By Claire Petite
Canada Post’s move to Community Mail Boxes (CMBs) for all Canadians will undermine the inherent value of physical mail – especially advertising mail.
I work in advertising and direct mail is my specialty. I spend a lot of time thinking about how effective direct mail is at getting an advertising message to consumers compared with the myriad other media available to marketers. So maybe I can’t overcome my bias. But I’m a consumer too. I know what it feels like to view advertising with a mix of annoyance, apathy and mild interest – certainly with a sense of detachment. I know when I’m being targeted and I’m as sensitive as the next person to my attention being corralled and to my character being profiled.
In the evolving digital world attention is currency and advertising online is still a sea of uncertainty for marketers. Canada Post spends a great deal of resources insisting to marketers that direct mail is the best way to advertise and get a message into the minds of consumers. From an advertiser’s perspective the one thing that sets DM apart from other ad media is that it smuggles itself into your home with all the important “real” mail and might sit around on your kitchen counter long enough for you to pay some attention to the message it is hoping to transmit. It can also do this in a relatively controllable time frame. So why is Canada post eroding the thing that makes direct mail uniquely effective: its incognito infiltration into your domain and temporary, yet well-timed, residence on your kitchen counter?
Many people believe that there will be no mail at all in our future, other than packages. Lettermail, the vehicle of admail’s incognito scheme, is fading away as people opt for electronic bills and correspondence. People with Community Mail Boxes tell me they only check them once a week – so much for timing your DM campaign to align with a sales event. It’s also not uncool to blithely admit you empty your infrequently visited mail box right into the recycle bin. When people realize the only thing in their mail box is admail, they might just opt out entirely.
But to my clients direct mail is important. They need to market their products and services; they need to reach their markets effectively with the information that will motivate a sale. They need to solicit donations in a meaningful, thoughtful way and offer a means to reply privately. They want to put their brand in your hand, as the saying goes. Mail is still viable; it is still a great way to reach your market, for now.
Is the cost savings of CMBs to Canada Post really worth further diminishing the effectiveness and perception of admail by taking away the best thing it had going for it? The success of advertising mail is entirely contingent on its making it into the hand and home of the recipient, at least for a brief time. The decline of paper bills, subscriptions and correspondence has been threatening this hoped-for journey for two decades; why threaten it more by removing the means by which it goes directly from postal carrier to front foyer, as a tidy bundle of delightful ambiguous potentiality? When the public starts to disregard mail all together, so will marketers. I fear Canada Post is hastening its own obsolescence.
Claire Petite is the Manager of Lettershop Services at Performance Printing Ltd., a division of Metroland Media Group, in Smiths Falls, Ontario. She has been working in Direct Mail in Canada and the United States for 12 years and is an active member of the National Association of Major Mail Users (NAMMU) and The Central New York Postal Customer Council (CNYPCC). Performance Printing, through Claire’s direction, participates in Canada Post’s Registered Partner Program and specializes in variable-data digital printing and customer acquisition and retention via direct mail.