Door drops may not get the same hype as digital channels, but they continue to deliver results. With a steady increase in spend and improvements to targeting systems, David Reed finds out why door-to-door could be the most effective channel you are not currently using.
Reach, cost, targetability and responsiveness. Four dimensions that every marketer (and their media buyer) looks for in a route to market. What makes planning the media mix so frustrating is that none of these four can ever be optimised at the same time. For some, such as broadcast media, costs tend to weigh heavily. For others, such as social media, responsiveness is an unknown.
Yet there is one channel that combines all four in a way that, while not necessarily optimal, perhaps offers the best compromise. That may explain why door drop has enjoyed a gentle revival in its fortunes. During 2010, expenditure rose by 3.1 per cent to £260 million, according to figures from the DMA Door Drop Council.
Modest growth when compared to the 116 per cent rise in mobile advertising that year as reported by IAB/PwC. Yet it still leaves door drops at three times the size of mobile (£83 million last year) despite the overwhelming emphasis that other channel has enjoyed. Volumes in door drop are also recovering - up 1.8 per cent to 7.9 billion last year - although average weekly receipt is currently just 5.8 items, compared to 9.1 items five years earlier.
One reason for this discreet success could be the continued acceptability and responsiveness of the channel (see the findings from the British Population Survey in the box below). Another major factor is the continued investment by distributors into the medium, especially around targeting and tracking.
“There are a number of drivers of growth. One is the accountability of the medium - it is quite easy to measure and track. In the current economic climate, marketers are under pressure to justify budgets and you can easily show that with door drops,” says Philip Ricketts, head of strategy, marketing and sales at Royal Mail Door to Door.
A second factor helps to explain both the growth and the ability to account for campaign outcomes - the central role of the Internet in consumers’ lives. “A lot of organisations are putting their business online, but they still need to drive consumers to the website. Door-to-door is a broadcast medium that does that,” says Ricketts. “A lot of products consumers buy are ones they don’t need, unless the brand makes them want it.”
Ricketts adds that digital technology is also becoming a key enabler for unaddressed mail campaigns. “We launched the use of QR codes earlier this year to support measurability. You can put them into a leaflet and take the consumer straight to your web site,” he says. This adds another element to D2D’s long-term role as a support medium, best used in combination with other activity.
Royal Mail has been working hard to make the channel more accessible, from offering eye tracking to optimise leaflet design through to mapping distribution against customer profiles and on to full end-to-end buying, production and delivery. “We are able to use a customer profile to identify where customers live and what percentage are in each postcode sector,” says Ricketts. Better targeting helps to leverage the impact of the medium. As the company points out in its “What 5p Buys” campaign online, 84 per cent of consumers remember receiving a door drop in the past two weeks (source: Fresh Minds).
Awareness of door drops may be high for a somewhat paradoxical reason - letterboxes have become less cluttered in the last few years. Door-to-door is made up of three main activities - Royal Mail D2D (leaflets delivered with the daily mail), newshare (leaflets dropped with free newspapers), and solus or team (leaflets delivered on their own).
The first of these has seen its capacity increase with the removal of the cap on how many items can be carried. But the second has suffered significantly - before the recession, 19 million households were getting free newspapers, but this has fallen to 11 million as a result of closures in the publishing industry. Consumers get fewer items each week, which helps each one to stand out.
That may be another contributing factor in the return of budgets to this channel. “We’re certainly seeing something of a resurgence of interest in D2D,” says Mark Davies, managing director, TNT Post (Doordrop Media). “Also, advertisers are getting older and wiser around new media and digital. There are some who’d gone into them in a big way and are not necessarily unhappy, but they have not performed well.”
Davies also points to QR codes as an important added benefit of door drops, by providing a link to online activity. “Using a simple URL for response is not as trackable - that is an issue for all other media. Google has grown fat off everybody’s ineptitude. We are able to apply a QR code and show where traffic has come from a door drop,” he says.
