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Direct mail viewed in fonder light, survey says

Read our new direct mail consumer benchmark research in Print Week

Public perception of direct mail is improving, with almost half of consumers seeing it as good business communication, according to a recent survey.


Recent research found more people preferred direct mail to other forms of marketing communication

Data specialist Wilmington Millennium questioned 2,000 consumers in December and found 48% thought it is a good way for businesses to connect with them, a rise of 7% since a similar survey in 2014.

The research also found 44% of consumers ranked direct mail (DM) and door drops as their favourite form of direct marketing, against 42% who preferred email. Website pop-up advertisements received the lowest seal of approval, with only 2.7% of those surveyed preferring them.

Karen Pritchard, product director of Wilmington Millennium company Mortascreen, which provides deceased data files used for DM suppression, said the increase in positive vibes for DM was not a surprise.

“We’re pleased by the outcome. There has been a great deal of effort put in to responsible direct mail over the past few years, targeted and directed to the right people, so its good to see that effort is now paying off.

“Customers are approaching direct mail communications far more readily than they were in the past. There was a point when there was far too much untargeted mail being sent out. When a correctly addressed and targeted piece of DM comes through the door, they are not seeing that as intrusive in the same way as a pop-up for example. They are annoying, whereas mail you can digest at your own pace.”

The results come despite a slew of bad press for DM last year following the death of poppy seller Olive Cooke.

Cooke was said to have killed herself after being inundated with thousands of letters and phone calls from charities, although her family has since said charities were not responsible for her death.

A government-commissioned review led by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, made a series of recommendations, including a service where people can opt out of charity communications.

Pritchard said that charities had been forced to review their communication policies, reducing the number of wrongly addressed mailings and sending more relevant offers through tighter targeting.

“That can be no bad thing,” she said. “The outcome will be that there will be more responsibility and people will become more comfortable again providing that the good practices are adhered to.

“I don’t think it has damaged DM in the long term. Improvement will just give customers a better perception of the mail that they are receiving,” Pritchard said.

Charities were not considered to be the worst sector for sending irrelevant mail. That fell to financial services companies. 30% of the surveyed saw them as the worst, compared to 28% for charities. Utilities were the third most complained about companies (24%) and estate agents and local councils also came under fire.

The travel (6%) and retail (11%) sectors respectively have the best reputation among consumers in terms of effective use of DM as a marketing channel.

Pritchard said travel companies did not necessarily have better data, they were just more specific in the mailings they send out.

She added that DM print volumes would never return to the heady days of the 1980s or 1990s but 2015 saw mail volumes and spend rise and this was expected to continue on the same trajectory through 2016.