The digital age has gifted marketers with more channels to reach consumers than ever before. While these new forms of communication have their unique benefits, it’s time to look beyond online marketing.

Over the last decade, email has emerged as one of the most popular channels for brands to communicate with their customers, but have consumers reached a state of email fatigue? For many, the always-on, often obtrusive nature of email is wearing thin. For brands, concentrating so heavily on these channels has resulted in missed opportunities to connect with customers via alternative means.

As adapting to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) forces brands to review their strategy, there has never been a better time to use direct mail.

Changes to regulation

GDPR has been introduced to hand control over personal data back to the consumer. It replaces the Data Protection Act, which was introduced in the late 90s when many people were getting their first email address. In the run up to implementation, it was difficult to miss the hysteria in the media. While it’s true that achieving compliance will require serious investment (both of time and resource) for many marketers, it’s important to remember that it will promote transparency and lead to a more positively disposed consumer. Ultimately, those brands who embrace the regulation will benefit from more mutually beneficial relationships with their consumers.

GDPR is not the only piece of data regulation set to impact marketers. The ePrivacy Regulation is due to come into force in 2020 and will set out strong guidelines for electronic marketing. While Brussels is still finalising the specifics, ePrivacy will complement GDPR with clear requirements for consent to the use of cookies and opt-outs.

Returning to direct mail

With guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) highlighting that unlike other channels, direct mail can be used under legitimate interest under GDPR, it’s time for marketers to seriously consider it as a competitor to email marketing.  In the run -up to implementation, there was a strong focus on consent, but the regulator has indicated that all the legal bases for processing data under GDPR have equal weighting and if consent is difficult, businesses should look for a different lawful basis.

Away from legislation, research demonstrates how direct mail resonates with consumers – especially the millennial audience. Many of the generalisations we’re used to hearing about how these ‘digital natives’ cannot be parted with their screens is simply not true. In fact, Gallop research found that 95 per cent of 18-to-29-year-olds have a positive response to receiving personal cards and letters. Having grown up with technology, it’s interesting to see that the tactility of direct mail particularly appeals to the younger generations.

The channel also enables brands to demonstrate their creativity, with no set dimensions to fit or space to fill. This shouldn’t be underestimated in today’s market. With consumers so used to receiving such standardised communications from brands, the opportunity to experiment with colour, shape and size of direct mail gives it a competitive edge against other channels and means it is difficult to ignore when it comes through the letterbox.

Viewability concerns have plagued email marketing for some time, with the DMA’s 2017 email benchmarking report highlighting that 14.2 per cent of marketing emails were opened by consumers. On the other hand, a recent study by  Infotrends found that 66 per cent of direct mail is opened, making its effectiveness difficult to deny. The same study confirmed that consumers not only open direct mail, they also act on it, with 62 per cent of those who respond to direct mail making a purchase within three months.

With consumers having more choice than ever before, there is now a real challenge for brands who want to make their mark. In order to achieve long-term value, brands should assess whether their current marketing channel mix is having the desired outcome.  Using MRI scanning, research from Bangor University demonstrated that tangible materials make a deeper impression on the brain when compared to digital alternatives, suggesting that incorporating direct mail into campaign planning will help create a lasting impact.

Recognising new opportunities

It is certainly an interesting time for marketers who have been tasked with trying to navigate new data regulation and look ahead to further changes on the horizon. While it’s not easy to adapt, those who recognise the opportunities presented by GDPR and ePrivacy will thrive. Recalibrating the marketing channel mix will not only help brands with compliance, it will also strengthen relationships with consumers.

Direct mail is alive and well, and when combined with a targeted strategy and strong creative, it can deliver unparalleled results.

Mark Roy

Mark Roy


Mark Roy, Founder and Chairman of REaD Group