Industry needs to communicate impact of direct mail

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A big frustration for direct marketers is the stark contradiction in consumers' attitudes toward the medium. Many denigrate direct mail, describing it in such terms as “junk mail,” while at the same time happily ordering from catalogs, responding to offers and donating money to causes that solicit through the mail channel.

This week's DMNews/Pitney Bowes Survey on Direct Mail and the Environment shows, above all, that the consumer is a confused beast. One the one hand, our survey of 1,000 Americans across all age groups and in a variety of living environments (urban, suburban, rural) shows that they respond tremendously to relevant direct mail offers.

But on the other hand, these people have a troublingly skewed view of the impact that direct mail has on the environment. One stark statistic is that 48% of respondents think that advertising mail accounts for more than half of the country's municipal waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that figure is more like 2% of all waste — an answer chosen by just 2% of respondents.

What this survey represents, agrees Pitney Bowes' executive chairman Michael Critelli, is a resounding call to action for the direct mail community to do a better job of communicating the facts of the impact of the channel — both in terms of how useful it can be, and also in terms of how little, relative to consumer perception, it impacts the environment. Consumers indicate that they will respond favorably to industry efforts to lessen environmental damage; these efforts are already in place for many marketers, they're just not getting the message across. Direct marketers should look at the results of this survey as a roadmap for the kind of communications that need to get out there. Ignore at your peril.

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