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Market Summary - Direct Mail Marketing Insight

Media Update:

Direct Mail Marketing


QTR 2 2017


Royal Mail MarketReach
Direct Mail Marketing from Marketreach

At a Glance

What is direct mail marketing?

Direct mail marketing is a printed promotional piece of personalised and targeted direct marketing that advertisers use to communicate on a one-to-one basis with their audience. It encompasses a wide variety of marketing materials, including sales letters, discount coupons, brochures, catalogues, postcards and newsletters. The only limits are your budget and your imagination. Direct mail can be used to promote new products and special offers, get new customers or retain existing ones. 

Why should you use direct mail?

Technology has transformed marketing communications, but the core strengths of mail have endured and in some cases grown even stronger. Mail helps you connect with existing and with new customers in a way that few other channels can, especially when combined with digital. 

If you’re an advertiser and you want to communicate on a one-to-one basis with your audience, direct mail marketing is the answer.  It’s personalised, it’s targeted, and it’s effective.

patrick collister'When three people get together to start an advertising agency, what’s the first thing they do? Write letters. Lots of them. To all their old clients and to many potential new ones. They use mail because it’s personal, it’s persuasive and it works.’

Patrick Collister, editor Directory

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Digital media has changed the advertising world. It has brought a variety of new platforms through which brands and consumers can communicate and share experiences, from social media forums to e-commerce channels. As a result, new ways to create and enhance consumer relationships are evolving all the time, as is the ability to collect and analyse vast amounts of data on consumer behaviour. We’ve also seen constant change in the way people interact with media such as TV and the internet.

What digital media hasn’t changed is people.

We are still physical creatures that thrive on human contact and stimulation. Giving, receiving and handling tangible objects remain deep and intuitive parts of the human experience. In the never-ending stream of two-way virtual communication, sending a direct sensory experience of your brand can mark a pivotal moment in the customer journey.

Recent research suggests that mail lives a rich, complex and surprisingly long life beyond the doormat. For example, mail is kept in a household on average for 17 days for advertising mail, 38 days for door drops and 45 days for bills and statements (source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Ethnographic Quant, Trinity McQueen, 2014).

This means a single piece of mail can have a big impact and presents multiple opportunities to be seen, often over days or weeks. And 69% of people say they have a dedicated display area in their home where they put mail (source: IPA Touchpoints 5, 2014), so thinking creatively about ways to encourage people to display your mail will mean it becomes visible to everyone in the household.

In psychological experiments, people value something they can see and touch 24% more highly than something they can only see (source: Peck, Joann, and Suzanne B. Shu. The Effect of Mere Touch on Perceived Ownership. Journal of Consumer Research, 2009), so recipients perceive offers sent by mail as worth more than the same offer sent via email.

57% claim that receiving mail makes them feel more valued (source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Mail and Digital Part 1, Quadrangle, 2013), while 38% say that the physical properties of mail influence how they feel about the sender (source: IPA Touchpoints 5, 2014). This means mail can create a more genuine two-way relationship between brands and consumers by building strong, emotional connections which can reinforce brand values in a deep and intuitive way.

But mail works best as part of a multi-channel brand-building campaign, where it can deliver three times the market share growth when compared to campaigns that don’t include mail (source: Royal Mail MarketReach, IPA Databank Meta-Analysis, Peter Field, 2013)

How does it work?

In today’s rapidly transforming media landscape, brands and consumers are communicating in more diverse ways than ever. Mail, however, represents a significant point at which communication becomes physical.

When First Direct wanted to offer customers a £50 iTunes voucher for recommending their services to a friend, they didn’t send an email which could be deleted at the click of a mouse. Instead they created a mailshot in the form of a game of pass the parcel – an unforgettable piece of mail which neatly conveying the idea of passing on a recommendation.

But mail doesn't have to be this elaborate to be effective. For just 60p per pack, the Early Learning Centre (ELC) created highly-personalised birthday storybooks for members of its million-strong Big Birthday Club. These were sent out shortly before the child’s birthday and integrated with the retailer’s website, boosting sales by 8%. It’s been a wise investment for the retailer - for every £1 spent, it recouped £13.

Mail doesn’t just help you reach a mass audience - it’s also a great way to get the attention of powerful influencers among your target audience. Get your brand talked about by bloggers, journalists and social networkers by sending them something interesting, relevant and surprising through the post.

When Waitrose launched its weekly recipes, it sent the most vocal members of its online community a hamper with the ingredients for the first recipe - a rhubarb and ginger brulée. Half of them talked about it on the forum and Waitrose sold 14 weeks’ worth of rhubarb in four days.

With the right data, you can send highly targeted, personalised mail to different groups of customers.

In the highly competitive ski-holiday market, Monarch couldn't outspend established airlines, but of analysis of the Ski Club of Great Britain database showed them that Monarch's routes appealed to independent, adventure skiers who were also digitally savvy. 

The audience was sent a mail pack, which unfolded to reveal a mountain range, with information on fresh ski routes and resorts served by Monarch. By holding a smartphone over the mailing, recipients could access extra content on their mobile through Augmented Reality (AR), whetting their appetites for the coming ski season and linking them directly to the Monarch web site where they could see prices and book online.   

