A word from the wise

In the interest of making a year of cataloguing my door mat more than just photos of leaflets, I wanted to get the inside track on why we receive mail based marketing. I spoke to Ben Cunningham, Head of Direct at Carat UK, for a few insights into how door drops work.

You can follow the complete project at oneyearofjunkmail.tumblr.com

Why do you think we get so much marketing material pushed through our doors?

Door drops (eg non addressed leaflets that go through the letterbox) are an effective media channel due to a number of factors.  They are better are targeting regionally than many other media channels because you can target only the postal sectors that have a high penetration of your target audience segments rather than relying on the delivered audience of radio or regional press. Retailers use door drops because it offers the least wastage when looking at particular audiences within certain drive-times of stores which is also cost effective when using local free newspapers for distribution (circa £10 per ‘000 which is lower than other channels).  The second big factor is the creative potential.  You can practically door drop anything, so supermarkets like to drop booklets of all their offers which they couldn’t do cost effectively in other channels.  Also because you can include more information on a leaflet to explain the product and to encourage response they tend to work well for direct response advertisers.  Lots of telco’s, mail order, charities, financial services products all delivers cost effective volumes of response through door drops, generally using Royal Mail as the distribution method which is more expensive (£40 per ‘000) but more effective from a response perspective due to standout.  So because you can target audiences effectively, deliver a detailed message which gets into the hands of homeowners you tend to see that door drops are one of the most cost effective channels for driving acquisition.  Response Rates of 0.1% would equate to positive ROI for most advertisers.

Does randomly non-targeted mail make targeted-mail less effective? Does it at the very least give it a bad name?

I haven’t seen any studies that compare one to the other.  For advertisers using a combination of DM and door drops to the same household they would certainly have to apply frequency capping across both because there will be an optimum level over a year. Direct mail (addressed) typically achieves the highest response rates, often as high as 0.1% – 1%.  Door drops may be 0.01% to 0.1% with press, TV etc at around 0.005%.  DM and Door drop probably does combine to give each other a bad name but response rates are still effective and not on the decline because of poor perception.  The response rates may decline due to changing response habits to digital or increased competition in a category.  Personally because I receive shedloads of door drops for virgin media I wouldn’t even read any DM they sent me so it would negatively impact results for me.  But they are playing a numbers game, they can only deliver cable into certain postal sectors so door drop is the perfect medium to reduce wastage, so whatever decline in performance they get from this approach it is still better than other channels with higher wastage.

What is the key to making content like this stand out?

Like any other media channel the advertiser needs to know their customers or prospective customers extremely well in order to provide a relevant leaflet that speaks to them in the right tone, provides a relevant service at the right time.  A good door drop advertiser builds postal sector ranking models based on multiple data sources which varies by category.  EG in car insurance you know geo-demo profile of target audience, number of cars in household, renewal data, claims data, etc, etc.  So because of all this you can be broadly happy with your targeting (as much as you can be for a postal sector rather than individuals).  So once you have the targeting correct then it’s all about using the leaflet format creatively.  This is often achieved through standard approaches in terms of benefit led, product detail, strong call to action etc but occasionally you see very creative items which are made out of different materials (I saw one from DIY retailer which you could plant and turn the leaflet into flowers).  More recently clients have started to try to use the door drop as a way of accessing content via QR codes, etc.  More needs to be done, linking door drop to mobile makes total sense.

If people are frustrated about the amount of door drop content, is there anything they can do about it?

You can register on the mail preference survey list.  Also Royal Mail has its own list as well to stop unaddressed mail but this won’t stop teams or local paper distribution so they propose the customer uses a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on the door.  The Direct Marketing Association are a good source of options available.



Many businesses struggle to encourage teams to keep their timesheets up to date – which leads to frequent emails chasing to complete them, and lack of up to date data on client resourcing – and ultimately profitability. I’d also wager that the longer from the moment of doing the work that it is captured and reported, the less accurate it becomes.

Our CSO (and my boss) sent a few folk internally an email about how we could encourage positive behaviours around timesheets. We have a specialist team with decades of experience in behaviour change within our Insight team, so it felt like a natural brief to include them in – but being a contrary type, my immediate response was: the question is wrong.

The challenge isn’t “how can we encourage people to keep their timesheets up to date”, but rather “how can we reliably and accurately report upon what people are doing with their time”.

