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What history tells us about direct mail’s role in a crisis

You can’t exactly call dropping leaflets behind enemy lines direct mail, but ever since the propaganda war waged during World War II, the value of printed material in a crisis has been clear.


With a frightening and stark drop in business in the print industry, we thought it would be good to look back at ways that print and direct mail have been used to help in other times of crisis or to help manage acute issues.


Print during WWII


Both sides of the war used leaflets to try to influence both soldiers and the general public, with leaflets and posters distributed by the resistance and dropped on areas by plane.


It was thought that leaflets telling soldiers they were close to losing would encourage desertions and surrender, and many examples of this type of propaganda, created by both Germany and the Allies, still exist.


Print was also used on home soil by a government that needed to communicate clearly with a population that didn’t all have access to a radio. The Ministry of Food created a wide range of information leaflets designed to encourage the right habits and help people make the most of their rations.


And of course, the posters for everything from recruiting soldiers to encouraging people to “Dig for Victory” remain iconic.


Direct mail as a shortcut to your customers


Product safety recalls are a great example of the use of direct mail when a company faces an issue. They are used by every type of company, from car brands to appliances. The trick is to act swiftly, something Hotpoint failed to do, leading to criticism after a series of fires in their washing machines and tumble driers were reported.


Another example of the power of direct mail is its use by British Airways after 9/11 to offer free flights, and later hotel rooms too, to frequent fliers in order to rebuild confidence in air travel. It was communicating with an existing “fan” audience and was already a trusted brand, so it’s likely the campaign helped its reputation immensely.


There’s also no better current example of the value of direct mail than Boris Johnson’s plans to write to every household in Britain with messages about Covid19. The biggest issue will be ensuring the messages are relevant when the mailing lands, given how quickly the situation is changing.


Why does direct mail have such an impact?


Study after study shows that direct mail has better cut-through than digital methods. In fact, a Royal Mail report used neuroscience to show that “mail activates areas of the brain responsible for long-term memory encoding 49% more than email and 35% more than social media advertising”.


The same report quoted another study which showed “people said they are likely to give mail (65%) rather than email (35%) sent from companies their full attention”.


Due to the current situation we are at home more than ever before. Direct mail comes with the possibility of more people interacting with it than just the addressee, and it is proven to hang around in the home longer than digital methods which can be deleted with the click of a button (many times without even being read.)


It’s no wonder Print Week wrote about the direct mail opportunities during the Covid19 outbreak, quoting a variety of sources, including our own MD Mike, who was keen to point out how exhausted everyone is with negative news and sometimes fake news on social media.


“People are also getting tired of screen time on devices, and also all the negative news, fake news around coronavirus that is online is seeing people starting to change their way of consumption.


“I believe companies should continue to advertise and promote themselves to demonstrate loyalty to their customer and to also make sure that their brand demonstrates a more caring side by communicating with their client at this difficult time.”


We’re operating in a new normal right now, but if you want your brand to be remembered when the fog lifts, history tells us that direct mail is something to give serious consideration to.


Give the friendly PMG team a call for advice about your next direct mail project on 01924 284330.

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