Understanding the medium you are using

by Graham Dodd on 23/07/2012

Let’s start with a fundamental.

Whether you call the medium; door drops, door drop marketing, letterbox distribution, household distribution, house to house distribution, leaflet distribution, letterbox marketing or any similar title, the medium delivers unaddressed promotional material through letterboxes.

Its not direct mail; the delivery of personally addressed promotional material through letterboxes.

Door drop marketing has long had a reputation with some that’s not fully deserved.

The late Arthur Thompson, a major user when Media Director @ Cogent and subsequently MD at Stepcheck – the independent door drop validation company, once coined a still often repeated phrase – “door drops are a warts and all medium“.

When talking about his Stepcheck service, another of Arthur’s favourite phrases was that Stepcheck was “an imprecise measure of an imperfect medium“.

And the two comments pretty much sum up door drops.

Sure, there are historical horror stories┬áthat could involve skips, rivers, recycling banks and occasionally a repeat situation could still arise.┬áThere are always likely to be issues over alleged non receipt of material, but the medium has moved on significantly from when today’s Marketing Directors and Agency Directors were perhaps junior brand managers or agency planners.

Advice today to avoid a medium based upon personal, historical issues may not be the best advice a young brand manager or agency planner will ever receive.

There is historical, independent research which clearly shows that under controlled circumstances, even where delivery is 100% assured, consumer recall of items in prompted, face-to-face interviews quickly evaporates.

Exercises on different client items showed a marked deterioration of recall within a week of distribution and by the time four weeks have passed, recall is really low.

The bottom line is that door drops are not a perfect science and there may well be some issues to be resolved along the way, but is there a perfect marketing medium?

Door drops have never been a Cinderella medium. More of an Ugly Sister to many.

And its amazing the lack of clarity attached to so many briefs we receive.

Now as a respected and successful door drop planning and buying agency, our function in life is to help clients through the door drop maze and we are delighted at any opportunity to demonstrate our skills, but a piece of starting advice – listen to the experts and separate your personal perceptions and beliefs before embarking on a project.

Firstly, get to grips with the fact that there are three core services; Royal Mail door to door, free newspapers and team based systems which can operate on a shared or solus basis.

And quickly appreciate that there are probably more differences than similarities, in terms of how the three options function.

Targeting is a major similarity in that the medium has historically primarily been planned at postal sector level (and still is probably in too many instances), but a difference is that free newspapers and team systems increasingly offer sub sector opportunities, which can be implemented as standalone solutions, or perhaps alongside Royal Mail postal sector door drops.

And don’t aspire to a target market.

Profile and analyse an existing customer database (if you have one), or take advice from the experts of how to create a profile and the many ways to overlay that selection on your door drop geography.

Get your targeting wrong and your door drop may well not work.

The level of actual property coverage can vary significantly at sector level through each option.

Your first decision may be whether you require businesses to be covered as part of the plan – take advice on your options.

The level of residential coverage will vary between the door drop options and where multiple choice of free newspapers still exists, between the different titles.

Cheap can translate into low levels of coverage via free newspapers and if your target market penetration is similarly low at sector level, is there any guarantee the newspaper coverage matches your target market – to any degree?

Perhaps that’s why past free newspaper drops have not worked for you?

Think about about an equation where the coverage opportunities maximise coverage of your target market.

Thinking creatively, firstly consider the size of your item in relation to it fitting through a letterbox and then are there restrictions on how your bulk supplies should be presented to final mile suppliers?

Yes there are on both counts, so take advice on formats.

I have recently had a discussion with a client about activity for Spring 2013, where the proposed item will be a really creative piece and they are worried about it fitting through the letterbox.

Practical advice? Mock one up, become a distributor and try and put it through your own letterbox!

And do delivery deadlines for bulk supplies vary by door drop option?

Yes they do, so take advice again.

And always beware of the different deadlines.

How long will your distribution take in terms of days/weeks and is distribution completed at different times of the week by the different options?

Each door drop option will have its own set of rules for distribution duration, but at the same time, the medium can be flexible to meet your requirements. Its not impossible to drop 26+ million items in one week, but its equally possible to stagger that (or any other volume) over an agreed number of weeks, in a disciplined manner by postal sector to perhaps control footfall, particularly into pubs, restaurants, days out attractions etc.

And yes the different disciplines tend to be distributed at different times of the week, so if timing in a week is crucial to you, ask the question.

Commonly, mixing the door drop options, can for example provide a spread of distribution throughout a week.

Is there any difference in reliability between the various options (yes) and is there any difference between the reliability in urban and rural areas (yes again).

Our marketplace positioning as a door drop media independent brings with it an assurance to our clients that they will receive the best advice we think relevant to answer individual campaign briefs – and that advice may vary by campaign for the same client.

Whilst I’m not belittling the advice that may be supplied by any responsible media owner in the industry, such responses can be limited by their in-house services and whilst that advice may well form a solid proposition, ask yourself the question – could this proposal be bettered?

As a consumer, do you make any form of major purchase without looking around?

Why not ask a door drop media independent for a view on the brief as well as a media owner (but I would say that!).

And when problems arise, whether they be claims of non coverage, multiple receipt, items left sticking out of letterboxes etc., is there a reporting and investigation process?

Yes to both elements, but variable by distribution option and possibly limited by the timing of the issues being raised.

It may be that whilst there was no formal reporting at the point of distribution, issues will still be investigated and will require as much detail as possible from you, ideally down to individual house number rather than a postcode unit.

And there are opportunities to overcome the medium’s lack of reporting in the first instance.

Each door drop option currently has different opt out systems and whilst there are “industry” plans to create just one UK opt out scheme, that may still be some way off.

And even then, not all door drop suppliers will necessarily comply with any “national” system.

Each option may well currently also have a different approach to complying with existing no junk mail stickers?

And what about cost?

You can still cover households for less than 1.5p, buy you can also pay as much as 10p per household, or more.

How does that compare to other media?

Rates cards don’t exist for all the options, but charges are certainly influenced by a combination of size, pagination and/or weight of item.

Royal Mail door to door’s rate card is also driven by volume thresholds, but additionally influenced by a sector grading system.

Once over the 200K volume, charges can only be predicted until actual postal sector identities are revealed.

On free newspaper and/or solus drops, volume can play a role as well, but not such an obvious one.

What’s certain, is that door drop marketing is an affordable medium.

In summary.

Door drops can be described in many ways; intrusive, responsive, flexible, accountable – and complex may be another.

When planning activity, think outside the box.

Forget your personal preferences or beliefs.

Take advice from more than one potential supplier.

Test, test and test again.

Don’t stop learning.

The medium is constantly evolving, so don’t get left behind.

This article was written by...

– who has written 28 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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