How do I know my leaflets will be delivered?

by Graham Dodd on 19/10/2012

“How do I know my leaflets will be delivered” is a common question when talking to door drop clients for all practitioners and agencies.

When using Royal Mail door to door and/or free newspapers, we can talk clients through verification techniques and suggest supplementary opportunities as and if necessary.

If we are talking solus or shared distributions through teams, the picture is not so clear and in reality is complex and variable.

There is no “industry” standard.

Most companies will offer “backchecking” systems where delivery is verified either through face to face or telephone interviews to confirm receipt of the item in question, or “visual” checks where distributors will be observed whilst working working and addresses recorded.

Whichever system is used, if a client requests sight of the checks, under the constraints of the Data Protection Act, the most they are provided with is a list of road names which will show where interviews have been conducted and the results; positive, negative or unsure.

Residents’ names, house numbers and telephone numbers must be blanked out, so their real value could be considered debatable?

A few companies deliver leaflets alongside the clients’ literature, which advertise their own distribution services and acts as a recruitment opportunity for distributors and the response doubles as a check that distribution was completed.

There is a “national pool” of team labour and whilst some companies will possibly have teams or distributors who may only work for them, many teams will work for a multiple number of companies and indeed also undertake “private” work.

Some “national” operators will also use the smaller, local or regional companies to complete their clients’ work, possibly in some instances still passing it off as their own workforce.

But against the general background of “how do I know my leaflets have been delivered”, tracking systems have in recent years come to the fore.

There are two options; vehicle and distributor trackers.

Dependent upon who you speak to within the practitioner industry and what systems they operate, you will receive a wide range of views about their perceived value.

Interestingly, those views often mirror that of clients!

Let’s look at vehicle tracking first

Existence is reasonably rare and appears limited to companies primarily operating inside the M25, or just outside. Such companies obviously promote a level of assurance to clients by their ability to provide logs which track the start and finish times, vehicle routes and their stopping time “on territory”.

But interestingly, practitioners who do not have vehicle trackers and a number of clients we have spoken to, share a cynical view that the logs only prove the vans drove up and down the roads required for coverage and don’t actually prove distribution took place.

It would be fair to say however that we did find some clients who were impressed with the option and dare I even say had been seduced by the prospect of vehicle tracking “for the level of comfort it provided”, but when asked if they receive logs on completion of every drop appeared to hesitate. Read into that what you will.

Worryingly within practitioners, there seemed to be reasonable doubt about the efficacy of some practitioners’ claims that all their vehicles were tracked. That may of course be influenced to some degree by their natural competitiveness, but when clients also appear hesitant about always receiving reports, perhaps there is room to wonder?

One question which sprung to mind (cynically!) is how can a practitioner physically demonstrate to a client that all of their vans are fitted with trackers? And is a client ever going to fully interrogate a company’s claims to have trackers on all vehicles to that degree? Would they just take such claims in good faith?

Could it be that some practitioners are economical with the truth when talking about vehicle tracking?

So what about distributor tracking?

There are a range of possibilities. There are companies who simply don’t have tracking systems (some of those have in the past but no longer), there are others that always use tracking systems, but some who only use the systems if the client is prepared to pay extra.

Those who have dispensed with trackers point to the running and administrative costs related to them and in some instances, their unreliability particularly in city centres where signals can bounce?

These companies also point to the claimed, standard reliability of their services in the first place and the fact that their clients do not seek that level of assurance and whilst always keeping one eye on the future, see no need for trackers.

From companies who always use distributor trackers, there is of course a solid endorsement of the service and the assurance it provides to clients (although I did have one client cynically suggest it still only proved a distributor walked up the garden path!).

Seriously, why walk all the way up the path and not deliver the item? That said, it can happen.

If the letterbox is stiff/broken, if there is a yappy dog behind the letterbox or a junk mail sticker (if the company abides by them) or an abusive resident appears or yells out the window, the item may not get delivered, but do distributors always record such instances? And could that address subsequently be the source of a complaint?

These companies commonly claim that there is no “additional cost” for tracking, but I think its fair to say their “standard” charges are higher than many other suppliers, so I think the cost of purchase and maintenance must be somewhere in their business model.

And the companies who will provide tracking if the client is prepared to pay for it, suggest that is a ultimately a decision for the client based upon cost, sometimes also influenced by whether the company has vehicle tracking.

Any others?

Another system which has been developed is through mobile phones where apps already exist that can track a route somebody walks and a couple of practitioners confirmed their existing use of one system.

But as a couple of other practitioners pointed out when asked, providing distributors with phones is one thing, getting them back might be another and that potentially is an expensive cost centre!

And there is no getting away from it, cost generally is an issue.

Whilst there are companies out there selling solus distribution at the ridiculous level of £35-45.00 per 1,000, competitive quoting will always be an issue for all practitioners.

It would seem that there are companies with tracking systems charging what might be considered by some to be “high end” prices, but presumably providing a quality service to their clients and making a reasonable living?

There are also companies who don’t provide tracking, charge “market average” rates and who similarly and presumably provide a quality service to their clients and making a reasonable living? And then there are those charging rock bottom prices, who presumably are making a living.

For “local” clients, unlikely to perhaps ever seek distribution outside of the town, area or region they operate in, it may be a question of trial and error until you find a company who provide the level of service they are seeking, at a charge they find acceptable.

For clients (and agencies!) looking for reliable distribution on a much wider geographic basis, its almost like doing a jigsaw without a picture. From Plymouth to Wimborne to Surrey to London to Harpenden to Milton Keynes to Preston to Birkenhead to York there is no common option or solution.

What’s clear from our survey of practitioners is that there is a range of different views about the necessity and the value of trackers.

And the views of clients are remarkably similar.

So I’m not really sure where the industry goes from here?

This article was written by...

– who has written 29 posts on Letterbox Consultancy for Door Drop Marketing.

Graham Dodd is the founder of The Letterbox Consultancy - he has over 40 years of experience in the door drop industry and remains at the forefront of innovation in the business.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Simon Greatbatch October 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Well written Graham. My point is simple, if the technology is now available to add another layer of transparency to the door drop industry, why would all companies not want to embrace it. Whilst there is a cost factor, it is relatively low and a much better option to paying a lower rate and finding half your leaflets never made it out of their box to their target market.

As for the doubters, I can live with them, and would hope that the next step in the technology would either be visual proof of delivery or a radio frequency identification device attached to the mailer that transmits its been delivered. These are already used in parcel delivery so why not leaflets, samples, newspapers and magazines.

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