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The key to successful direct mail is targeting interested parties electronically. How much rubbish do you get through your letter box?

A letterboxThe key to successful direct mail is targeting interested parties electronically. How much crap do you get through your letter box? This week I have had billets-doux from double glazing firms, pizza parlours, drive refurbishment cowboys, hedge-trimming spivs, conservatory crooks and gutter repair robbers.

The interesting thing is we have double glazing; don't eat fastfood junk; the drive is neatly tarmacked; the hedges manicured; there's a big conservatory on the back of the house; and the guttering and facia boards were replaced last year. I shove all of these brochures, flyers, mail-shots and leaflets into the bin. I never read them.

Someone could be offering me a free holiday on the moon or on a cruise ship in Barbados and I wouldn't know. They could be pleading to give me £1m, a desert island, a night with Kylie Minogue, 10 Ferraris and a 20-roomed house with gold door knobs and I wouldn't know. It all goes into the bin.

The never never
What about credit cards? Do you have a credit card? Of course you do. So do I. I have two, Amex and Visa. What else can you need? Amex gets me into airline lounges and a squillion pounds of free travel insurance and everyone takes Visa. From Manhattan to an internet café in a village in the far reaches of Malaysia, everyone takes Visa.

Nevertheless, every magazine I have is burgeoning with inserts offering me a new credit card. I estimate, if I was to fill in all the forms, I could have access to enough credit to buy Holland. Not that I'd want it.

According to a report from Mintel Comperemedia 'Öafter peaking in June 2004 with nearly 375m new direct mail offers, mail volume has declined each month since, settling at a year-to-date low of 297m [what they call] acquisition pieces, [mailings to you and me] in September.' Get that? 'Year-to-date' low! A low of 297m! Two hundred and ninety seven million is very big post bag to fill with junk mail. It is a mountain of junk mail. Can you imagine how big 297m of anything is?

It is estimated there are 297m internet users worldwide. In 1990, China's urban population was put at 297m and in 2004 the population of the US was 297m. See what I mean? Quite what it means for the trees, paper factories, greenhouse gasses and the environment I have no idea. It can't be good. By the way, I recently had a mailing from Friends of the Earth!

The value of junk
In the UK, in 1997 the value of junk mail was £7bn! In the first quarter of 2003 official figures released by the Direct Mail Information Service (DMIS) show that volumes rose 4.2 per cent. The present UK figures are too scary to worry you with.

I'm lucky. I only get about 30 mailings and fliers a week. One of my GP mates told me he regularly gets 10 a day, plus free magazines, newspapers and promotional letters. On top of that there are e-mails from the Department of Health, stuff from you lot in pharma marketing plus circulars, letters, guidance, instructions and what he calls 'hate mail' from the Primary Care Trusts, Strategic Health Authority and Members of Parliament.

Let's not forget the British Medical Association, the NHS Alliance, National Association of Primary Care and all the other affinity groups that think they are the only people to have a GP mailing list. The system is sclerotic with unwanted, unasked for, junk, garbage and litter.

A load of rubbish
Now, don't get me wrong. There are some things I am interested in. Some things I do want, some things I am on the look-out for but all I get is junk. I have given no one permission to send me stuff. They just do it. Without so much as a by your leave, a please, or a 'do you mind?', my letterbox and my dustbin fill with messages about things I have already got, don't want, will never want or can do without.

It's the same for my doctor friend. There's loads of stuff he wants to know about, needs to know about and is vital for him to be aware of. The trouble is, it's buried in the debris that passes for information. How stupid does a marketing department have to be to come up with the idea of another mailing to doctors. Which big brain decides to send out another glossy brochure about something or other, in a therapy area, that my mate the Doc' isn't the slightest bit interested in.

Each day my mate the Doc' is sent enough stuff that, if he read it all, he would need to take a week off to study it. As it gets tougher and tougher for reps to get in to see doctors, fight off pharmacy advisers, argue with invisible formulary directors, contradict NICE guidance and rubbish generic prescribing targets, turning up the heat on direct mailing is not the solution. Believe me. The only thing my mate the Doc' has bought recently is a shredder.

What do you want?
No one asks me what I want to know about and no one asks him. No one seeks his permission to avalanche him with enough paper to smother Chipping Sodbury. There is an alternative to the white-out of blizzard mailing. It's electronic. It's called permission-based marketing. It's very smart but not rocket science. It is done on the internet. You are invited to choose the stuff you are interested in and get it dropped, quietly, into an e-inbox. And, it gets read.

The blessed peace of looking forward to reading something you are interested in, with the time freed-up because you don't have to weed it from the rest of the rubbish, is a paradise. One that is within your reach. For pharma, uncertain of how to bridge the transition between escalating costs of profitless sales visits with product users who are no longer product choosers, permission-based marketing is a lever for change. Make a note ñ find out about it. You have my permission!

The Author
Roy Lilley is a healthcare author and broadcaster. He has written several books and is well known for his sometimes controversial opinions

2nd September 2008

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