A recent whitepaper from the Winterberry Group, entitled A Channel in Transformation: Vertical Market Trends in Direct Mail 2009, can scare the direct mail daylights out of you if read too swiftly. I'd falsely thought that whitepapers were supposed to be sober, unemotional and authoritative guides. You know, the kind that points to a few problems but then gives you ample material and explanation on how to overcome those issues.
Motivated by our current economic dilemma that's hitting the direct mail industry as hard as any other, Winterberry bucks that formula. It begins with a brutally honest quote from a marketing executive who says, "Before, everyone knew how to read the market conditions. Now there's no visibility-it's like we're fighting through a fog." Then he mentions the "rocks" that we "have yet to hit." Yeah, good way to start that whitepaper, Winterberry. Both feet are on my chair now, just in case my office starts filling with water.
Of course, many businesses inside and outside the direct mail industry already feel like they hit a rock or two, and it shows. Perhaps they downsized, slashed budgets or even shuttered entire facilities, such as some print production houses. Meanwhile, almost everyone seems to have less money to spend, and most now have members of their families or within their inner circles of friends who've been laid off. In other words, one of the major causes of our current Grimm Depression-the wage-productivity gap, or the difference between how much consumers earn and the value of goods and services an economy produces-just became worse. So those pieces of mail that come into people's mailboxes today? They better be good. They better be relevant. They better strike the right tone.
Fortunately, this wake-up call whitepaper is not an autopsy. While Winterberry asserts that direct mail's dominant days as a "high-volume, mass-oriented response driver" are gone and points to certain sectors (such as catalog, credit card and nonprofits) that are bleeding more than others, it also emphasized that mail is still alive. And, in some areas, it's even kicking. Saying good-bye to the big mass mailings means smaller, better-targeted campaigns that use the latest technologies in data management and personalization. Similarly, it clears the stage for more creative efforts, so both copywriters and designers increasingly may be called upon to write and design packages that are tightly focused on prospect subsets.