Do you hear the music from Jaws pounding in your head when someone mentions, "Do Not Mail?" The theme of impending doom in this case to the direct mail industry is not histrionics. While there are compelling arguments that suggest a Federal Do Not Mail bill will never happen, the lessons from consumer response to the "Do Not Call" registry cannot be ignored.
There are two primary drivers behind the introduction of Do Not Mail bills in state legislatures. One is privacy and the other is the environment. A number of the bills introduced in the last 18 months were in response to constituents contacting senators and representatives after suffering some form of identity theft real or perceived and blaming direct mail solicitations.
Environmental concerns play an equally strong role in the arguments for Do Not Mail legislation. The concept that "junk mail is overwhelming our landfills" is used repeatedly as a statement of fact. Yet, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "discarded direct mail represents just 2.4% of municipal solid waste, and the recycling recovery rate has grown 700% since 1990. As a result, while direct mail volume in the US has grown 57% in 15 years, the amount of discarded mail sent to landfills has remained virtually unchanged (2005 Municipal Solid Waste in the US)."
And there's one more thing lurking in the background of Do Not Mail efforts. Today's consumer receives a mind-numbing number of advertising messages through multiple channels, including the mail. Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable with dictating how they receive marketing messages. In other words, consumers assume they can choose what they receive and how they receive it and regard Do Not Mail legislation as a way to enable that choice.
So what can you do to ward off the sharks circling your livelihood? There are seven relatively easy steps you can take. The first two steps date back to 500 BC when Sun Tzu wrote, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."
1. Know the facts.
Mail Moves America's new website (www. mailmovesamerica.org) has great info in an easy-to-absorb format, including myths and realities, benefits of catalog shopping and the state of US forests. In addition, the site explains consumer options for managing mail and provides FAQs about the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service along with information about opting out of mailing lists.
2. Make a concerted effort to learn how proponents of Do Not Mail are positioning their arguments.
GreenDimes (www.greendimes.com), Forest Ethics (www.forestethics.com) and StopThe JunkMail.com (www.stopthejunkmail.com) are some of the loudest voices vying for the attention of consumers, legislators and the media. Both GreenDimes and StopTheJunkMail offer a fee-based opt-out service that promise to reduce up to 90% of "junk mail." Know what facts they use and don't let inaccuracies go unchallenged.
3. Show your colors.
Demonstrate your commitment. Members of DMA should use their "Recycle Please" logo on all correspondence, direct mail components and marketing collateral that can be recycled. Members of Envelope Manufacturers Association should use EMA's "Recycle Please" logo on envelopes that can be recycled. In addition, printers, envelope converters and mailing services companies should use these logos on all packing, packaging materials and cartons that can be recycled.
4. Practice good hygiene.
One of the arguments made by proponents of Do Not Mail is consumers are simply annoyed by the build-up of direct mail advertising in the home. Mailers should be working with list and mailing service providers to ensure that "clean" lists are maintained and used. Ask mailing service providers to identify options for address correction that are applied as close to the mail date as possible. Often, NCOA and CASS processing is run weeks prior to the mail date and an astonishing number of moves occur in-between.
In addition to saving resources and postage by mailing only to accurate addresses, we have anecdotal evidence that being one of the first pieces of advertising mail to a new address has a positive impact on response rate.
5. Know your state legislators.
Legislators pay attention to constituents especially in an election year. Be prepared to contact your state legislators if a Do Not Mail bill is introduced in your state. Many legislators are unaware of the economic impact of mail and the impact that Do Not Mail could have on the Postal Service's ability to continue six-day universal mail service.
Mail Moves America is closely monitoring the introduction of Do Not Mail legislation and has done a truly amazing job with organizing testimony for hearings that do take place. International Paper launched www.ipmovesthemail.com that includes a "Take Action" tool to communicate with your elected officials if there is an attempt to introduce legislation in your state. The tool provides a customizable letter template that will identify your elected representatives and preferred method of receiving communications.
It is important to recognize that elected officials rarely if ever respond to non-constituents. Save your efforts for the state where your vote counts.
6. Practice what you preach.
Encourage employees to think twice before printing copies of e-mails rather than creating an electronic archive. Train office staff to make two-sided copies and use energy-saving features of office equipment. Investigate electronic proofing if you're not already using it to replace hard-copy sign-offs and audits.Conduct an audit of chemicals and solvents used in your operation and include cleaning supplies. Is there a "greener" alternative that can be tested and put into use?
7. Become an active member of trade organizations.
Trade organizations and industry coalitions are leading the fight against Do Not Mail. Their efforts to date have been remarkable. Your dues are important but your participation is invaluable.
Debora Haskel is VP of Marketing at IWCO Direct, a provider of integrated direct mail production services and marketing solutions. She can be reached at Debora.Haskel@iwco.com.