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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Online headache troubles marketers
Mailbox with junk mail
Direct marketing's junk mail image is spreading online

"Are you interested in an e-mail letterhead?" asked a standholder at the DM Show, direct marketing's showcase event at Earl's Court in London.

It is a sign of how the industry is changing.

Angela Walledge of the Walledge Agency
Angela Walledge: "Every penny has to work"
Long derided as a purveyor of junk mail, direct marketing is repositioning itself through better targeting of consumers and the use of digital media.

But it can still be an uphill struggle as legitimate companies find themselves tarred with the spam e-mail brush.

Bucking the downturn

While advertising spends shrink around the globe, direct marketing has been booming.

UK industry figures show a jump of nearly 10% in the second quarter of this year.

That is partly because it can be easier to track direct marketing, says Angela Walledge, who runs her own agency.

"With budgets becoming scarcer, every penny has to work, and if it doesn't work you have to know why," she explains.

Every year the Royal Mail handles 5 billion direct mail items, a number expected to grow as competition in the postal sector drives prices down.

Dialogue

But the direct mail industry plays down consumer fears that people could be swamped by similar numbers of e-mails and text messages.

While for some businesses - such as those in IT - e-mails are an ideal marketing tool, in general, digital media makes up only 5% of the industry.

"It's now part of the marketing mix but some people are doing it better than others," says Nick McConnell of e-mail specialist Digital Impact.

"The dialogues our clients establish are with people who want to hear from them."

Sector cowboys

The E-mail Marketing Association has been set up to bring best practice into digital marketing.


At the end of the day people giving their permission for companies to market to them is the key

Nigel Codman, Equifax

But there are clearly still many operating outside its parameters - one-third of the 300 million e-mails sent in the UK each day are reckoned to be spam.

When you can buy 1 million e-mail addresses cheaply, it might only need a 0.01% response to make money.

Cowboys will not worry that they have annoyed every other recipient.

It is not clear what impact new European Union legislation will have, but the computer industry is already taking its own steps with software that filters e-mails.

'More opportunities'

Direct marketers are keen to distance themselves from the spam merchants.

"Digital media opportunities are actually supporting traditional media," says Angela Walledge.

"You can get to someone quickly and easily but often you will need to mail material out to them.

"But it's given us more opportunities. We can always weave it somewhere into the mix of things we do."

Importance of consent

Legislation has gradually given consumers more ways of opting out of mailing lists.

E-mail marketing stand at DM Show
Marketers must get to grips with new technology

And later this year the first edited electoral roll will be published, without the names of those who have asked to be omitted.

The direct mail industry has had to roll with these punches, but believes it is professional enough to overcome them.

"At the end of the day people giving their permission for companies to market to them is the key," believes Nigel Codman of Equifax, "and marketers have got to work within that."

Jo Howard-Brown of consultants HBH Partnership agrees.

"It all hinges on good data and good use of data," she says.

Consumers can now be targeted by anything from income and driving habits to postcode and nationality.

Tried and trusted

While companies will be able to pinpoint the consumers they want, it might mean less unwanted mail for those outside target groups.

"The industry has changed dramatically in the 15 years I've been in it, partly because of legislation, but we are a very professional sector," adds Jo Howard-Brown.

Indeed it is, with its talk of customer relationship management and media-neutral planning.

But it is the tried and trusted methods that look set to carry direct marketing forward in the immediate future.

Mail International packages up magazines and leaflets and posts them. Business is up 10%.

"We're a mailing house that just deals with paper and polythene and we expect business to grow at the same rate next year," says company spokesman Peter Sharp.

Digital media is a new addition to the marketer's toolbox, but it will not stop our letterboxes bulging with mailshots just yet.

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Working Lunch
02 Oct 02 | Scotland
14 Aug 02 | Technology
05 Aug 02 | dot life
11 May 02 | Science/Nature
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