For direct marketers hesitating over direct mail campaign investments, 2020 is the year to strike while the iron is hot—with a good economy, high response rates and flat costs. That’s especially true because the 2021 road may be a bit bumpier.
Economy, Response and Costs Give 2020 Mail Green Signals
The U.S. consumer is confident, the economy is projected to continue growing in 2020, and mailing cost inflation is minimal. Per the December 2019 Federal Open Market Committee, U.S. GDP growth is forecast to average 2%, lower than 2019’s 2.2% but far from recession. Meanwhile, consumer buying power should remain strong with an average unemployment rate of 3.5% in 2020 and a core inflation rate (stripping out volatile fuel and food prices) projected to average just 1.9% in 2020, while the Federal Reserve’s eased interest rates continue to buoy growth. So it’s no surprise that consumers are entering 2020 with positive outlooks: The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment for the U.S. was 99.3 for December of 2019, the highest reading since May of last year. And direct mail offers unique advantages for reaching those consumers, starting with high response rates. The last ANA/DMA data pegged average direct mail response at historic highs of 4.9% for prospect lists and 9% for house lists, way ahead of the 1% response rates of e-mail, social media and paid search. Meanwhile, low projected increases in key costs are clearing the way for ROI on mail investment as well. For example, 2020 coated paper prices are projected to be held down by reduced demand, caused by a continued growth of electronic media use by advertising and publication printing, coupled with oversupply from new production capacity, especially in Asia. A strong U.S. dollar adds to downward price pressure. Meanwhile, postal rates for marketing mail in 2020 are expected to remain close to the average as enhanced carrier route letters go up less than average, with five-digit automation letter rates, entered at the SCF, projected to increase by 2.2%, and the high-density walk sequence carrier route letter rate, entered at the SCF, increasing only 1.1%.
After 2020, Mail Faces Rougher Economic Seas
Those who fail to take advantage of 2020’s positive direct-mail climate may soon regret the missed opportunity if costs rise and the aging economic growth cycle slips into recession. Potential postal rate increases are an especially dark cloud. In December, the Postal Rate Commission (PRC) proposed new rules for USPS rate-making that, if implemented for all classes of mail would increase rates by a massive 30%-50% over the following five years. Mailers and their organizations will want to join The Nonprofit Alliance and the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers in fighting such huge increases. At the same time, the economy, even if it stays out of recession, is projected to slow. The Federal Open Market Committee forecasts U.S. GDP growth to slow to 1.9% in 2021 and 1.8% in 2022, as a side effect of trade-war drags. Meanwhile, new data security and privacy legislation could pose significant challenges for data-driven marketing.
Data-Driven Efforts Face Privacy Legislation Challenges
The shift to more targeted, personalized and timely direct-mail campaigns is one reason that direct mail continues to turn in high responses at acceptable ROI. But using digital print technology, coupled with audience selection and segmentation, to personalize and target every component of a mail piece relies on data, and privacy laws are coming in to regulate the previously wide-open data market. Of course, there is the GDPR (EU General Data Protection Regulation), but most marketers are going to be more affected by new U.S. state and federal privacy law pushes. For example, California’s CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) went into effect January 1 of this year. It applies to for-profit businesses operating in California and collecting personal data if they have annual gross revenues over $25 million; annually buy, receive, sell, or share personal information of over 50,000 California consumers, households, or devices; and derive at least 50% of annual revenue from selling California consumers’ personal information. The regulation offers consumers the right to access information (including categories of data collected, shared or sold; categories of sources from which this personal information was collected, with whom it was shared, and to whom it was sold; specific pieces of personal information collected; and why the personal information was collected). Consumers also gain a right to deletion (the ability to request that a company delete personal information collected) and a right to opt out (the ability to direct a company to not sell personal information to third parties). Now The Nonprofit Alliance is alerting mailers that new data privacy and financial disclosure bills are in the offing. California, for one, isn’t done legislating in this area, and other states (such as Virginia) are following in California’s footsteps. Plus, the Senate is continuing an effort to draft a bipartisan national privacy statute led by the “Gang of Six”—Republicans Roger Wicker (MS), John Thune (SD), and Jerry Moran (KS); and Democrats Maria Cantwell (WA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Brian Schatz (HI)—and most Republican Senators appear to support legislation which would preempt state privacy statutes with a uniform national standard. For marketers, the hope must be that a national “rules of the road” for data privacy will be less onerous than a patchwork of state laws.
All these potential challenges ahead are making 2020 look like a good year to profit from direct mail and targeted lists! For more inspiring direct mail statistics, see this compilation from mail automation provider Inkit.