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Direct Marketing Magazine - Features
Issue: 3/1/04

Snail Mail Still Reigns Supreme
By Tim Bates

Tim BatesBefore you decide on alternative messaging channels to reach consumers, consider the results of a recent nationwide survey that shows postal mail as the top choice of consumers.
Messaging volume is growing steadily. Numerous media reports show that consumers are increasingly frustrated with e-mailbox clutter and the intrusive tactics of telemarketers. To be successful today, marketers must be aware of changing consumer attitudes concerning message delivery options and select the method or channel that is most preferred by recipients. To do otherwise risks failure, either by alienating potential customers or having messages discarded unopened and unread.

For guidance in selecting the best way to reach consumers, marketers may want to consider the results of a recent nationwide survey which shows that USPS mail remains the top choice of consumers as a channel for receiving business-related messages such as documents and letters, new product announcements and offerings, and confidential materials like bank statements and financial reports.

The survey clearly shows that consumers prefer mail over the alternative techniques of e-mail or telemarketing. Mail is the most accepted, and therefore the most effective, marketing tool that businesses can use to communicate with existing and potential customers.

The consumer attitude study was the third in a continuing series (the first took place in 1999) commissioned by Pitney Bowes and designed to gauge the value of mail--versus the alternatives of e-mail and telemarketing--as a way for consumers to receive important business related information.

The specific objectives of this study were to:
For the purposes on this study, no distinction was made between First Class and Standard Class mail. Newspapers and other periodicals were also not considered because of their inability to reach a specific, targeted individual.

7 Out of 10 Prefer Mail
The results of the study are especially encouraging for direct mail marketers. Despite a steady and significant increase in the percentage of homes with access to e-mail, the vast majority of consumers--at least seven out of ten in the key categories measured--still prefer to receive business documents, letters and messages via USPS mail.

Additionally, the survey found that access to e-mail had reached 62 percent of homes in December 2003. By comparison, 53 percent of homes reported having e-mail access in February 2001, and only 34 percent of homes had access to e-mail in March 1999.

However, despite this steady increase in e-mail access, the percentage of consumers exhibiting a clear preference for the USPS mail channel actually increased over the past two years. In December 2003, 66 percent of "wired" households preferred regular mail. In 2001, only 62 percent of those same households preferred mail.

Other key findings of the study show:
When considering receipt of confidential communications, such as bills, account statements and bank and financial reports, regular mail was preferred by an even wider margin. Nearly nine out of ten (86 percent) preferred the USPS mail channel to receive these vital documents. (However, that figure is down slightly from the 93 percent recorded in 2001, although it is still very high.)

Telemarketing Is Least Preferred
To get an even more accurate picture of consumer preferences, this year's study also asked respondents to identify their least favorite method--regular mail, e-mail or telemarketing--for receiving unsolicited marketing information. Not surprisingly, given the tremendous response to the National Do Not Call Registry, more than 60 percent of respondents said telemarketing was the least preferred channel of delivery for unsolicited marketing information.

All Groups Prefer Regular Mail
Even among respondents with e-mail access, 66 percent report they still prefer to receive documents, letters and messages via regular mail. (E-mail was preferred by 23 percent; 10 percent indicated no preference.)

As might be expected, respondents who are younger, have higher incomes or are better educated tend to choose e-mail as a channel more often. But in all cases regular mail is still the preferred method.

Among respondents aged 18-24, 60 percent reported a preference for mail, while 28 percent favored e-mail. Among those aged 55 and over, 73 percent said they preferred mail, while 15 percent preferred e-mail.

Mailed is Viewed as More Secure
All respondents believe regular mail is more secure than e-mail, regardless of their access to or experience with e-mail. Among respondents who report having e-mail access, 76 percent (the same percentage overall) said they believed that mail was more secure than e-mail.

Age was not a factor in influencing the perception of security. Older respondents, those aged 55 and over, are only somewhat more likely to believe that regular mail is more secure than e-mail. Interestingly, men (16 percent) are significantly more likely than women (8 percent) to believe that e-mail is more secure than regular mail.

Mail is Preferred for Confidential Materials
All respondents reported a preference for regular mail when receiving confidential materials, such as monthly bills, bank statements, and financial reports. However, the 86 percent indicating a preference for regular mail for confidential matter is down slightly from the 93 percent recorded in 2001.

Age was not a major factor in influencing the preference for regular mail, although the oldest respondents (those age 65 and over) were nearly unanimous in their preference for regular mail (99 percent) over e-mail (just one percent preferred e-mail).

Among respondents aged 18-34, 83 percent preferred regular mail for confidential materials and 12 percent chose e-mail. Among respondents aged 35-44, 90 percent preferred regular mail while 9 percent chose e-mail. Among respondents aged 55-64, 77 percent reported a preference for regular mail while 14 percent selected e-mail.

Females were more likely (92 percent) than males (81 percent) to prefer regular mail to receive confidential materials.

Mail is Preferred for New Product Information
A majority of respondents (75 percent) preferred regular mail as the channel to receive new product information or product offerings from companies they already do business with, such as credit card issuers, retailers, telecommunications providers and utilities.

Age was not a major factor in influencing the preference for regular mail, although e-mail was a stronger second choice in the younger age category. Among respondents aged 18-34, 65 percent preferred regular mail while 32 percent chose e-mail.

Among respondents aged 35-44, 80 percent preferred regular mail while 17 percent opted for e-mail. Among respondents aged 45-54, 75 percent preferred regular mail while 17 percent selected e-mail. Among respondents aged 55-64, 90 percent preferred regular mail and only 8 percent selected e-mail. Among respondents aged 65 and over, 84 percent preferred regular mail and 12 percent selected e-mail.

