Despite an upswing in the use of data cleansing, too much mail is still being sent with name and address errors.
The public relations battering the direct-mail industry has taken in recent years has generated a good deal of debate. With so many organisations striving to raise standards, plenty have argued that the 'junk mail' tag is undeserved.
But, according to the latest report by Nielsen Media Research, there is still work to be done. An exclusive study for Marketing based on a panel of 10,000 consumers shows that in the 12 months to June, the public binned more than 21% of the mailings they received without even opening the envelope. That is only 1% lower than the previous year, when the survey was first carried out.
'It is a sad indictment of our industry that, in this apparently sophisticated age, such a huge percentage of direct mail is headed directly for landfill,' says Mark Roy, chief executive of The Read Group, adding that waste is a perfect excuse for government legislation.
Read's own research through YouGov shows that 72% of consumers want between 50% and 90% of their junk mail stopped, amounting to a staggering 1.8bn items a year. This equates to about 140,000 tonnes of wasted paper, or 900,000 trees.
A likely reason for this is that too many mailers are failing to get consumers' details right. The proportions of mailings with name or address errors are unchanged on last year at 4% and 1% respectively.
The members of the survey panel logged all the direct mail they received with Nielsen. 'We know exactly who our panellists are and where they live, so we can easily spot where companies get their details wrong,' says Paul Dunn, head of media insights at Nielsen Media Research.
In terms of unopened mail, charities continue to be among the worst offenders. A third of their mail is unopened, accounting for nearly a third of all unopened mail across all sectors. Mail order fares little better, and high levels of binned mail are also evident in gardening and agriculture (where 34% of direct mail is binned), leisure equipment (28.5%), and online retail (38%).
However, financial services companies, the biggest mailers, have reduced their level of unopened envelopes to 12%, representing less than 20% of the mailing industry total. This relative success may reflect the greater resources available to banks, lenders and credit-card companies for data cleansing and segmenting, though it should be noted that financial services remains one of the worst offenders for getting names and addresses wrong.
The sector's improvement could also be attributed to a shift by several brands toward mailing existing customers rather than prospects. Consumers are, after all, more likely to open mail if they know it will be relevant. Also, Dunn suggests, better targeting means people are being bombarded less with loan and credit-card offers, so are more willing to open any that hit their doormat.
Some specialists believe the 10% fall in mailing spend revealed by the survey is likely to be due in part to this better targeting. Tash Whitmey, managing partner at direct marketing agency EHS Brann, says the value of customer insight is widely recognised, and most of the problems with scatter-bombing are caused by an irresponsible minority.
Encouragingly, there has been a marked jump in the use of suppression products that weed out 'goneaways' and the deceased; Read reports a 15% year-on-year increase, suggesting that the data-hygiene message is slowly getting through.
Agencies maintain that the quality of 'de-duplication', suppression and customer profiling have all improved, and are beginning to have a beneficial impact. Response analysis is further helping refine models used for future campaigns.
Financial services company First Direct has shown what can be done by improving its data processing and cutting its current mortgage campaign mailing by 55%. …