The Royal Mail Blog | Royal Mail

Is direct mail still a winner
in today's digital world?

It’s official – the world has moved online. In fact, the average person in the UK spends over 3 hours 23 minutes a day staring at one screen or another – be it their phone, tablet or computer – a shocking 7.7 hours if they’re in their teens.1

Perhaps that’s why tactile, tangible print remains so effective in today’s digital world. Indeed media spend on direct mail was up nearly 10% in the first half of 2022 versus 20212, as marketers appreciate the unique impact of mail on its own – and in combination with digital – to build brands, support relationships and increase response rates.

So, why is direct mail enjoying such success?

People are twice as likely to agree that they feel valued by brands that write to them using mail than they are to disagree.3

Unlike email it’s something they can touch and hold; something that looks like it’s been created with care. And with print personalisation now easier and more affordable than ever, targeting can have a laser focus, so your message feels especially pertinent to them.

Also, engagement with mail increased during Covid and remains high. 96% of all mail was engaged with during lockdown, up from 91% the year before.4 Mail is the medium of the home and, with more people working from home, is more impactful than ever.

Paper vs pixels: what does the science say?

We’re hardwired to respond differently to print than digital. For example, do you recall the last time you had a decision to make?

Recent research5 suggests that people made more ‘virtuous and responsible’ decisions when using paper formats, such as menus, leaflets and book order forms as opposed to using a digital version. They selected healthier meals, chose more educational books and were more likely to donate to charity if the information was on paper.

People found the decision making more real, and more relevant to them personally, when they had a physical version. We consider our choices more when we physically hold something, rather than just scrolling and clicking.

It’s no wonder then that direct mail evokes a more instant and lasting response, with studies showing that mail is 48% more memorable than email.6

What does an investment in mail deliver?

Direct mail has a proven high ROI and consistently high engagement:

•  An average email open rate is 19.7%.7
•  96% of direct mail is engaged with
•  73% of direct mail is opened, and 71% is read or looked at
•  68% of door drops are read or looked at
•  31% of direct mail drives a commercial action such as making a purchase or donation, going online or visiting a store.8

But what about the environmental impact?

Contrary to opinion, the print and paper industry is one of the lowest greenhouse gas emitters in Europe, accounting for just 0.8% of emissions.9 Paper is highly recycled and naturally sustainable. It supports a circular economy with European forests growing by over 1,500 football pitches every day.

Many delivery partners also provide green and sustainable delivery options. These may help to reduce your overall carbon footprint by using electric vehicles or on-foot delivery. It’s always worth checking their commitment to sustainability and the ways in which they can support your dedication to minimising your business’ carbon footprint.

Tips to make your mail more sustainable

•  Ensure your paper stock is from a certified sustainable source.

•  Ensure that the mail-out is targeted smartly to reduce waste. You can do this by making sure your database is completely up-to-date before sending.

•  Encourage your customers to recycle.

For more tips and practical guidance on making your mail more environmentally-friendly, take a look at the new Marketreach sustainability guide.

How can you combine DM and new technology?

Mail’s power really comes alive when physical and digital are seamlessly combined to create a ‘phygital’ campaign.

Not only can mail drive traffic to a compelling online presence, but innovations like voice-activated mail, near-field communication (NFC) and augmented reality are blurring the lines between the two.

Voice activated mail?

Yes, it’s a thing. But we’re not suggesting customers talk to the contents of their envelope.

Instead, you simply include what’s called a VACTA or Voice Activated Call To ActionTM in the mail piece, which is basically a promotional code.

Customers with smart speakers like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant then read the code to their speaker, which in turn is able to activate a promotion or order.

By eliminating the need to type, it can do away with barriers to purchase and increase engagement with your target market.

How can you use NFC in DM?

As if marketing didn’t already have enough acronyms.

Google NFC and you’ll find it’s defined as the ‘invisible bridge between your physical mail piece and the digital world’. It’s also the tech that makes contactless payments possible (at a distance of 1.5 inches or less).

NFC is an embedded wireless microchip that provides your mail piece with short-range radio waves that are activated in the presence of an NFC-capable mobile phone. For instance, an NFC chip could be placed in a sticker, which enables the consumer to link up to a website from a DM piece.

This could allow the customer to use the mail pack to enter into a competition, or collect loyalty points.

Let us not forget the QR code

And finally, there’s the humble QR code, which has had quite the resurgence over the pandemic. Once you’ve used it to order beers in the pub garden it’s second nature to use it elsewhere. QR codes can create a direct link to your brand and its content. It can send customers to a unique personal page providing offers and information based on their activity, or continue a customer’s journey seamlessly online

Though it’s important not to ignore the good-old fashioned coupon – still an excellent way to encourage purchase. People are more than twice as likely to agree that they will use a coupon sent by mail rather than email.3

A welcome alternative to screens

Laptops during the day, televisions in the evening and our mobiles for many moments in between.

Physical mail makes for a relaxing break from those endless screens and a refreshing alternative to emails.

And mail delivers a really powerful break. People give mail their full attention ensuring they engage and respond. Many people report saving mail for when they want something enjoyable, like looking at a catalogue, or when they have the time to focus fully so they can take in the messaging and act on it.

For example, customers told Virgin Media that they didn’t feel they were getting value for money. Virgin needed to offer more if they were going to stop the churn – and they needed their customers to really see the deal. Mail was used, in conjunction with email, to get the message of a free upgrade directly into people’s hands in a way that couldn’t be ignored. The vibrant red envelope that landed on customer’s doormats with the line - ‘We’ve added more to your bundle. Just because’ – demanded to be opened. The result? The number of people leaving Virgin Media dropped significantly in the month of the campaign. Read the full story here.

In conclusion

So, the evidence shows that direct mail remains a powerful channel in today’s digital world. In an interesting response to the prevalence of technology, mail fulfils a growing desire for real life physical connections. It puts the ‘brand in the hand’, making companies and their messaging feel close and tangible. That tangibility has staying power.

A strategically designed piece of DM makes a refreshing change of pace. One that will help you stand out from the crowd.

2 Advertising Association/WARC Expenditure Report Q2 2022.

3 TGI 2022.

4 JICMAIL Q2 2018-Q2 2020.

6 Royal Mail Marketreach, Neuro-Insight, 2018.

8 JICMAIL item data Q2 2017 to Q3 2022

9 European Environment Agency, Annual European Union Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2018, 2020