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The case for mail in a GDPR world

As people look more closely at the use of data by US tech giants, new data privacy regulations that came into effect on May 25th have interesting implications for the use of postal communications, including transactional and marketing mail

The GDPR world and mail
The GDPR world and mail

The recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal raised a number of interesting questions about the amount of personal information companies hold on individuals, how they got it, who else has access to it and how consumers can reassert their right to privacy. All questions the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is designed to address.

The new data protection regulations affect many different areas of business activity, including customer communications and marketing. Neopost has produced a guide to the topic (The Neopost Guide to Managing GDPR), which looks at the subject in more detail.

While many businesses are still unsure about the practical implications of the new rules, what is beyond doubt is that compliance will be considerably easier for organisations that have the appropriate processes and technology in place – not just the content management systems needed to manage data assets, but solutions for managing and automating postal communications as well. These might include:

Addressing software to ensure that records are accurate, up-to-date and easy to modify in case a change is demanded;

Data consolidation software to help identify the personal data that is held on individuals;

Output management software that can be used to create and apply standard designs for documents, including the privacy statements and opt-in boxes that businesses will need to apply to documents;

Folder-inserters and automated mail insertion software that can maintain data security and privacy by ensuring the right documents are inserted and sent in the right envelope; and

Multi-channel communications solutions that give visibility and control over customer communications, including the ability to send material via a customer’s preferred communication channel, whether that be email or postal communications or a demand that they receive no communications at all.

Your data
Your data

A better footing
The last point is an important one because GDPR is often presented in adversarial terms – these are the individual’s rights and this is the threat they pose to your business. In fact, by forcing businesses to look at how they collect, store and use customer data and by engaging with customers as part of the process, GDPR presents an opportunity to build trust and develop stronger relationships with clients and associates, whilst also improving process efficiency.

Establishing how people like to be contacted and implementing a solution that automates when and through what channels you communicate with them is an important part of this process. A collaborative approach is certainly more conducive to good customer relationships than charging customers for the privilege of receiving a paper bill or statement as so many banks and utilities now do. Especially as the end result – a reduction in print and postal costs – is often the same.

Certainly, the experience of Neopost customers like Ranson UK shows that when given the choice many customers will elect to receive invoices and statements digitally. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 UK consumers commissioned by print and paper advocacy organisation Two Sides UK, a computer (desktop or laptop) was found to be the preferred method of reading transactional documents.

That said, many consumers still value the familiarity and authority of a posted letter. Almost one third (29%) of respondents to the Two Sides survey said they preferred to receive printed statements, and more than half (56%) said they liked to receive a combination of printed and online transactional mail. If businesses are to foster closer relationships with customers, they must respect those preferences.

Mailing automation
Multi-channel output management software is obviously integral to such an approach. But it is equally important to look at the processes involved in the production and despatch of transactional mail, such as letters, statements, bills and invoices.


In a world where people are receiving a mix of digital and printed communications from the same business, physical mail cannot be treated as a poor relation of email and social media. As far as possible, it should take on the attributes of digital channels, particularly with regard to speed of delivery, personalisation and response.

As communications of this sort very often contain sensitive or confidential information, it is important to use accurate and up-to-date mailing lists and to have systems in place to ensure that letters and insertions are sent to the right person. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) Annual Report for 2016-2017 suggests that too many businesses are falling short in this area, with more than one in four of the 17,335 data protection problem reported relating to the disclosure of data (17%) or the use of inaccurate data (11%).

Automating mail processes to eliminate delays, errors, waste and cost from the production of outbound mail and the opening and distribution of inbound letters is just as important. For almost 100 years, Neopost has been helping organisations improve the efficiency of their mail production and handling, and this is still a vital part of the business. Today, traditional solutions like franking machines, folder-inserters, letter openers and scanners are an important consideration for businesses arguably because of, not despite, the growth of digital channels. Business is speeding up and that affects all areas of operations including printed communications.

Marketing communications This is particularly true of marketing communications, which Royal Mail says has a big role to lay in a GDPR world because it is ‘subject to fewer regulations than electronic communications’ and is ideally suited to getting consent from customers for future communications. Unaddressed door drops by-pass all restrictions entirely. In The GDPR Opportunity with Mail, Royal Mail also makes the point that at a time of concern around data and cyber security, mail is welcomed by consumers.

checking data
checking data

This assertion is backed up by research from JICMAIL, the Joint Industry Committee for Mail, which tracks mail received (and processed) by 1,000 households to measure the effectiveness of advertising mail, including direct mail and door drops, but not including business mail (e.g. a bill, statement or notification/reminder).

By providing media planners with metrics on the readership, coverage, frequency and exposure of direct mail, JICMAIL hopes that mail will no longer be considered a special case, but will be considered alongside press, radio, television and posters.

In its annual report published in January, JICMAIL claims that ‘the reach and frequency of mail have been significantly under-reported’.

Its findings show that:

65% of all addressed mail is opened (this doesn’t take into account mail that doesn’t need to be opened e.g. one-piece mailers and catalogues that aren’t wrapped in plastic, so the proportion that will be read is higher than the opening rate);

On average each item is revisited 4.2 times by the recipient, with letters with a named recipient being looked at again more often than a lea?et or ?yer with an address but no name (4.4 times vs 3.6 times);

On average each item is passed on to someone else 1.2 times;

After 28 days, 27% of mail is still live within the household (i.e. not filed or recycled).

A separate study by Royal Mail MarketReach highlights the value that direct mail can add to an organisation’s web activities, with 89% of consumers admitting that they are influenced to buy online as a direct result of receiving mail.

Royal Mail’s new Programmatic Mail service takes this to a new level by creating and sending highly targeted, timely and relevant direct mail pieces based on permissioned data about an individual’s online activity. If the data shows that someone has spent a significant amount of time looking at a particular model of car, for example, the service can be used to send a personalised mailing, perhaps including a unique offer or incentive, to that individual within just 24 or 48 hours.

Case studies show that programmatic mail can generate response rates of 10% or more and increase online sales conversion rates by 14%.

While much direct marketing will be conducted by agencies, developments in digital printing technology, including support for more substrates and easy personalisation, mean that organisations will increasingly be able to produce relevant targeted direct mail in-house. When delivered as part of an omni-channel marketing campaign that also includes digital elements, the speedy production and despatch of such material will be essential. And that requires in-house mail automation.

On-line shopping
On-line shopping

To date, much of the focus on GDPR has been on the technical aspects of compliance: finding out where personal data owned by a business is stored, ensuring that it is stored securely, establishing processes for dealing with requests from customers to discover what data a company has and how to cope with requests for deletion etc.. These are challenging IT issues that businesses will need to address.

For obvious reasons, equal attention needs to be paid to customer communications and marketing, to ensure PII, such as names and addresses, are secure and accurate and that customers’ wishes are observed. Neopost provides a range of solutions that can help organisations achieve compliance with GDPR e.g. by using addressing software to maintain accurate, up-to-date personal data (a requirement under GDPR) or by using output management software to ensure mail is not sent to people who have opted out.

Over and above that, these solutions help improve the efficiency, cost-effectiveness and targeting of postal communications, which helps build trust with customers.

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