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What makes direct mail work for consumers?

A third of charity mail is thrown away unopened and direct mail's efforts to rid itself of its "junk mail" tag are having little impact, according to a survey by Nielsen Media Research. Here you can see a short video on why the public bins some direct mail unseen and asks what would make them open it.

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The survey revealed that 21% of all mailings are thrown away unopened and charities are among the biggest offenders with 33.7% of their mail discarded unseen. Some argue that charities' mailing efforts lack creativity and are too dull and formulaic.

The overall amount of mail disposed of without being opened has barely changed from last year when the figure was 22% and rates of name and address errors in mailings were unchanged at 4% and 1% respectively. Overall spend on direct mail was down 10% in the year to June to £1.68m. 

However finance firms have improved: 12.5% of their mail was binned unopened, down from 15.5%. Finance company MBNA remains the UK's biggest investor in the medium, having raised its spend by 1% to £45m.

Charities have been experiencing declining response rates from their direct mail for the past few years, particularly when prospecting for new donors. Many have invested in alternatives to try to make up the lost ground, including digital, door-drop and face-to-face promotional activity.

Despite the disappointing response level, charities appear to be increasing their volume of mail with the sector's direct spend in the 12 months to June up by 7%. The research also shows that charities are still more likely than other organisations to put their entire marketing budget into mail.

The biggest spender was animal charity PDSA, which raised its mailing spend by 6% to £6.6m, a sum which accounted for 83% of its total marketing budget. Other charities of similar size boosted their mailing activity to an even greater extent. Age Concern's spend was up by 15%, while the British Heart Foundation and the Salvation Army raised theirs by 37% and 30% respectively.

David Burrows, head of fundraising at direct agency TDA, said that smaller charities are outspending better known ones. For example the PDSA spends twice as much as the RSPCA. He also stressed the effect of new names entering the market which have been mounting aggressive donor recruitment campaigns to create a presence quickly.

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