Monarch was the first UK airline to combine mail with AR, breaking new ground for the industry and leading to 7,201 bookings and £2.2 million in revenue, an impressive ROI of 18:1 on the cost of the campaign.

And don’t forget that your transactional mail can be a marketing tool, too. Use your bills and statements to flag up special offers, share company news and tell customers about related products and services.

Key features and benefits

It’s easy to forget that direct mail offers your audience a tactile, sensory experience – they can feel it, play with it, even smell or taste it. It’s portable – you can take it with you to read on the train, in the garden. Coupons can be detached and slipped in a purse or wallet.

Some of the most successful online retail brands have used print to build and grow a new client base targeting the affluent consumer, a fish hard to catch in the ocean of digital content. A catalogue or magazine can be an objet d’art, yet also a commercially potent opportunity to reach engaged customers who want to buy.

Indeed, participants in our recent research openly admitted that they would irrationally choose a more expensive provider on the basis of the production quality of their mailing (source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Ethnographic Quant, Trinity McQueen 2014).

Take ASOS as an example.  As of February 2013, unique visitors to ASOS Group sites were just shy of 20 million, with 2.3 million Facebook likes and almost half a million Twitter followers. But ASOS also does mail: its free printed magazine circulation of 456,000 makes it the 18th largest in the UK, immediately behind Glamour and Closer, and just a handful of places behind New! (source: ASOS Plc)

As Tess Alps, CEO of Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV, put it: “The tactile quality is what I really envy in direct mail. Combining direct mail with TV can satisfy the appetites that TV triggers.” (source: Thinkbox, 2013)

Mail also has longevity. People will keep a well-designed catalogue on their coffee table and a useful mailshot will be filed away for future reference. Just think: you could send something through the post that someone could keep for 20 years – advertising your brand all the while.

Mail lives on in the home for between 17 and 45 days – but it is also read, on average, for 22 minutes a day (source: IPA Touchpoints 5, 2014).  And this is especially true of brochures and catalogues.  71% of consumers open a brochure or catalogue from a company they have ordered from before and 56% then go on to interact with that company (source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Ethnographic Quant, Trinity McQueen, 2014)

Direct mail sends out a message about your company – recipients respond that they get a better, more professional and more personal impression of the sender when they receive a piece of direct mail.

And it even drives people online. 92% of people have been driven to online or digital activity as a result of receiving direct mail, with 87% influenced to make an online purchase (source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Mail and Digital Part 2, Quadrangle, 2014).

Finally, direct mail doesn’t have to compete with other content, like a TV channel or web site. There are 530 UK TV stations, 821 UK radio stations and 234 million websites… but only one letterbox.

Key audience strengths

The beauty of direct mail is that it enables you to target your audience with pinpoint accuracy – by postcode, demographics, interest, or based on their buying habits. If you’ve a customer database that contains some of this information, you’re sitting on a direct mail goldmine.

What’s more, its accuracy is improving all the time. With the world of programmatic buying at our fingertips, we can target messages to customers and prospects based on their buying behaviours and their social media profiles. 

For example, after spending over 750 hours analysing different product, purchase and non-purchase shopping behaviours across online and offline transactions, plus web sites, social media and partners such as Nectar, Homebase was able to identify 10 triggers that were an indicator of potential future customer need.

By targeting customers based upon these triggers, each of their direct mail communications is now personalised around a product the customer has already purchased.  Dynamic templates make that purchase the feature image, highlight local store details and include offers competitive in that area.


Without any additional budget, new systems or additional resources, the data management and print processes have direct mail activity delivered within six days and email in two. And by acting quickly to prompt further related spend the programme has moved average response rates from 9% to 46%, delivering 2% of total sales (£30.4m per year) and shifting ROI from 120% to 346%.

And in their latest campaign, data analytics again proved their worth for Homebase, who targeted half a million gardeners with ideas, hints and tips through a multi-layered DM campaign, which delivered £30.2m in revenue and over £866,000 in incremental sales. 

We can also see that direct mail lends extra oomph as part of an integrated campaign, especially when using social media, with 86% of people connecting to a business online and 54% engaging on social media, as a direct result of receiving direct mail (source: Royal Mail MarketReach, Mail and Digital Part 2, Quadrangle, 2014). For example, every quarter Tesco sends out a mailing to its 10 million-strong Clubcard database, resulting in a 50 – 100% increase in searches for ‘Tesco Clubcard’ online (source: BMRB)


About Royal Mail MarketReach

At Royal Mail MarketReach, we help clients and their agencies get better returns from their investment in mail.

Think of us as the mail experts in your team. Through research, insight and experience, we prove and promote the value of mail, and enable clients and their agencies to realise the value in their own businesses.

These are our core beliefs:

  • We believe in the power of 1 to 1 communications to build customer relationships
  • We believe that we can only win when mail users and recipients win
  • We believe that value is created by working in partnership

Customers are demanding 1 to 1 communications, and this is why mail has a great future. We can help you find the right place for mail in your marketing plans and demonstrate how it can create value for your business.

Everything we know about how and why mail works is based upon detailed, independent and, above all, recent research. It’s how we can give you actionable insight into how to get better results from your mailing activities.

While we believe in the ability of mail to make a difference, we also understand it’s important to use it properly. We can help advise when to use mail in the mix and help you to optimise it.

Working together we can help you achieve your goals.

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