GDPR is one year old. Twelve months ago and in the months preceding its introduction, those holding personal data worked to clean it, to gain approvals and then to reframe those databases.
In the confusion that followed, many decisions were put on hold delaying print activity until later in the year. The lack of confidence is likely to have been an effect of general economic concerns as well as about what can and what cannot be communicated. The Blue Planet effect has certainly affected the use of plastic films in mailings, as the spate of closures across the mailing sector has shown.
Now the dust is settling there is an impact on direct mail printing. Howard Hunt has been forced into closure and is unlikely to find a company to buy its production facilities comprising printing litho and digital presses.
In a pre collapse conversation, a spokesman admitted that customers had been more cautious since the arrival of GDPR, affecting volumes. “There was an initial impact, though most sectors we work with have since overcome the initial knee jerk reaction seen in the industry. A few remain cautious.”
The response seems to have been twofold: a rise in highly personalised and relevant mail and a growth in a new product that Royal Mail calls Partially Addressed Mail. This does not identify the recipient of the direct mail, but is calculated to be highly relevant using demographic and geographic information to identify prospects. This has always been available at a basic level: Do not send an offer for wheelbarrows to people living in flats, but with PAM gains a greater level of sophistication at a shared postcode level, something that early reports suggest is going down well with consumers.
Howard Hunt, along with a number of other direct mail houses, was a pioneer in the development of PAM. Other customers are taking a wait and see approach, according to the Dartford company, waiting to see the results from the first trials before deciding on their level of commitment. The impact on cashflows for the business will be seen in the administrator’s report.
But GDPR has pushed customers towards higher value and shorter run campaigns. Says a spokesman: “GDPR has put high level personalisation and targeted mailing back into the spotlight and with better quality data being forced, improved technology for four-colour personalisation in the market, relevant and timely marketing has never been so obtainable, adding value to both our customers and their consumers.”
“We have seen an uptake in the amount of direct mail that we have been producing and the level of personalisation within that.”
The company has built a reputation around personalisation using HP Indigo technology. It has recently upgraded an Indigo B2 press that has come to the end of its lease to a 12000 HD giving a higher quality result.
“Highly targeted direct mail is highly relevant to customers and to recipients. We have been seeing quite an uplift in volumes in response.
“This is retention and loyalty focused direct mail, it is not about customer acquisition led. The only time that that is relevant is when the client is looking at reactivation of a lapsed customer.”
“When people have run digital campaigns to activate customers, these customers are frequently switched off. While a combination of digital and offline print works. It’s about using all the tools that are available.”
Dependency on emails alone is no longer effective. It is too easy to ignore an email as it is clicked on its way to the the junk or delete folder. For increasingly time poor consumers, telephone marketing is a no-no, more associated with PPI calls than anything that a user wants to hear. This leaves space where print can be welcomed “It seems a little more elegant and little more personalised,” says Tolley.
This is backed up by the introduction of industry research. JICMail creates a standardised way to judge the impact of direct mail in the same way that standardised metrics allow buyers of television ads, radio spots, outdoor hoardings and run of press ads to do. It was launched in January last year with the endorsement of the marketing and advertising associations as well as print and distribution businesses.
It has recorded the life of catalogue and direct mail item from the point an envelope drops through the letterbox until the point it is dropped into the recycling bin.
This provides the basis for understanding the value and impact of direct mail, giving the evidence that direct mail works. The standardised format can be used to predict how effective a spend on direct mail will be in terms of ROI. For those planning a campaign this fills a gap in the data that had existed.
The Direct Mail Association has also been involved in work to assess the effectiveness of the media channels. While email is reckoned to be the most effective overall, mail holds a strong second place, ahead of social media and SMS. If email is deemed effective by 73%, print is ranked effective by 40% of those in the survey, with other channels running around 20%.
“Younger consumers are slightly less keen on the post,” says DMA spokesman, “but it is still right up there and for loyalty marketing it ranks with social media and text. This is probably because this generation does not have the same background experience of mail that older people have.
“Although there was a short term pain when GDPR was first introduced with the amount of work to get the data clean, there are now big benefits to consumers. We believe consumers are open to a multi-channel approach and GDPR will only make that a bigger opportunity.”
The Strategic Mailing Partnership is the body promoting the use of the post, working with Royal Mail to make sending printed messages more attractive to brands. Costs of postage, of printing and paper have increased, while those for digital communications have moved in the opposite direction. This has resulted in a deluge of electronic messaging, making achieving any kind of cut through extremely difficult.
