The shape of things to come in marketing

Wayne Tudor
Monday, June 28, 2021

If you type the term ‘shaped door drops’ into a well-known search engine, you are unlikely to get a print-relevant answer in the first few results.

Home decor sites come up, or adverts for polished silver door knockers (although these are quite nice). 

Add in the word ‘print’ and you get the response: “It looks like there aren’t many great matches for your search”.

Aside from an SEO opportunity for print companies and marketing solutions consultants, this is a shame because shaped door drops are actually a very relevant way for brands and marketers to reach people in their own homes with stand-out marketing.

The coronavirus restrictions and lockdown laws have meant that so many people have been at home for most of the past 12 months, making them a captive audience. 

So for those wanting to stand out, shaped door drops are ideal. In fact, has there ever been a better time to be using shaped door drops? 

To set the scene though, Mark Davies, managing director at Whistl (Doordrop Media), says that from around July last year, confidence in door drop mail in general grew, culminating with December 2020 being the best ever in terms of revenue and profit for the organisation.

Momentum had been built, says Davies, and it was clear that many people were open for business.

Davies said: “Door drops are great ways to reach people at home and represent a massive opportunity to go where the audience actually is.

“It is right to say that some print channels have seen a decline but the door drop channel is in fact the most stable print channel; it has certainly held its own.

“This was particularly so when it saw an uplift in 2018 – the GDPR year – when people couldn’t do what they had always done and so changed their marketing mix in order to be able to grow their client base. As 2020 evolved, marketing professionals had to find effective alternatives to solely digital channels.”

Evidence shows, says Davies, that some of the money spent in digital is certainly coming back to door drops as people take a multi-channel approach.

He also believes that more regulation is coming to digital and more transparency will be needed by the social media platforms as “trust on many platforms is at an all-time low”.

Indeed, says Davies, he would suggest that people may have been “oversold” on a digital future and that some correction was due anyway.

He adds: “The pandemic might be a trigger point for that and people can actually find that a mix sees results being delivered. My challenge is to enable people to use all the channels and not be embarrassed about print.

“They can be on the front foot in terms of the results it can deliver, for example with driving search, pay-per-click, web visits and sales. What’s more, it can be proved.”

Creativity counts

What about creativity though? Davies believes that it is a fundamental aspect of creating successful campaigns.

“Creativity matters,” he says. “The experience has to be good. If the creative is not right the campaign could fail. It has to have cut through and stand out from the mundane. Also, production values are important but remember they have to be cost-effective and deliver a return on investment.

“Door drops and shaped door drops have to pack a punch in three seconds. You need to say who it’s from and what the consumer can potentially get out of it. There is an open window of opportunity.”

It’s that opportunity with door drops, and shaped door drops in particular, that savvy marketers and printers are aware of.

Bicester and Barnsley-based Webmart works with a range of leading brands on marketing solutions, with print playing a part within the marketing mix.

Tom Oldershaw, head of customer growth, also says that door drop and direct mail are seeing particular success at the moment.

“We are not a printer, we are a marketing services company, so my role is to look at what they could be doing to improve,” he says. “People are now looking for ways to be different and to stand out, and using shaped door drops is a way to do this.

“Of course, clients need to see the highest ROI for the spend but we say don’t worry too much about what they cost as it might be double, but if you get more than double in response, then it has done its job.

“We might suggest to people doing lots of DM that they test shaped door drops. Yes, they will look a little different when they come through the door, and you might see an increase in response rates.

“Everyone has been at home so it has been an ideal time to target them, but everyone has been thinking this so stand-out has to be a factor. Going forward, people will be working from home more, not everyone, but I am sure companies, even the bigger ones, like the banks in London have said they are not going to get everyone back in the office so people will be at home more than ever and are there to be targeted.

“The logic with shaped door drops is that they cost more to produce because you have to have a die to cut them out. However, if you have a shaped door drop and five normal-style ones, it will always stand out and it will increase response rates.”

So how does the creativity play off against response?

Oldershaw says: “A shaped door drop should always trigger a higher response as it has stand-out, but look at the data and look at the results. Test campaigns. You could test a shaped door drop versus a standard one and you could see sales in an area go up.”

Potential headaches

Oldershaw says that there could be some headaches and longer lead times with shaped door drops because of having to create the die. And then the process to die cutting adding time into the schedule, affecting when door drops actually drop, although this can be planned for.

So in terms of spend and campaigns over recent months, how has the industry fared?

Oldershaw adds: “From our point of view, we have had customers that have spent much more than they have in previous years and we have had customers that have shut up shop and battened down the hatches, even within the same sector.

“Some have said no need to market because people are buying from them anyway, while others are thinking about what happens out of lockdown. 

“It’s been interesting to see the mixed responses. I’d say if you analysed it, our workload and number of projects have been about the same – more for some, less for others.”

He also says that people need to look at the whole piece, not just print or digital in isolation; brands should be using  door drops alongside direct mail and partially addressed mail. With all three working together, and in alignment with digital, more customer touchpoints are being created.

So what’s the key when thinking about shaped door drops? Where do you actually start?

Richard Sandman is sales director at Leeds-based PM Web, which produces a range of materials for a number of leading household names.

