Physical presence is key in virtual world

“Direct mail, door-drops and inserts – that’s the printed stuff that falls on your mat or drops out of the magazine, isn’t it? No-one looks at that stuff. Not very ‘now’, not very ‘social media’. Why on earth are you doing that?”
So we ask, in an increasingly virtual marketing world, is there still a place for the physical? The simple answer is yes.
Indeed, there should be a place in any marketing mix for any media that demonstrates cost-effective outcomes and real return on investment (and Facebook ‘likes’ are neither payback nor ROI, despite what it says on every award submission I’ve read lately).
In my experience – across 25 years in government communications – printed direct communications have delivered and continue to deliver in spades, regardless of any great digital innovations.
The fact that they are left on your doormat or fall out of the magazine means you have to bend down to pick them up and that’s the first test. Indeed, any time I’ve chaired the DMA Awards door-drop category, I’ve always thrown the entries on the floor, gathered the judges in a circle and asked them which stand out. It might be size, shape, branding or it may be that the piece was well integrated creatively into a wider campaign, where it has been recognised because of that TV commercial that either prefaces “watch out for this leaflet coming through your door soon” or complements with appropriate linking imagery/content.
On many occasions in government – from Aids in 1987 through to Preparing for Emergencies and Voter Registration – we used TV to set the scene prior to a national door-drop and the door drop itself to provide the complexity of content you can’t put over in 30 seconds.
This broadcast activity creates the right environment for the detail to be received as important, and research shows that being exposed to both means the door-drop is more likely to be read, kept and acted upon. At 80p, the launch of the Organ Donor Register through News-share door drop remains the cheapest cost per registration I’ve ever seen.
And whilst TV support and press ‘mop-up’ activity are appropriate for messages of national import, direct mail, door-drops or inserts in combination with other media are excellent for targeting at a local level and ideal for piloting. NHS 111, and the FSA’s Money Made Clear are just a couple of examples where tests of direct materials played a key role in driving quality response in regional pilots, from the right people.
There are plenty of examples of creative targeted direct mail which has really made a difference, whether it be a condom, a medicine bottle, a nut off a fighter jet, an Airfix kit in an RAF recruitment pack or a loop of string in a mailing to farmers to remind them to take care out there. It gives you scope for personalisation and, better still, individualisation with variable text and images based on data known about those people or segments.
One of my favourite pieces of direct mail was targeting 18 year olds about registering to vote – I recall somebody giving us a hard time about doing mail to youngsters; weren’t we at all ‘web savvy’?
But the actual mailing – a personalised newspaper with their name in a huge headline – got great response, huge pass on and masses of talk. It went ‘viral’ in the real world (where 9 out 10 word of mouth conversations still happen).
At the other end of the spectrum a segmented mailing based on a predictive model created high responses from eligible Pensions Credit pensioners but variable messaging convinced many ineligible respondents (who had to be told about it legally) not to respond, saving their time and government resources.
Inserts in trusted environments have also been used successfully to warn people of the health harms of excessive drinking. By piggybacking government mailings, we were able to cross-sell Change for Life to Health Start parents or nest in school fruit boxes, or in women’s mags and TV titles to get people to give up smoking. We used to joke that we would insert anything into anything (within reason and the limits of decency).
In fact, many of the campaigns we undertook in government used a combination of all three of these channels to reach the maximum audience and get them to take action.
And, by the way, there’s another growing direct channel often overlooked in the “digital by default world” that benefits massively from print. After all, what do all those field marketing/experiential people out there give out to people they encounter – yes – printed items.
Firms often forget that not everyone is online and not everyone who is online does everything online. For the 9 million adults who aren’t connected and for half the population who are ‘light-users’ of the Internet or those who just fancy a sit down to read, a well executed printed direct communication is invaluable.
Perhaps the direct industry needs to shout about it a bit more and not cower so much before the mighty Internet.

Marc Michaels, end to end marketing communications consultant, and
formerly director of direct and relationship marketing at COI.

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