Without doubt, timesheets are universally loathed. They are painful to complete, they are rarely accurate, and they take time to complete, creating a meta-loop of logging time on your timesheets for completing timesheets. They are a relic of an old way of doing reporting and data collection – and are completely out of step with how modern data collection works.

If you had a blank sheet of paper, and you were designing a process which allowed you to capture what people were working on, you wouldn’t end up with timesheets as the answer.

Automation. Ambient sensors. Big data. Natural language processing. Location data. Apps. Calendar data. Emails. Texts. Instant Messenger. Card entry systems. Intention casting. Predictive analyis. Pattern recognition. We are practically drowning in new forms of interface and data analysis which shift the very way in which we design systems for understanding systems.

But what do you end up with?

That’s my question, and that’s what I’ll be exploring over the coming months before Xmas.

Now, what job code should I put this under?


One Year of Junk Mail – Data so far.

It’s one month of being in the flat, so I’m publishing the September data today – 41 pieces of Junk, of which a whopping zero were interesting or particularly compelling to read (I’ll let you know that already things have changed in October – perhaps September is a poor month?).

You might be surprised (or not) to know that Estate Agents are the clear leader with 7 items (17% share of mailbox), followed by Takeout Menus (5) and Health/Wellbeing (5) – which ironically cancel each other out.

You can see all the data here, and I’ll be posting monthly updates to the data as we go. I’ll also start logging the amount of non-DM mail which comes through (i.e. actual real letters) to truly reflect what proportion of mail is marketing vs. ‘real’.

You can follow the project at http://oneyearofjunkmail.tumblr.com/

One Year of Junk Mail

I’ve just moved into a new flat, and it has prompted me to think about projects which last 12 months, the length of my contract in this place. The first project was waiting on my doorstep before I even moved in.

Junk Mail.

I’m going to capture the entire body of direct mail which I’m sent whilst I’m in this place.

Stuff which is anonymously door dropped, stuff which is marketed directly at me. Stuff which is incorrectly sent to me. I’m interested in seeing how long it takes for my details to appear on marketing lists, how targeted and relevant the content is, and the sheer volume of paper pushed through my door.

I’m not sure how interesting it will be to follow, but there might be some interesting data from the back of it.

You can follow the project at its tumblr, http://oneyearofjunkmail.tumblr.com and I’ll be tweeting project related tweets via #1yearofJunkMail


Sounds of Spotify – August 2014

August’s playlist from my Spotify hugging.

Notable mentions to Icona Pop for brightening even the dullest mornings, the Churches remix of Hurricane, and the discovery of Echosmith.

The highlight of the month though was this little love-in with the “amazingly talented and no doubt going to be massive” Ryn Weaver (I think the rule is.. if you’re collaborating with Passion Pit, you’re going to do well), Kate Boy and me:

I’m heading to see Kate Boy live at XOYO in November. Super excited.



About two years ago, I wrote this proposal – a concept for a marketplace which matches charities with talent, to support them with their digital and communication needs. I called it Probonobo, a dirty portmanteau of Pro-Bono and a joke about an infinite number of monkeys.

Apart from the fact that most of my ideas are based upon puns, the infinite monkeys aspect is really important – an infinite number of monkeys may well produce Shakespeare at some point, but charities cannot afford the (infinity-1) failed iterations until success appears – it cannot be random, it has to be well directed, because people’s free time is valuable, and charity’s work is important.

I’m posting the idea here for two reasons:

a) All good ideas which have sat in a drawer for longer than six months should be free and public, so a busy originator doesn’t become a reason for the idea to not be realised

b) Re-airing the idea gives me some focus and reflection upon what was good about it, and what was too complex. I’m learning in recent years that simplicity over all else is critical. If you’re trying to get across three points, reduce it to one, and start from there.

The idea is great, but it takes too much to get off the ground. The initial idea could be as simple as “create a place where briefs can be shared and improved”. The delivery piece can come later, the heart of the idea is about getting to better briefs (or rather the right objectives).

So, inspired by a conversation over dinner on Thursday night, I’m airing the idea publicly, and this might lead to something happening.


Facebook Buy – frictionless innovation

Facebook’s recent introduction of a ‘buy’ button, allowing users on desktop and mobile to buy advertised products with just one click, and without leaving the social network, is yet another demonstration of social platforms looking towards monetization beyond display advertising.

