Direct mail and the Coronavirus

This article was published by Decision MArketing on 11th March 2020

Yesterday I was waiting to catch a train to London from Leeds. The first thing I noticed was the distinct lack of people. The week before the station had been heaving. The second thing I noticed was that the team of people trying to hand out free samples of a new energy drink were being avoided at all cost. They literally couldn’t give their drinks away.

Clearly experiential marketing is suffering a huge setback in the wake of coronavirus, and more disruption is expected as major events are called off. Major festival Coachella has announced that it is rescheduling to October and many other events are expected to follow suit. For brands that spend a significant amount on field marketing, this is a problem in the short term.

As the name suggests, experiential is all about helping customers to experience a brand. Not only that but it is proven to enhance brand salience and create or reinforce brand perceptions in a relevant, engaging and implicit manner. Removing this ability from the marketing mix leaves a large hole. However, there is a solution.

Immunologist Doctor Al Edwards has said that coronovirus is fragile and doesn’t live very long outside of the body. It particularly doesn’t like paper, which is why catching coughs in a tissue is so important, but it also means that the chances of catching the virus from the mail are non-existent. Consequently in the wake of experiential curtailment, direct mail makes a good hole-filler. Not only that, but it is cost effective and easy to execute at short notice.

The power of direct mail is its tangibility. The ability to literally get the brand in the hand. Like experiential, it is an engaging channel. As outlined in Royal Mail’s Private Life of Mail study in psychological experiments, people value something they can see and touch 24% more than something they can only see. Moreover, 38% of mail recipients say that the physical properties of their post influences how they feel about the sender. The production values of a mail piece can reinforce brand values in a deep and intuitive way.

Its tangibility also encourages longevity. Almost 40% of people say they display mail they have received in their home, for example on the fridge or coffee table. Mail is also passed around the household, with close to a quarter of direct mail pieces being shared among family and friends. Direct mail also has staying power, being kept in a household on average for 17 days. This means a single piece of mail can have a big impact and presents multiple opportunities to be seen, often over days or weeks.

Analysis of the IPA Effectiveness Awards Databank also reveals that, like experiential, direct mail is a strong brand builder. Campaigns including mail delivered market share growth with three times the efficiency of cases without mail and in many cases brand switching is evident.

And, finally, given the alarming statistic that up to a fifth of us could be at home at any one time; either in self isolation or fighting the virus, it looks more and more likely every day that this could become a reality, meaning there could be an audience of 13.2 million people waiting at home for a distraction to come through their letterbox.

Patrick Lymath is product director of Mortascreen and Halo at Wilmington Millennium