Direct mail houses begin to settle into life with GDPR

Rhys Handley
Monday, June 10, 2019

It all seems so long ago – the spectre of GDPR hanging over the direct mailing sector in the run-up to 25 May 2018, with both the buyers and producers caught in a mad scramble to get themselves ready for the first major shake-up of personal data protection for almost 20 years.

Adopted by the European Parliament in 2016, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became EU law after a two-year preparation period that caught some companies unawares. Strengthening the rights of individuals to control their data, the new rules had the potential to uproot the fundamentals of the mail sector.

DM’s great hope came in the form of one exemption; as penalties were stiffened on data breaches, mail communications to pre-existing customers counted as ‘legitimate interest’, meaning mailers could evade the pitfalls that might entrap its digital counterpart, email.

BPIF specialist services manager Meeka Walwyn-Lewis says: “GDPR has raised awareness of the rules around data. It has caused DM houses to be more process driven when dealing with clients’ data. Small printers that may have not had client contracts have now introduced them into the business to be compliant with GDPR, which has also improved their business legally.

“It is essentially making companies focus on the recipients that would actually be interested in what they are marketing as opposed to firing out to thousands and thousands of DM campaigns, which cost an awful lot but bring in very little. It is forcing companies to think about data quality and encouraging them to put in place systems for tracking results.

“Good direct mail can have more impact and is less easily screened out than email. Direct mail is a way to provide a recipient with a tangible personalised product which has increased opening rates, response rates, return on investment, memorability and shareability.”

A new hope

With the need to be more secure and sophisticated about the storage and use of client data, DM houses could hope to see their pre-GDPR dreams of a mail resurgence come true, more robust and effective than ever. The only obstacle is the obliviousness of print buyers.

As chair of the Strategic Mailing Partnership, Judith Donovan has been watching the market shift in the build-up and the aftermath of GDPR, with slow progress in favour of mail largely due to client ignorance – which mail houses now should work hard to rectify.

“I have seen the market change quite a bit in the last year,” says Donovan. “It is a transition the sector could have done without, given the long-term decline of mail. However, we are all citizens as well as businesspeople and while GDPR’s effects may be unpredictable, the measures are a good thing to do, even if they were heavy-handed.

“GDPR has restored some trust in DM because people like to feel asked and be given the opportunity to opt in or out of mailing lists. It’s a tough squeeze for now, but the sector recognises that when the journey is over the destination will be worth it.

“Clients have not been as quick to come back onboard as we might have liked but those that have so far have had fewer complaints and more success. DM houses now need to be more imaginative with their interpretation of the rules. Mail is based in return on investment and there is no reason brands should not use this decent, truthful medium.”

Fortunately for DM producers, mail remains popular with consumers: 57% of people surveyed by Royal Mail MarketReach say that receiving communication by mail makes them feel more valued. The latest JICMail data shows that 69% of all direct mail is opened, 63% of it is read or looked at immediately and 25% is put aside and looked at later in the month, while 63% of all door drops are looked at.

A MarketReach spokesperson says: “Targeted door-to-door mailings help to underpin the Universal Service. They provide a very valuable service to companies of all kinds as they seek to provide their goods and services. Research shows that consumers value this mail.

“We are committed to giving households control over the unaddressed mail they receive so that they can make an informed choice. Royal Mail runs a door-to-door opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail if customers want to stop receiving unaddressed mail. 

“We are pleased to accept opt-out requests because Royal Mail only wishes to deliver unaddressed mail to recipients who are interested in receiving such items.”

Case studies

It was the introduction of GDPR that led to some of the most effective campaigns as brands sought to keep consumers on-side come 25 May 2018.

The Data and Marketing Association (DMA, recently rebranded from the Direct Marketing Association) hailed a number of campaigns making the most of GDPR in its 2018 awards. Produced in the build-up to the introduction, these campaigns might be a source of inspiration for DM in this post-GDPR world.

Taking the Bronze prize for Best GDPR Communication was Suzuki’s ‘Goodbye Boring’ campaign which responded to consumer admissions that only 18% engaged with branded emails by sending stark black envelopes with bold white text explaining the rules of GDPR and promising that opt-ins would “never receive anything this boring again”. Engagement was up 321% on average direct campaigns.

The Guardian won the top prize with its ‘Leave or Remain’ campaign, which played into the news brand’s staunch stance on data security, exemplified in its coverage of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, by requesting opt-ins and support from its reader base through a mixed marketing campaign. In the end, 61% of opt-ins came from non-digital communications and opt-in rates are 23% higher-post GDPR.

The power of the post, it seems, still holds sway.


GDPR is restoring customer confidence in marketing

bondTim Bond, head of insight, DMA

GDPR was a watershed moment for the data and marketing industry, but it’s important to remember that it is an ongoing journey that has redefined how governments, regulators, businesses and consumers view data and privacy.

At its core, the GDPR is risk-based legislation that puts the needs of the customer first; ensuring data sharing is recognised as a key asset within the customer journey. For our sectors this should be nothing new, as we have evangelised about the opportunities for companies to have a single customer view for decades.

Many organisations have embraced GDPR, using it to build sustainable relationships with consumers, based on transparency and trust. As a result, two in five consumers (41%) say they are more comfortable and confident that brands are handling their data correctly. The proportion of marketers who feel the benefits of GDPR outweigh the costs has doubled from 16% prior to 25 May, to 32% in late 2018 – further evidence of the GDPR effect.

These encouraging metrics, alongside other insights collected by the DMA, indicate that consumer trust in businesses is improving and their engagement with marketing is increasing too. The positive impact of this should be observed across most channels. If businesses recognise the importance of putting the customer first, this will inevitably lead to consumers being more receptive to the marketing they receive. 

Direct mail and print-based channels are both tangible and personal, giving brands a connection with customers that other channels can’t.

Looking forward, I would expect to see the impact of and sentiment towards the new laws continue in their positive trend. Although this is reliant on businesses remaining committed to the principles of GDPR and intelligent marketing, where the drive for innovation and creativity mirror a duty to responsible marketing.


What are your exper iences producing DM after GDPR?

morrowRichard Morrow, sales and marketing director, Central Mailing Services

“We were compliant with GDPR ahead of introduction due to our work with clients like the NHS and the Department of Education. Moving into our new premises enabled us to enhance our data security by investing in our servers. We find the way we speak to clients has changed with discussions of dates of destruction and proof transmission. Clients are a lot more careful than they were a year ago and we can now fill a gap in the market by using the more refined data with smart and response-driven direct mail.”

entrecasteauxChris D’Entrecasteux, general manager, Atlas Direct Mail

“We have ISO 27001 for our data security and put a lot of time into that independent accreditation, which takes us beyond the requirements of GDPR. GDPR is the correct way forward and is fundamentally sound, but it petrified a lot of clients and we had to re-educate them on things like legitimate interest and partially addressed mail, which allows us to tap into addresses not on any DM list without breaching any GDPR rules. I think it is a cycle and we will move away from personalised mail for some time before someone thinks to return to it in the future.” 

staffordAdam Stafford, sales director, Bakergoodchild

“We got ready for GDPR a long time in advance and had a lot of security measures already in place to make sure we knew what our responsibilities were. I would say around 90% of our client base was okay and not too disrupted by it. It was not as big an impact as we thought it might be. Operationally speaking, it has improved our processes and the quality of data has improved because customers are much more on the ball about it. The big worry was pre-GDPR, but now the market is getting back into relatively good shape.”

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