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The resurgence of lettermail

February 4, 2016

Claire Borsenberger, senior researcher, and Emmanuel Vivet, deputy director, international affairs, Le Groupe La Poste, look at how digital technology is helping to transform the way lettermail is used

Lettermail volumes have been declining in all countries for more than ten years. Since 2005, the volume of addressed letters has dropped on average in the Nordic countries by about 30% and in Western Europe by about 25% (H Nikali, 2013). The general industry consensus is that substitution to electronic communication is the main reason for the decline. The weak economic environment and, in some countries, competition explain also part of the losses incurred by European national postal operators.

However, traditional media hasn’t disappeared. In fact, mail is thriving. Digital technology has only transformed the way mail is used. Digital printing enables mail to be personalized, giving consumers the feeling they are in a one-to-one conversation. Moreover, the costs of producing mail digitally have decreased. Over the past five years, the cost of digitally printed mailings has fallen by 25% (according to Royal Mail studies on the top five British printers, 2014). Mail campaigns can now be launched quickly and can closely follow purchasing trends.

Furthermore, studies show that people still love receiving mail (Royal Mail MarketReach, 2013). Research reveals that consumers don’t want to choose between mail and email – most want both. Consumers are very clear that mail and email have different qualities, which make each suited to different purposes. Email is seen as being quick, informal, suitable for follow-ups and easy to respond to. Mail grabs attention, is considered informative, makes recipients feel valued and gives a better impression (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Royal Mail MarketReach 2013 findings comparing the impact of email and lettermail on recipients

A 2015 neuro-marketing study carried out jointly by the United States Postal Service (USPS) Office of Inspector General and Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making in Philadelphia, USA, (RARC Report WP-15-012, June 2015) showed that consumers react differently to physical and digital media in the purchasing process. The emotional response is stronger and the information is better remembered when advertisements are shown in physical form.

Most importantly, the brain area stimulated by physical advertisements is the one responsible for value and desirability for featured products, which can signal a greater intent to purchase. This suggests a complementary effect between the two formats that could provide a powerful way for marketers to optimize their media mix.

February 4, 2016


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