Females were more likely (81 percent) than males (70 percent) to prefer regular mail to receive new product information and product offerings.

Mail is Preferred for Unsolicited Information
Consistent with the other findings of the study, a majority of all respondents (67 percent) reported a preference for regular mail as the channel to receive unsolicited information from companies that they are not doing business with. A quarter of those surveyed selected e-mail as the preferred method. Only three percent chose to receive unsolicited information via a telephone call.

Respondents age 45 and older were more likely than respondents age 45 and under to indicate regular mail as the preferred channel to receive unsolicited mail. At least 75 percent of those age 45 and older preferred regular mail. Among those aged 18-24, nearly a third (31 percent) opted for e-mail as the preferred choice.

Telemarketing is Preferred the Least
By a wide margin, the least preferred method for receiving unsolicited information is by telephone. Six in ten respondents said they preferred unsolicited telemarketing calls the least. Both regular mail (18 percent) and e-mail (20 percent) were a distant second and third as the least preferred methods.

No significant differences among either age or sex emerged in the category of the least preferred channel. However, more respondents in the West (31 percent) than those in other regions of the county reported e-mail as the least preferred channel.

E-mail is More Disposable
Spam is a clear problem for marketers. As the volume of unsolicited e-mail increases, consumers are becoming increasingly likely to discard spam without opening or reading it.

In the study, respondents were asked which type of message--regular mail or e-mail--they were more likely to discard unread. A large majority of respondents (75 percent) said they would discard spam unopened. This is an increase over the results of the February 2001 study, when 66 percent of respondents indicated in inclination to discard spam unopened.

Postal mail is viewed far more favorably by respondents. Only 17 percent of respondents reported they were inclined to discard regular mail--such as new product brochures, catalogs or other advertising material--unopened.

Interestingly, younger respondents (who in general are more inclined to prefer e-mail as a messaging channel) showed no reluctance to discard spam unopened. Among respondents aged 18-34, 78 percent reported a likelihood to discard without reading unsolicited e-mail containing new product brochures, catalogs or other advertising materials.

Among respondents aged 35-44, 83 percent reported the same likelihood to dispose of spam unopened. The percentages then dropped slightly. Among respondents aged 44-54, 77 percent said that they were likely to discard spam unopened. Among respondents age 55-64, 63 percent reported the same likelihood to dispose of spam unopened. In the oldest segment, age 65 and over, 51 percent were inclined to dispose of spam unopened.

Time on Task
Respondents reported devoting about the same amount of time reading and responding to both regular mail and e-mail. When asked to consider a typical day at home, 45 percent of respondents with e-mail access said they spent less than 15 minutes on the task. (This is a slight decrease from the results of the February 2001 study, when 47 percent of respondents reported spending less than 15 minutes a day with e-mail.)

Roughly the same number of respondents, 47 percent, reported spending the same amount of time--less than 15 minutes a day--reading and responding to regular mail.

E-Mail is Seen Growing
Respondents believe that the volume of e-mail messages they receive is growing and will continue to grow. They also believe that the volume of regular mail is relatively constant and will remain so.

When asked about their expectations of future message growth, 62 percent of respondents said they believed the volume of e-mail messages they receive would increase over the next year. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) said they expect the volume to remain the same, and only 10 percent said they expect the volume to decline.

On the other hand, 56 percent of respondents said the volume of regular mail they receive has remained largely unchanged over the past year, and 60 percent said they expect the volume to remain the same during the coming year.

Rise of the Do Not Call Registry
Consumers are clearly annoyed with telemarketing and are taking steps to combat it. A majority of respondents (61 percent) said they have already registered, or intend to register, their phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry or an equivalent service as a way to eliminate unwanted telemarketing calls.

The resistance to telemarketing calls is most acute among consumers with the greatest income. More than three-quarters of respondents (77 percent) with incomes above $75,000 a year report they have already registered or intend to register with the Do Not Call list.

Not surprisingly, more than half of respondents (53 percent) expect the number of telemarketing calls they receive to decrease over the next year. Less than a third (30 percent) believe the number of calls will remain the same, and only 13 percent believe the number of calls will increase.

Regular Mail Preferred Over Telemarketing
When regular mail and unsolicited telemarketing calls were matched in a head-to-head comparison, regular mail won hands down. Regular mail was viewed by respondents as more convenient (86 percent to 11 percent), more descriptive (78 percent to 19 percent) and more persuasive (62 percent to 28 percent).

Unsolicited telemarketing calls, on the other hand, were viewed by respondents as more high pressure (84 percent to 9 percent) and more intrusive (89 percent to 9 percent).

Why Mail? It's Convenient, Descriptive and Persuasive!
The study shows clearly that mail is still the channel preferred by consumers. In fact, one key theme of the study centers on convenience. Consumers do not want to be bothered. Both telemarketing calls and spam/e-mail often arrive at times that are inconvenient for the recipient.

On the other hand, mail is not intrusive. It does not interrupt important business or personal activities. It arrives regularly at pre-determined times and is both welcomed and trusted.

The mail waits for the consumer. It allows the recipient to take a quick glance, or study the contents at length. Mail is not high pressure. It presents a complete story and allows the consumer to mull over an offer and come back to consider it more fully at a more convenient time.

Tim Bates is vice president, customer marketing for Pitney Bowes Global Mail Solutions.

International Communications Research of Media, PA conducted the survey via telephone between December 12 and 16, 2003. The sample consisted of 750 adults, half male, half female, aged 18 and older. For more details or to request a copy of the 2003 Household Mail Preference Study, visit www.pb.com.



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