Just as physical, printed book sales have been rising over the past couple of years, while sales of e-books have gone in the opposite direction, direct mail has started to reassert its authority over email when it comes to successful marketing.
The DMA’s new Email benchmarking report 2017 found that while emails are being opened and read 14.2% of the time, consumers have been more cautious about clicking, the result being a reduction in the aggregate click-through rate from 1.8% in 2015 to 1.6% in 2016.
This is not good news for any marketers still putting all or most of their eggs into email’s basket, particularly when comparing these figures to some of the latest DM statistics.
Research by IPA TouchPoints found that 90% of consumers open at least some of their physical mail immediately, while a recent study by Royal Mail MarketReach says 87% of people have been influenced to buy online as a direct result of receiving mail.
Strategic Mailing Partnership chairwoman Judith Donovan believes that email’s effectiveness as a marketing tool has started to wane for a variety of reasons.
“I think email is terribly untargeted – because it is so cheap no effort is put into the accuracy or even the relevance of the message.
“It has also been so hijacked by spam and scams that it’s very difficult to spot a genuine email from one that isn’t, so people have got into the habit of downgrading the status of the channel.”
She adds: “And people are drowning in email whereas they’re not drowning in direct mail, which is a tactile medium and research has shown that people value something that they can see and touch.”
The DMA report notes that while email click-through rates have declined, this varied from one sector to the next. The top performing sector was utilities, with 2.5% of emails attracting clicks, followed by travel with 2.4%, while the lowest performing sectors were publishing (0.77%), not-for-profit (0.83%) and finance (0.88%).
Email’s role in the marketing mix has arguably changed from the position it was in even a few years ago and Donovan believes it has had its day as an acquisition medium.
“Some marketers might still be using it for retention of an existing customer base but that gets harder and harder because of all the scams going on,” she says.
But Tony Kemp, managing director of print and direct mail house DMP, says email can be more effective when used in tandem with print.
“There’s no harm in making email part of a multi-channel campaign which might include print, email, telephone and perhaps a reminder mailing too.”
The best of both
Romax managing director Robin Sumner adds that this multi-pronged approach can maximise the ROI from a marketing campaign.
“We still recommend to clients that they do both because a combined campaign will give greater than the sum of its parts.
“A follow-up email can act as a reminder – receiving an email a few days or a week after receiving something like a catalogue, for example, will serve as a prompt if it was of interest. It mops up any people that dithered before making an initial purchase – sending those additional emails do add another 2% or 3% onto the ROI.”
Comparatively, including direct mail in the marketing mix can boost ROI by 12%, according to Royal Mail MarketReach. Additionally, MarketReach research found that campaigns including mail were 27% more likely to deliver top-ranking sales performance and 40% more likely to deliver top-ranking acquisition levels than those that didn’t.
“Mail comes into your home or workplace and you have a physical interaction with it, making it one of the most engaging channels available to marketers,” says DMA head of insight Tim Bond.
Kemp adds: “With cleverly targeted, dynamic direct mail with relevant products and imagery, you’ve got all of the benefits of digital but on paper. It’s tangible and it’s got more longevity.
“The advent of digital print, and now the ability to use the data insights that we’ve got and bring them alive in print – somebody’s age, products they’re interested in or hobbies they’ve got – allow you to tailor the printed communication.
“Personalisation is no longer a name and address, it’s the opportunity to make the entire communication dynamic and then your conversion rates rise exponentially.”
The increasingly targeted nature of direct mail has come along just as the trend of carpet bombing has subsided, which has led to the medium having more of a rareness and exclusivity to it.
“There has been a decline in direct mail volumes over the years and people are getting less and less of it, so anything that does land on their doormat or on their desk at work is paid attention to,” says Sumner.
“When somebody gets something to touch and feel, it’s a break from the screen and they engage with it more.”
Bond says that, whatever the medium, marketers need to ensure they are delivering interesting content that drives customers to engage with it.
“At its core, successful marketing is about an exchange of value between your business, looking to prosper, and your customer, looking to benefit.
“As such, the key to measuring this success is in making sure you put the customer at the heart of your business – understanding their journey and how the marketing campaigns engage them in different ways.”
And as printers are now equipped with all the tools they need to help their clients do exactly this, there’s no reason to suggest that direct mail will relinquish its increasingly favourable position in the marketing mix any time soon.