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With digital ‘trust fatigue’ rising, is direct mail falling back in favour with consumers?

With digital ‘trust fatigue’ rising, is direct mail falling back in favour with consumers?

Monday, October 02, 2017

I recently received a letter from my local department store containing no less than six free hot drinks vouchers, and if I’m honest, it made my day! I put this down to the fact that I will soon be hitting middle-age…but apparently I’m not alone. According to a new study by Royal Mail MarketReach and TNS, a staggering 89% of consumers consider mail communications to be ‘believable’, while only 48% feel the same way about email. Additionally, 70% of respondents admit that mail makes them feel more valued.

At face value, the survey findings may seem a little unexpected: haven’t we been ‘told’ for ages that direct mail is dead? After all it’s an out-dated medium, far from environmentally friendly, more costly and to add to this, response metrics can often be much harder to track compared to digital. But the emerging paradox, it seems, is that as our world has become increasingly digital, the scarcity of ‘real’ mail is stimulating its revival, and consumers say they are more inclined to trust its authenticity.

If we dig a little deeper, the findings begin to make some sense. We’re living in uncertain times, and over the past couple of years consumer trust in digital has been continually eroded by reports of fake online news, privacy concerns, malware, phishing and a lack of transparency in sponsored content, among other things, which may be creating some ‘trust fatigue’ with digital channels. The Edelman Trust Barometer (2016) supports this view, showing that in the past 12 months 48% of global consumers have chosen not to buy from a company because they lack faith in them.

The survey included questions relating to emotional engagement, and as the illustration below shows, attitudes and perceptions towards direct mail are far more favourable than email. For example, 70% said real mail gives them a better impression of an organisation, rising from 53% in 2007 and 55% in 2013.

The findings strongly indicate that mail still works, when it’s well targeted and the communication is thoughtful and timely. Many of us are fed up with the deluge of email that we battle with daily, and as the ‘no email’ or five sentence email movements gather pace, more and more individuals would prefer to hear from companies through other mediums, it seems. One potential reason for this positive shift towards mail may be down to the fact that marketers have over-utilised email marketing for batch and blast campaigns, which have often been poorly targeted, lacking in personalisation, and occurring way too frequently. I’ve lost count of the number of brand email subscriber lists that I’ve tried to remove myself from recently, for these very reasons, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

A June 2017 research paper commissioned by Ipsos Connect found that 57% of adults agree that ‘brands should be more careful where they place their advertising’ and revealed that 63% of consumers ‘would respond more positively to a social media ad if it appeared in a more traditional channel’. It therefore makes sense that just over half of survey respondents say they would prefer to be contacted by mail ‘when the communication includes sensitive or confidential account information’. Mail appears to deliver far more reassurance that the message is credible and secure.

Furthermore, direct mail is found to have a much longer life-span within the home, compared to email, giving people multiple opportunities to re-read the item and engage with it more deeply. According to the Royal Mail study:
• Addressed advertising mail stays in the home for an average of 17 days
• Door drops stay for an average of 38 days
• Bills and statements for 45 days

Clearly, mail continues to play an important role alongside traditional broadcast channels and digital media, and particularly when it comes to building trust between a brand and its consumer. Almost half (45%) of respondents said they had made an enquiry by phone for more information following a letter that they’d received in the past 12 months, which indicates its ability to trigger a call to action also.

To conclude, the Royal Mail study points out that “at a crucial, fundamental and human level, mail delivers important social and physiological truths. Quite simply, words printed on paper – the medium itself – can build and maintain trustworthiness.”

But as marketers, this doesn’t give us cause to rest on our laurels. Direct mail must continue to innovate and remain relevant, or it will fall foul to the same mistakes that have been made in email. Primarily, it’s critical brands are asking consumers how they would most like to be contacted, and do not ignore the more traditional channels.

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