How to ensure the resurgence of direct mail doesn’t damage your brand


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Direct mail is undergoing something of a transformation. Since GDPR came into force last year consumers are responding more favourably towards the medium. In fact our most recent research report shows that close to half of UK householders (42 per cent) believe that direct mail is now more relevant and recognise it as an effective marketing medium.

A decade ago direct mail was beleaguered with the junk mail tag and in 2005; the summer of discontent, the headlines screamed for it to be banned in its entirety. However, a study from Royal Mail shows that increasingly customers welcome advertising mail as in general letters through the post become more of a rarity. This is particularly true of digital natives.

As a result the direct mail sector is seeing a resurgence of interest from brands that have either never used the medium, or that put direct mail activity on the back burner in advance of the new data protection regulation being established. For example Just Eat recently announced that it would be trialling the medium due to the benefits it offers in terms of reach and engagement and RNLI has said that it will be increasing volumes after deciding to invoke the legitimate interest cause of GDPR. This means that the charity will be able to send mail to any UK consumer on the grounds that the information they are providing is deemed necessary. Pundits are already predicting that many charities will go the same way.

It is no surprise, therefore, that in the third quarter of 2019, we are seeing mailing volumes on the rise. However, this is a double edged sword as it seems that there is an inverse correlation between the volume of mail sent and its perception. If the number of pieces of direct mail received by households per month increases consumer perception of the medium falls, if volumes decrease perception rises. It is therefore critical that brands leveraging the advantages that advertising mail affords ensure best practice when it comes to targeting; as otherwise the threat of the return of the junk mail tag is very real.

A key concern for example is mailing the deceased. Not only does this practice cause distress to the bereaved but it also damages the brand significantly. Our research shows that the brand damage caused by sending direct mail to people that have passed away costs close to £500 million a year in unrealised revenue and wasted production costs.

Two thirds of people say they would immediately cease trading with an organisation that sends direct mail to a loved one that had passed away. Prior to GDPR a fifth (20 per cent) of UK adults had received direct mail intended for a family member that had died. On average they received 15 pieces of mail addressed in the name of the deceased (three pieces of mail per month for five months following the intended recipient’s death). However, 1.6 million people (2.5 per cent) received five or six pieces per month and five per cent continued receiving the mail for more than a year. This equated to almost 200 million pieces (193.2 million) of mistargeted direct mail or five per cent of all direct mail sent (approximately 3.6 billion pieces per year). Whilst this figure has likely fallen since the introduction of GDPR the potential damage associated with the practice remains constant. It is critical that to ensure that direct mail continues to enjoy its recent boon, that those including it in the marketing mix ensure stringent data hygiene regimes or risk significant brand damage, non-compliance and besmirching the reputation of the sector once again.

Patrick Lymath
Patrick is responsible for the Mortascreen file at Wilmington Millennium. Mortascreen is the market leading deceased suppression product which enables marketers to remove people that have died from their marketing databases, saving the bereaved from the distress of receiving communications to loved ones that have passed away and bolstering marketing ROI.


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