Spooner on: The opportunity for direct mail in lockdown

You may have noticed that after twenty years I have been forced to update my byline photograph, since the look of horror on new clients’ faces when they met me ‘in the flesh’ was becoming impossible to ignore

You may have noticed that after twenty years I have been forced to update my byline photograph, since the look of horror on new clients’ faces when they met me ‘in the flesh’ was becoming impossible to ignore

Hello fellow prisoners! How are we all getting along? Gone quite mad yet?

Lord McKelvey, of course, has the run of his vast Shoreham estate with its pleasure gardens, grottos, woods, fanes, fountains, gazebos, monkey-puzzle groves, boating lakes, summer houses, orangeries and thermal pools in which to disport himself. For the rest of us, it’s a giddy round of bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, lounge and back again, punctuated by some judicious, socially-distanced ‘exercise’.

But on we stagger, regardless.

Thankfully Lord McKelvey has always been generous with the crumbs from his table and in that spirit, the brass speaking tube in my hovel honked brusquely this morning and as I placed it to my ear, those unmistakable velvety tones were miraculously conveyed to me:

“Surely it’s not beyond even your wit, Spooner, you hopeless cur, to make a case for direct mail as the perfect medium to unlock value for businesses during the current unpleasantness? 1,200 words by this evening or I shall halve your ration of crumbs!”, he bellowed lovingly. “Oh and make sure that you speak to those excellent people at Royal Mail MarketReach before you blunder your way into the thickets!”

A dull click and he was gone.

Fortunately for me the estimable Eve Stansell at Royal Mail MarketReach has been busy applying a far more rigorous and analytical critical intelligence to the matter and I thank her and MarketReach kindly for the facts and figures I shall be using today. You can find more good stuff on every aspect of mail at www.marketreach.co.uk

So! Or HWAET! As my Anglo-Saxon tutor was wont to bellow…

How you as marketing people do your marketing now really matters: “64% of the UK agree that how a brand responds to the crisis will have a huge impact on their likelihood to buy from them in the future.” Source, ‘Edelman Trust Behaviour’, March 2020

And we know from the 2008 financial crisis that just shutting up shop for the duration does you no good at all. It is important to keep talking to your clients and customers and to be as relevant and useful to them as you can be. But that’s not simply a question of blethering on via your Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or TikTok feeds hoping that people will be paying attention, because: “Customers prefer brands to communicate virus related issues via traditional media (54%) rather than social media (19-31%). Source: Havas Media ‘Covid 19 Media Consumption Report’ April 2020

So, unshackle the poor placement students who you are paying in unredeemable Prêt vouchers to run the social media desk and think again, because it matters: “71% of consumers believe brands should help them in their daily lives, 75% said brands should inform people of what they are doing, 74% said companies should not exploit them at this time “ Source: Kantar Global Survey, March 2020 (35,000 consumers)

If you get it right, the rewards are immediate and obvious whether you are measuring them in sales, goodwill or share price, as the people at Premier Inn, who opened their hotels to NHS and other key workers, the people at Iceland who were first to offer priority shopping for vulnerable audiences or the people at Burberry who immediately repurposed their raincoat factories to produce PPE. These people have won not just morally but fiscally too.

So take action, do the right thing and communicate what you are doing and what you are offering via the right channels.

Intuitively we all know that direct mail is the perfect medium for marketers at present. Its tactility, its interactivity, the fact that it allows you to tell your story from multiple viewpoints via long copy, the visual stimulus it generates, the retainable, physical reminder it offers of your message and above all, the personal nature of the communication – all add up to a powerful argument for mail at the best of times.

But now that the majority of us are trapped within our homes and desperate for human contact, an intelligently created piece of direct mail can be immensely cheering – offering dramatically higher levels of engagement than ephemeral, digital communications that come tainted, perhaps unfairly, with concepts of ‘fake news’. However hard we may find it to believe, printed communications with a signature carry powerful overtones of social authenticity that can have an immediate positive effect for your brand.

Perhaps, that’s why Boris Johnson felt compelled to write ‘in person’ to every single household in the nation?

The stats seem to back up this notion of authenticity that personalised, printed communications may convey when we compare mail to email:

I would be likely to give it my full attention: Mail 65% Email 35%
It makes me feel valued: Mail 70% Email 30%
It gives me a better impression of the sender: Mail 70% Email 30%
Source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Kantar TNS 2017

But the most powerful argument for using intelligently targeted, creatively written and art-directed direct mail during the Covid-19 lockdown comes when you consider the way in which it influences online behaviour. This is what people did after receiving direct mail:

Responses to mail in the last 12 months:
18% sent the company an email
24% checked their online account
35% used an enclosed voucher online
41% visited the sender’s website
49% made transactions online
70% were driven to online activity
Source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Kantar TNS 2017

That’s 70% of people receiving a piece of direct mail who were driven to respond online. The argument seemed clear even before our worlds were turned upside-down. And now the argument seems utterly convincing to me. You could argue that I have ‘skin in the game’ but BAH!

So, what conclusions do the good people at Royal Mail MarketReach draw as a result of their research?

To paraphrase:
1. Customers and clients want brands to take the lead, to help them in their daily lives and to explain what they are doing to make a difference. What better way to do this than direct mail?

2. Mail gives you the time to say what you have to say clearly, personally and helpfully in a format that can be retained and referred to again

3. Mail can reassure your customers that you feel they are worth you taking the time and effort to communicate with each of them personally

4. Serious messages can carry more weight when they are received in a printed format

5. Mail has the power to localise content by region, town, street or household – and it can reach vulnerable audiences in a sensitive way

6. Every brand and every sector has been affected by Covid 19. Those who stay close to their customers by delivering the tight messages in the right (not just the quickest) way will see the benefits in the long term.

You might respond by saying ‘Well they would say that wouldn’t they?’, but all of my experience tells me that they are close to several truths here.

In an age of disinformation via digital channels, where opinion rather than expertise is the dominant force, printed materials gain an almost sacramental, even apotropaic weightiness. We still instinctively believe more strongly in what we see ‘written down in black and white’ and that it contains greater truth than what is disseminated via intangible electronic channels.

If you want your business to weather the Covid storm and you value the goodwill of your clients and customers you should think long and hard about spending a little money on testing one of the most successful and measurable media available to you today.

Jonathan Spooner is consulting creative director at Spoon Creative

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