The DMA and overcapacity of Direct Mail

Not often I take issue with something someone has written about direct marketing (you, stop laughing at the back!), but the Direct Marketing Association’s outgoing Robert Keitch, in responding to an observation by a colleague, has set me off.

Charles Grant-Salmon, the chair of 4DM Group observed (in this article) that financial firms may be easing off on using direct mail, and that this may have been a factor in the demise of the (very) short-lived Blackburns DMS. Keitch, until today chief of membership and brand for the DMA, added that he felt that overcapacity wasn’t limited to the direct mail industry – indeed in a tweet by the DMA earlier today they implied that the web had a worse overcapacity problem.

What they ignore, in their entirely sunny, happy way, is that while overcapacity may well be a feature of each, one does not equate to the other. Overcapacity in the direct mail market is down to production cost, waste, time-to-market, and broadcast cost, not to mention inability to reach outlying segments for the same reasons.

Overcapacity in digital is down to exactly the opposite – its abundance is down to its miraculously low cost (imagine sending a million mailing packs, call it £500,000. That’s £1,000 in emails). It’s down to its demonstrable and comprehensively auditable effectiveness, and the number of players diving in with innovative ideas to service the rapidly growing market. It is categorically not down to a lack of marketers desperate to get to grips with it.

Direct mail’s in decline (though it has its brilliant uses – Mercedes has used DM beautifully). The dodos are dying – yet there’s an abundance of bue sky. Don’t fall into the trap of relating the two.