The new feature, which so far has only been tested by a few small and medium-sized businesses in the US, is Facebook’s most recent innovation in the realm of frictionless commerce and will help the social network be less reliant on advertising.

It isn’t just Facebook exploring direct and affiliate revenue. Twitter has just announced the acquisition of CardSpring, a payment infrastructure, that enables retailers to connect to publishers to create online-to-offline promotions; Pinterest, meanwhile, has teamed up with Shopify, an e-commerce platform for more than 100,000 merchants, which ensures that all pins of their products include valuable information such as pricing and stock availability.

These approaches enable platforms to become more insular experiences, almost like shopping malls – allowing users to socialise with their friends, grab a coffee, find and share new content, search and purchase products, all without leaving their space. Whilst Amazon has huge capabilities in commerce and fulfillment, they lack the social dynamic – and social platforms integrating commerce means you can have a more enjoyable ‘browsing’ experience, without having to leave the space.

The rise of media convergence, driven not least by the unprecedented growth of mobile device usage, is increasingly bringing commerce and content closer together. The constant assault of new technologies, whether Facebook’s ‘buy’ button, Amazon’s FireFly or examples like PowaTag, which allows consumers to instantly purchase products via QR codes, are continuing to break down the old models of what, where and how retail is defined – e-commerce is now becoming ‘everywhere’ commerce.

The biggest threat to retailers now comes from standing still.

Not exploring and experimenting with new distribution channels will open up opportunities for new forms of competitors, enabling them to steal ‘share of time’ and even poach customers – a dangerous scenario that retailers can no longer ignore. Now is the time for retailers and brands who exist in retail spaces to work with their partners, and understand how they can use these technologies to redefine their retail experience, and redefine how media can deliver business value.

(Originally posted on Retail Week)


Edges of London – the numbers

I generally like to look at the data of the projects which I work on (mostly so I can see what nonsense I’ve signed myself up to).


Whilst I am clearly lacking in terms of ability to visualise interesting data, here’s a chart I’ve created to show myself the journey times from shortest to longest from my common starting point of Richmond for the Edges of London project.

The rule is simple – travel only by the tube network (i’m including DLR and overground), no buses, no cheating.

The closest, naturally, is Richmond, of 0 minutes travel time.

The furthest is Chesham, with an estimate of 110 minutes (although as I travel most on weekends, that is probably an underestimate, Amersham was a solid two hour journey).

In total, I have about four days of travel ahead of me.

The scale of the project is clear when you look at the tube maps against a geographical map of London.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 02.05.14


As you’ll notice, the map when laid out geographically bears practically no resemblance to Harry Beck’s heavily stylised map of the network.

The edges of the map stretch way way out beyond what would traditionally be recognised as London – with Amersham and Chesham in Buckinghamshire,  and Epping up in Essex. Even Richmond station, my ‘Station Zero’ for the project is in a borough made up of parts of Middlesex and Surrey.

I’ve used the excellent CityMapper as my guide, and I’ll be logging more data as the project unfolds.

The raw data is here if you want it, and i will try and keep it all within the same structure/sheets.

(I’d love to find an visualiser who can help me with making these aspects of the project more appealing to look at too).

An image from my new project - Edges of London.

Take a look at http://edgesoflondon.tumblr.com/

Edges of London

My new project “Edges of London” launches today.

I’m building a slowly growing photographic collection of visits to the end of every tube line.

Over the course of the next 12 months or so, I’ll be travelling to the 35 stations on the London tube network which are the end of a line, and capturing the conversations I have with folk, as well as anything interesting I spot visually.

The first station was Amersham.


Twitter for Strangers

I have a growing sense of unease about what I do and who I follow.

Reading introspectively about what our industry does, new technology, new applications of that technology, new behaviours – it all feels like a meta-exercise.

I don’t want to read about what my peers are doing.

I want to read about what people I don’t know are doing.

I need a type of twitter for people who I don’t follow.

Every day, my feed would be created of new, interesting, passionate folk, who I’ve not met and don’t know what they do, talking about their day, and their work, in every field of life.

Imagine it like a magazine or podcast, with that wonderful editorial curation that brings you new ideas, but rather than long form articles, just their passing thoughts and whimsy.

An exercise in serendipity perhaps.

Downloads from the messy head of Matthew Knight.