03 Dec

Is DM dead?

It’s begun (actually it began a few weeks back) – the avalanche of Christmas, charity, DM campaigns.

I got one in the post yesterday which started with – written across the envelope – ‘this is probably the most unusual charity letter you’ll get this Christmas’.
It wasn’t unusual though, it was pretty much the same as all of the other charity letters I’ve received recently.

I wanted to read it because I’m interested in ads/communication in general – in a way that most people receiving it wouldn’t be – so I did.
It started off quite well, drawing me into a case study. When I got to the end of the first page I, naturally, went to look at the second page. Only then did I see that the two pages were double-sided: a four-page DM letter.
That’s a short story, not a piece of DM.
In today’s world, people are pushed for time – a spare 10 minutes that they manage to squeeze into their day could be spent reading a book: something leisurely before they go to bed, rather than a four-page letter asking for a donation.
In the end I felt this DM piece took the charity back to square one: the letter became irrelevant and it just came down to the donation slip and whether you would usually donate to that charity or not… that’s if you even got past the envelope.

Therein lies the problem: with DM, what’s the incentive to even open the envelope?
DM looks like DM from the outside, as you know what your usual/expected post – bank statements, utility bills, subscriptions – looks like.
Not only that, but think about the times at which you pick up your post: either first thing in the morning, on the way out to work, or when you get home after a long day, when the last thing you’re bothered to read is an ad/appeal.
A DM letter will already be bottom on the list of priorities below bank statements, your phone bill, maybe an invite to a friend’s event. Throwing that one piece of non-essential post in the bin is a way of saving time – I just wonder if there’s any way round this?

Advocates of DM, including those who use it as a key part of their marketing strategy, will argue as to how targeted it is (more so than the scatter-gun approach of above-the-line advertising), but aren’t TV and radio ads targeted, by dint of the station they’ve chosen to air on, the time of day they’ve chosen to run, and the programmes between which they run?
I’d also say that DM has less time to make an impression than TV or radio – just a few seconds before, potentially, being picked up and binned.

Not only that, but could DM be considered more intrusive than other media channels? My first thought when I get an unrequested piece of DM is: how did the company get my home address?… in which case it becomes just another leaflet/envelope on my doormat that I didn’t ask for.

Coming back to charity DM, specifically, I (and I’m not alone in this, I imagine) already donate either time, money, or both to the three charities I want to. I don’t sign up to new ones on the street or throw money into buckets, so I don’t see how a DM appeal would work on me if I’m not already a donor to that charity.
It’s not all doom and gloom: I believe charity DM is good for current or lapsed donors, as they’re already positively disposed to the sender, but I can’t see it being that effective in recruiting new donors.
In fact, overall, I can’t remember the last time I saw a good piece of DM – certainly not one that made me act (the last memorable one simply raised my hackles by immediately putting me on the back foot, with an accusatory tone: ‘Cancer doesn’t care if you put this in the bin’ said the envelope. Guilt is never a good emotion to leave people with if you want them to act in a positive manner towards you).
I’d love to be corrected, and given a recent good example: perhaps someone from a DM agency will read this and put me firmly in my place – I’m happy for this to be the case.

However, in terms of an alternative media channel, here’s an area I think charities (and maybe other organisations) should take advantage of: the leaflet carousels, leaflet racks, and tables in doctor’s surgeries and hospital waiting rooms. Why don’t organisations take advantage of these spaces? Think about it: when you’re in a doctor’s surgery/hospital waiting room, you have lots of time on your hands.
Doctor’s appointments nearly always run late (an hour late the last time I visited my surgery), and hospital appointments can be up to two hours late. This leaves lots of dead time, AKA dwell time, for patients – time in which they’d love to be distracted by something, anything, to alleviate the boredom. This is a ready-made, captive audience!

There are already leaflets in these places, and people read them just for something to do (I remember reading about Deep Vein Thrombosis for the sake of it. When I finished reading the English bit, I started looking at the other languages into which it was translated, just to pick out words I could vaguely recognise… I was that bored), but they’re pretty run-of-the-mill.
I guarantee, the first charity/organisation that does something interesting with these leaflets – even a puzzle of some kind,  or a riddle to solve, to take up time – will be the one to which readers will be positively disposed.

You may well think my suggestion is a bit odd but, whatever you think, at least it doesn’t run the risk of becoming another piece of doormat DM, filed straight in the round paper cabinet.

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