Expert view: Direct marketing - Stop this insane waste of paper

After the financial industry and mail order companies, charities are the third biggest users of direct mail. Unlike banks, few charities can afford to waste their money, yet as a sector we accept a 95 per cent wastage on direct marketing. That's a lot of paper, pens and slippers going straight into the bin.

This seems insane, given the availability of modern research techniques, better data strategy and media planning. Add a bit of creativity to that and there's no reason we cannot reduce wastage.

Here's a simple question that could change the way you spend your money: if you had to sell your direct marketing, would anyone actually buy it?

I doubt it.

The book Change the World for a Fiver has sold more than 600,000 copies.

Why? Because it's a lovely bit of engaging creativity with a valuable message.

When you have to put a price tag on something, you suddenly have to think about what customers really want and what motivates them to part with their cash.

Anyone who read Michele Hanson's recent column in The Guardian lamenting the number of wasted gifts from charities at Christmas could hardly deny she had a valid point.

Her friends were inundated with gifts of umbrellas, slippers and pens.

You can't blame them for seeing this as "a ghastly waste of money, postage and packaging".

She believes donors want to see their money going to help the cause they support rather than being spent on novelties. It's hard to disagree.

There is little doubt that 2007 will be the year of ethics, with a growing number of corporations embracing ethical values, from environmentalism to recycling and, of course, reducing waste.

I hear a lot of whining along the lines of "why don't the old formulas work any more?" Maybe you should question whether they ever did. Don't think that it's ok because you get more back than you spend.

If Sir Alan Sugar, founder of Amstrad and star of The Apprentice, was running a charity, he'd expect a better rate of return than many charities presently do. He'd demand that we be more challenging and rewrite the rules.

Here's another thought: instead of reflecting on why 5 per cent responded to your mailer, ask why the other 95 per cent didn't.

Understanding the consumer mindset isn't rocket science. Don't gamble £100,000 on assumptions when a smaller amount spent on research would give you more factual guidance and insight that could reduce wastage.

Can you afford to do it? Can you afford not to?

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