastic in sharing his vision, he has held positions on Royal Mail, DMA and other industry councils. Headley frequently speaks at industry events, educating customers and agencies on the benefits of targeted communications.