Watson: Push the envelope to fight ad mail price hike

watson2Royal Mail’s potential takeover by Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský might be grabbing all the headlines but users of direct mail have far bigger issues to worry about following the company’s decision to hike advertising mail prices by an inflation busting 10.7%; the second rise in 10 months.

Yet, while there is little client marketers can do about Křetínský’s manoeuvres, help with softening the blow of the price increase is at hand in the form of industry legend John Watson, the chairman and group CEO of WPNC.

Watson, who launched one of the UK’s first direct marketing agencies, then built WWAV (now Rapp) into a powerhouse and helped set up both the DMA and IDM, is still as passionate about the industry today.

And, having first started working on direct mail packs in the late 1960s, when most of today’s clients had not even been born, it is fair to that he knows a thing or two about the medium.

On LinkedIn, Watson writes: “While most sensible media owners would respond to falling demand by reducing prices, Royal Mail have taken the novel approach of increasing prices.

“And given the non-negotiable nature of Royal Mail pricing (again, sensible media owners look at demand pricing to balance volume and value) the only way to get ROIs to something halfway reasonable is to squeeze the pack production cost.

“Clients, not surprisingly, look for the lowest possible cost, and standardisation is the easiest way of achieving this.”

Watson goes on to explain that the envelope is a case in point. With C4 window envelopes produced in billions, they are the cheapest option for any pack, so the overwhelming volume of mail goes out in a C4 window envelope. Even though overall mail volumes have dropped, the most-mailed demographic – usually older – are therefore getting a lot of C4 window envelopes pushed through their doors.

He adds: “While brands can overprint images to give some differentiation, this simply says ‘Hi, I’m junk mail’. I’m not sure this is the best way to start your conversation.”

But, as Watson stresses, this can be overcome with a three-step approach.

“First, use almost any other envelope than C4. D/L is good…but special envelopes can work well too. Long ‘legal’ shapes can be impressive. Square envelopes seem to suggest a card is inside.

“Second, the use of imagery is questionable. Would it be better to use a blank? I still like plain manila.

“Third, why the window? Yes, it’s cheaper. But that’s the big giveaway. Production houses are very nifty at producing closed-face envelopes, upon which you can print the name and address (some practitioners use what looks extraordinarily like real handwriting).  And while you’re thinking about this, you can drop the PPI and use a laser-printed postage stamp instead.”

Watson concedes that this will cost more but concludes: “While your competitors are sending out cheap standardised junk mail packs, you’re sending out interesting-looking letters. Guess who wins?”

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