Using direct mail to affect behaviourial change

Direct mail has long been recognised for its ability to inform and promote. However, its talents run deeper. For instance it can be used very effectively as a way to affect behavioural change amongst consumers; although is rarely given the chance.

The reason is that many experts believe that the best ways to get us to change our ways, like stopping smoking or eating more healthily is to implement interventions that essentially force change – such as increasing taxes on tobacco, placing a 9pm watershed on junk food ads and restricting promotions on unhealthy snacks, for example.

The pen is mightier than the sword Whilst undoubtedly putting a stop to BOGOFs on crisps and pizzas, enforcing minimum unit prices and curtailing advertising will have an impact; these techniques are all sticks; not carrots. Psychological research carried out by Adams *et al *in 2014 shows that to successfully change behaviour the use of sticks and carrots are required. Consumers need to have an understanding of the why, not just be forced to do something. This is where direct mail comes in.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush Direct mail is one of the most successful media channels for communicating complex information. This is because of its tangibility. Being able to touch something is a deep rooted part of the way we interpret the world around us. According to a study by Royal Mail this emotional impact results in 60 per cent of consumers saying that a communication via direct mail makes a more lasting mental impression on them and makes it easier to recall later on.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder Moreover, maybe somewhat surprisingly to many, direct mail is now one of the most welcomed forms of advertising. A study by Gallup reported that 36 per cent of people under the age of 30 look forward to opening their post every day. Whilst 95 per cent of 18-to-29-year-olds have a positive response to receiving direct mail. For these younger consumers receiving mail is a novelty. What’s more for older customers, who might remember the so-called Summer of Discontent back in 2005, the introduction of GDPR has resulted in better targeting, which in turn has led to a significant increase in favourable consumer perception of the channel.

Everyone is unique One of the key reasons direct mail is so effective as a motivator of behaviour change is its ability to be tailored to the individual. Going back to psychology, numerous studies show that the more personal something is to us, the more appealing we find it. Therefore in the bid to change the narrative charities can personalise communications to recipients with messages that will resonate with them specifically. True one-to-one marketing.

There’s no place like home Finally, there really isn’t any other place like home. To this end because mail is received in the home there is a special relationship between residents and their mail. In fact many people have a ritual: Come in, pick up the mail, make a cup of tea and then open and read their post. The environment and context in which messages are received by consumers makes a difference. Mail is displayed in the house, it is passed around and it has a long shelf life. IPA touchpoints shows that on average people spend 22 minutes with their mail a day, almost five minutes per item. By contrast research by Cisco shows that people spend less than 1.1 minutes on each email they receive.

These are just some of the reasons that if you want to change the narrative of your campaign you should consider direct mail as part of the marketing mix.

By Nick Hames

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