Worth an estimated £1.7bn annually, advertising mail is the third-largest media channel in the UK according to advertising spend, yet it has long been without a “currency” to support media planning.
However, last month JICMail, a new currency for measuring direct mail engagement, was launched, finally enabling the medium to be considered by advertisers on a like-for-like basis to television, radio, outdoor and press, with data of the same standard that is available for analysing these channels.
The impact of the initiative could be hugely beneficial to print, according to Lynne Robinson, research director at the marketing communications agencies trade body, the IPA.
“This will boost the awareness and confidence in mail as a trusted advertising medium. I hope it will boost revenues as well,” she says.
Chris Combemale, chair of the JICMail board and chief executive of the DMA Group, adds: “Right now, not that much mail is planned and bought by the media planning and buying agencies. JICMail normalises mail, which we hope then makes it more attractive.”
Combemale explains that some of the impacts of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation should be positive for mail, potentially further helping to drive marketers back to the medium.
“Just about all retention mailings, and most acquisition mailings, can be done using ‘legitimate interests’ if you do the appropriate balancing test, and as long as it doesn’t include sensitive personal data, like your political interests or your medical history,” he adds.
In a section on its website, outlining GDPR FAQs for charities, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently announced that consent will not be needed for postal marketing under Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), but will be required for some calls and for texts and emails.
The guidelines state that if you don’t need consent under PECR, you can rely on legitimate interests for marketing activities if you can show how you use people’s data is proportionate, has a minimal privacy impact, and that people would not be surprised or likely to object.
The joint effect of this along with JICMail could provide a long overdue break for direct mail, says Judith Donovan, chairwoman of the Royal Mail’s Strategic Mailing Partnership (SMP).
“Now we know that legitimate interests beat consent in the mailing world, that is going to get a lot of clients thinking differently, because those who have been very blindly running to digital technology are going to find that it has got a more restrictive GDPR regime than mail,” she says.
“It’s good news for the industry – you’re going to get clients who will look at mail differently,” she adds.
“We’ve also started to hear whispers that clients are pulling back out of digital because of potential brand damage. So here we are, a white knight on a charger riding over the hill with all the answers to the questions we couldn’t answer before – which is why mail was such a hard sell. And we’ve turned up just as clients are looking for a new solution.”
The first six months of JICMail research, conducted prior to its launch, found that 65% of all addressed mail is opened. On average, each item is passed on 1.2 times and read 4.2 times by each person who receives it.
Door drops are also shared and re-read, but not to the same extent. For every 100 items received, 10 are passed on and shared, and each piece is revisited three times.
Donovan believes that marketers could do more with door drops to encourage greater engagement.
“Door drop is a very broad church, at one end you could have a full mailpack with everything there except my name – it could have my street name or say ‘to the lady of the house’ – and on the other end of the spectrum is a pizza leaflet,” she says.
“Direct mail does not need my name on it for me to look at it. The way for marketers to maximise the door-drop situation is to start producing more packs.”
Tara Pickles, head of group marketing at Go Inspire Group, adds: “There are many shape, colour or format design ideas, which stand out on the doormat; we should be using these to maximise the interaction with customers.”
Pickles says that mailing houses now have a simple code to add to mailings, a form of reference number, to enable JICMail to collect the data. She describes JICMail as “a great thing for direct mail”.
Pickles adds: “Marketers will be able to evaluate the value of mail against other channels now it will be shown alongside them. Using a cost per impression approach like other media reduces the perceived cost of mail by a factor of four.”
On top of the opportunities created by JICMail and GDPR, direct mail is continuing to go through a purple patch of sorts in other ways.
“The smartphone era has transformed what you can do with print. You can scan over a piece of mail or an image with your smartphone and be right there with a live video stream and all sorts,” says Combemale.
“Mail is interactive in today’s digital era in a way that it wasn’t 10 years ago. There’s a huge opportunity if the creative community and the brands and the planning community think again about it all.”
Combemale concludes: “We’re quite optimistic that all these things will come together and mail will get a new look.”
How does JICMail work?
JICMail has been formulated by the Joint Industry Committee (JIC) for Mail – which is made up of representatives from organisations including the DMA, IPA, ISBA, Royal Mail and Whistl – and is based on comprehensive readership research for the channel.
The new media currency will provide robust audience data for mail by measuring the readership, reach and frequency of exposure to each item that comes through the letterbox.
In partnership with Kantar TNS, the data is captured using a diary that follows each piece of mail for four weeks in a nationally representative sample of 1,000 households per quarter across the UK.