Sandman says: “Marketers and brands are looking for cost-efficient and reactive solutions for reaching new customers, and shaped door drops are ideal to deliver that stand-out impact. 

“Sophisticated targeting and innovative formats have made door drops a proven element to most successful cross channel marketing campaigns.

“First and foremost when thinking about shaped door drops, you have to look at what can actually be accepted by the distributor. Royal Mail has an online guide to door drop marketing, which is invaluable.

“It might be that creatives come up with weird and wonderful designs, sometimes they simply won’t work and the designers will have to temper their ideas a touch.

“We produce the simpler formats inline on press, obviously the quickest and most efficient method. We actually die cut on our CutStar and web offset presses at high speeds. Removing the need to die cut or ram punch the more conventional way, which isn’t is the quickest so adding more time and effort to the schedule.

“Shaped door drops tend to be fairly simple, yet stand out from the rest, that’s probably why we are also seeing increased requests for formats that incorporate pattern perforated pop-out items, such as redemption vouchers or credit card sized items that are popped out of the leaflet and retained or used as a reply device.”

Sandman also says that with the high level of profiled targeted data that is available today, utilising high-speed inkjet technology, it is possible to include value-add features such as targeted postcode versioning, maps, bar codes, QR codes, redemption codes and such like. 

He adds: “The last 12 months have clearly been a real challenge for everyone. We have seen reluctance in some market sectors to go down the door drop route. Retail, travel, hospitality and the home improvement sectors that normally rely heavily on door drop marketing, have reduced investing in this channel for obvious reasons. Saying that, recently we have seen a trend for more creative formats, in particular shaped items.”

The printer’s place

Creativity is key, and there is much you can do with a shaped door drop. Many minds in funky offices will be working on ideas.

But, an interesting thing when you talk with printers about creativity, is that printers do not feel part of the process. They are often seen as working in a silo, and that’s not right. They should not be pigeon-holed.

Simon Hartlett is the innovations director at Go Inspire Eclipse. He suggests that printers are often just seen as the manufacturer, when instead they should be part of the overall solution.

As an example, he says that it is often difficult for the printer to get hold of the response rates.

Yes, he says, shaped door drops have the stand-out factor, but one of the only ways this can be seen for the printer is whether or not they are used again.

Another key thing for Hartlett is that merely having stand-out is simply not enough, whether it is a shaped piece or something else. A piece has to do something.

He says: “If you see an advert on TV, you will have forgotten it by the end of the programme. If you have a door drop, it is often still there. If you have a website on your door drop, it can take people to the website.”

This is another element that can also be cost-effective, says Hartlett. As an example, he says that a QR code could be printed on a door drop that takes people directly to a landing page of a website. The client may not need to spend as much on pay-per-click advertising on Google.

The ability of print to drive website traffic is a subject that has been touched upon many times, and while they are often seen as working in competition, they should be working together.

It’s a subject that Ian Gibbs, director of data leadership and learning at JICMail, talks about, particularly when he is on the subject of brand awareness.

JICMail, an organisation that focuses on door drop and DM effectiveness, recently hosted a webinar entitled ‘How have multichannel mail behaviours changed in a year like no other?’

It’s clear that door drops have been resilient during lockdown and, says Gibbs, it hasn’t just been from the sectors one would normally associate with door drops. Charities have been successful, as street donations have dried up. Gibbs says that door drops are a cost-effective way of reaching consumers.

“It’s an ideal channel as they deliver direct into the household,” he says, “and each of those interactions is like a brand exposure. 

“Brands sustain themselves in the long run by focusing on brand health as well, it’s the awareness of that brand and generating the opportunity to be seen. People return to the door drop and they share them too within the household.”

JICMail’s data panel is asked about the mail they receive and what they do with it. They are asked about whether they have made a purchase or gone to a website. It’s invaluable data that should be used to drive campaigns that work and deliver a return on investment.

An interesting thing that Gibbs points out though is that print and door drops are not always given the credit they fully deserve when people make a purchase.

As an example, he says that it is known that door drops drive conversations, they direct people to websites. But here lies the problem – the door drop, shaped or otherwise, does not always get the attributions.

Gibbs warns that the current hype around online marketing doesn’t always bear up to scrutiny and masks the contribution of more traditional media. He says figures should be interrogated thoroughly investigated so that the data can be used to drive campaigns– a server may serve up an ad for a product but only if certain metrics are met. A door drop gets right into the heart of a home.

So what of the future?

It’s probably accurate that it is hard to know what the future will hold. Is there going to be a return to normal or a move to some sort of new normal?

Gibbs agrees with Oldershaw: “It’s hard to know what return to normal is going to look like. I think while people might return to the office, are they going to return to the office at the same frequency as before?

“I think while we’re not going to be spending as much time at home as we did during lockdown, we will still be spending more time at home working than we were two or three years ago. Therefore, channels delivering directly to the home are still powerful.”

As lockdowns ease, what is the shape of things to come? Marketers and brands continue to demand ways of reaching the consumer, door drops are clearly holding their own and will continue to do so as one of the most effective methods of getting your message out there. 

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