Forward-thinking marketers are starting to understand how physical media can drive digital engagement strategies. “Nothing happens online without some impetus - you need a trigger for the consumer to do something and to get people tweeting about what they get, for example,” says Davies. The ability to generate buzz in social media is drawing many FMCG marketers back to the channel, especially for sampling.
TNT Post has also seen a positive response to its Home-In Targeting (HIT) system as a way of off-setting the decline in free newspaper deliveries. “It applies a new level of science by not just targeting postal geography, but looking for where specific relevant households can be found. We are looking for the right audience for your leaflet, not just people who happen to live in that postcode,” he says.
This has required digitising round-level information and mapping it against postcodes and geographies to make for a more flexible D2D planning system. By drawing on Experian’s data sources, advertisers can look for their desired consumer profile, identify where it lives and then plan the most effective distribution that minimises waste.
“Another thing we have been doing over the last couple of years is building a responsive database through an incentivised lifestyle survey online,” says Davies. His company delivers a leaflet that directs consumers online. After completing the survey, they are given a password to write onto the leaflet which is left out for collection the the next day in return for a box of chocolates. Response rate has been a highly creditable 8 per cent.
A new targeting system called SMART-Drop has also been introduced by Link Direct. Developed over the last two years in co-operation with free newspaper publishers, managing director Chris Roxborough describes it as, “a highly-targeted offering using either free newspapers down to distributor round level or to build tailor-made rounds for individual clients.” Instead of the average 2,500 households identified within a postcode sector, the 700 in a postcode or 250 in a typical round, the system identifies clusters of around 150 households per postcode sector that match a target profile, then builds distribution routes to hit them.
This flexibility to build rounds to fit a target profile, rather than buying off-the-shelf distribution geographies is an important step forward, since it significantly reduces wastage. It also allows advertisers the flexibility to build round-level media plans using any of the three door drop services, not just free newspapers (which have always been offered down to round level).
“Postcode sector used to be the unit of distribution currency. Now we can go right down to postcode level, so we can take a direct mail client, identify exactly who they have been mailing to, then apply that profile to door drop and build the rounds based on areas that have the most opportunity,” says Roxborough.
By removing the geographical obstacles, Link Direct is offering a much more flexible and tailored channel that is more in line with the sense of personalised media that digital channels have been proposing. It also reduces wastage and increases relevance - for one client where the penetration of relevant consumers at a national level was 14 per cent, SMART-Drop was able to build a plan delivering to 80 per cent of target profiles.
With DEFRA targets to hit, the direct marketing industry needs proof that it is keeping potential waste out of the stream. Targeting is primary evidence of that. It also reduces the budgetary wastage that concerns clients, not least by making it easier to track responses back to door-dropped households.
“One credit card company client didn’t believe that offline advertising drives online traffic. So we looked at the postcodes of their online response and found up to 40 per cent had received a door drop within the last four weeks,” says Mark Young, chief executive of The Leaflet Company.
While he notes that this is a post-rationalisation of a campaign, he argues that, “we are much more involved in customer data than ever before. We have always done planning for door drops and more recently post analysis - now we are increasingly given customer data to profile and plan from,” he says.
The increasingly data-rich resources of D2D distributors is also allowing them to prove ROI in the channel more readily than when relying on research-based econometric modelling. “I like to see that done by a neutral consultancy, rather than a media agency where door-to-door never seems to come out so well,” he notes. Often this is due to a poor level of understanding and information about the medium, as well as a lack of favourable disposition towards it.
If D2D is having a resurgence, then data is one of the main reasons. But Young underscores another factor that has always been at the heart of the channels appeal to consumers - localism. “Small and medium-sized advertisers can’t afford TV or radio - door drop is key for them. Even chains like Dominos, Budgens and Londis all rely on local targeting,” he says. Demographics are powerful - combine them with geography and they can really deliver.
A new version of the research covering Q2 2011 is available from http://www.thebps.co.uk/reports-to-purchase.