ProSpeak: Class Wars in Our Mailboxes
There is a class war playing out in mailboxes across America. It’s not necessarily a socio-economic conflict, but one of technology and the ripple effect on what enters our hands via the mail. If you look inside any mailbox today, chances are its contents will look very different than just five years ago. Technology and economic factors, including the recent changes in postage rates, have conspired to change how we use, produce and respond to mail.
Technology, long the proverbial double-edged sword, has allowed us to develop innovative packages and strategies that were unthinkable just a handful of years ago. And the Internet has forced many direct marketers out of their comfort zones, and helped redefine the art and science of direct marketing. Each year we have seen its influence become more pronounced as we are drawn to the ubiquity and the seemingly limitless possibilities of this shiny, relatively new medium.
Meanwhile, the recession has caused sweeping changes in the spending habits of consumers and marketers alike. Budgets have been cut across the board, and priorities and expectations have likewise been trimmed back from “thrive” to “survive.”
Our mailboxes, long the incubators for innovation — whether be it out of necessity, curiosity or pure self-indulgence — have taken on the importance of a laboratory trying to develop an antidote, or at least a vaccine for the rise of other technology-enabled mediums.
And like many discoveries, sometimes the answer has been overlooked and is far simpler than imagined.
Mail’s changing complexion
A closer look under our marketing microscope reveals a fascinating postal phenomenon. Regardless of whether it was due to recession or economy, there has been a pronounced change in the proportions of mail classes within our mailboxes. Numbers from the USPS may focus on the monetary impact, but the class complexion — and the creative strategies employed by each — of the mail is equally as important to marketers.
According to the USPS’ numbers, First Class mail declined 5.7 percent in 2011 vs. the previous year, while Standard mail actually increased by 8.6 percent during the same period. What this translates to is a shift in the first-to-standard ratio. It is this re-proportioning that is being overlooked by many direct marketers who are trying to address shrinking budgets and declining response rates in their creative strategies.
A gross overgeneralization of the “look” of each class of mail would be that Standard mail is more commercial and glossy, while First Class is dominated by “plain” and less graphic and envelopes.
The re-proportioning of mail class volumes has brought about fewer plain packages and more glossy in mailboxes.
Re-examine your creative strategy
Many creative direct marketers have a hard time recommending a plain white envelope rather than a four-color carrier featuring a visually compelling image. And many organizations may not feel they are getting their money’s worth. But the value of a sound creative strategy lies as much with the strategy as it does the creative.
It may defy your creative impulses to be bolder to stand out, but as more and more of the mailbox is being dominated by bold appeals, a contrarian creative strategy may be in order. A common creative marketing exercise is to look at what your competitors are mailing to help direct your strategy. Don’t discount the value of developing strategies within your market while also considering the macro-strategy version of this exercise.
One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to look at what you get in the mailbox on any given day. From there, think about ways in which you can stand out among your competitors. Testing and case studies abound about the effectiveness of a contrarian creative strategy in both the commercial and nonprofit sectors across all media.
Chances are a direction, if not a solution, will avail itself that may be simpler — both in look and implementation — than you had imagined. Sometimes the most creative approach is the less complicated one. FS