But this reality is lagging behind perception. Many brands across all sectors are putting more faith in digital communication than on print. An Ominiatt survey cited by SMP recommends that spending on direct mail should be increased 125% and on brand mail by 55% to achieve maximum impact from a campaign.
Judith Donovan CBE, chair of the Strategic Mail Partnership, believes that such examples point to a renewed enthusiasm for direct mail, helped by GDPR. At the start of this year she declared that the industry needs to evolve alongside the digital marketing sector to make the most of existing opportunities, and as a result of the introduction of legislation like GDPR. “Direct mail and partially addressed mail in particular could enjoy a significant success this year,” she said.
The appeal of direct mail comes from the longevity of the message. The JICMail research shows that the piece is rarely discarded without being opened in contrast to the fate that befalls most email. This engagement can be magnified by exploiting the physicality of print, the choice of paper, fold outs, foil, varnishes and labels to increasing a consumer’s engagement with the message.
It also demonstrates that mail is an effective channel to attract younger audiences, previously thought lost to their mobiles and tablets. They are not as assiduous users of mail as older generations, particularly in the 25-34 age group. But once the millennial generation reaches 35 years old, they are on par with the average user of direct mail (in terms of number of interactions per month).
Perhaps it is not surprising that 17-24 year olds interact with direct mail about telecoms more than the national average, according to the JICMail data. Messaging from supermarkets and finance and insurance services are also popular. And there are indications that such mail hangs around for longer than average at 12.44 days.
Its research also shows that 69% of all mail is opened and 63% is read – a far higher rate than email messages. Even 63% of unaddressed door drops are looked at and read.
It is still early days in terms of judging the effect of the JICMail initiatives, but one year on there is a much clearer picture of how mail is used within a household. The longer the message is on the table, a printed catalogue for example, the greater the chance of discussion about which items to purchase – generally though a web portal.
It has been a welcome initiative particularly as few campaigns use a single channel only. The arrival of legislation has removed some of the excesses of spam email and junk mail, which has to be welcomed for the long term good.
“There has been a massive focus on data privacy,” says Patrick Headley, CEO of Go Inspire. “Now people understand when they can use data and when they can’t use data.” He believes that the impact of GDPR has been negligible, that any decline in direct mail is perhaps structural rather than temporary, that low value direct mail volumes are declining. The uncertainty over Brexit has followed the uncertainty around GDPR to depress demand and hurt cashflows for print businesses. “Mail is now slowly but surely starting to come back,” he says, “but GDPR has not proved to be the dividing line we thought it might be.”
There are signs too that Partially Addressed Mail may take up some of the volumes lost, but distributed either as door drops or in envelopes as polywrap has become a pariah. “We have always sent a lot in envelopes because we are working with responsible mailers and they have always been a little more cautious about who they were talking to,” he says.
The trend is definitely to making better use of data and profiling technologies to ensure that what drops through the individual’s letter box may not be the same in terms of volume, but will be more interesting. And there is increasing use of segmentation to deliver different content to different target groups, making use of digital printing technology.
What has gone forever is the junk mail advertising interest free credit cards. Apart from the fact that the regulatory authorities now take a dim view of this sort of irresponsible lending, brands know that the response rates are tiny compared to responses from more targeted mailings.
“The volumes are not what they were in the 1990s,” Headley agrees. “Instead relevancy is much more important. And we are seeing many more pure play digital brands starting to mail with us. And they are finding that response rates from doing this are good.”
And in line with JICMail’s findings, Go Inspire is producing campaigns aimed at millennials. He says: “They are extremely responsive to direct mail. And the generations to come, Generation Z for example, are certainly looking at direct mail. They will never send any post, but they like to read it. For this generation mail has its place.
“Print is a medium that continues to be robust and it is up to us printers to make it easier for the millennial generation in marketing positions deciding on a campaign to make sure that they use print for their message.”
This is the challenge that the whole print sector faces. And more than ever hard nosed data about response rates, costs and impact will be informing those decisions. High volume mailings continue to exist, but there are not as many as they once were. The future for direct mail is bright, but it is also responsible and smart.
By Gareth Ward
JICMail has tracked how direct mail travels around a household, how it is read and by whom, before being discarded. The message stays around longer than people think.