Royal Mail and doing dumb things for money

UK postal service Royal Mail is an organisation, like many, who purport to take sustainability seriously. No doubt that’s true, kind of.

The global post sector, via a joint body, the International Post Corporation (IPC) has made great progress on sustainability in recent years if their presentations at Ethical Corporation’s conferences are anything to go by.

The carbon reduction achievements are impressive, if improved by industry consolidation and shrinkage.

(Note to IPC: Separating out those numbers clearly may be a good idea)

Why then, one wonders does it make any kind of long term sense for Royal Mail to insist that the company is obligated to yesterday fill my mailbox with no less than 15 junk mailers all in one afternoon delivery?

My building is placing a recycling facility next to the mailboxes as a result, as of today, so all residents on my building can throw all junk mailers away responsibly as they come in.

A ridiculous state of affairs. Surely not a sustainable strategy in either the classic or green sense, given rising paper, energy and mailing costs.

I wrote to Royal Mail to ask why they do this. A reply told me, yes: “we are obligated” to do this.

And they told me, amusingly to mail an opt out letter, freepost, to an address to ask for the practice to cease with regard to my address. Email is not accepted. I enquired as to whether I had got the date wrong and we are back in 1973, to no reply.

This is a crazy state of affairs. Pure short termism combined woth desperation (to keep union jobs alive) by the Royal Mail.

The result: annoyed customers, wasted trees, massive carbon dioxide releases and in all likelihood, direct mail customers who don’t get the results they paid for due to the volume all delivered at once. (although I appreciate that one could argue delivering junk mail all at once is more fuel efficient!)

There’s got to be a smarter way to do business than this.

Even though B2B direct mail is less regulated than consumer (or used to be) direct mail across the board is a rapidly declining industry.

It never worked very well anyhow. I recall that 12 years ago response rates for B2B mailers were around 0.2 of a single percent.

That’s why I started magazine publishing, initially to support a conference business. Back in 2000 I mailed more than 75,000 brochures to secure $500,000 in conference income for one event.

On a numbers basis, it worked. But what a waste of trees. It made me think. How, I wondered, might one engage an audience, build a community, sell product and be useful at the same time?

Eventually one magazine later, Ethical Corporation was born.

Now it’s a profitable magazine in its own right, and has been for some years.

Such an approach of “content marketing” as opposed to straight selling, as some marketeers call it, is an evolution of Seth Godin’s “Permission marketing” concept from the late 1990s, which today is reality in many senses.

The companies clogging up my mailbox ineffectually and paying Royal Mail for the privilege include Netflix and Virgin Media. These are firms that understand modern marketing.

Perhaps direct mail still works for them. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain about tacitly helping maintain postal worker jobs by opening spam snail mail.

But I can’t help thinking we ought be acting a little bit smarter than this by now. The Royal Mail should think again about the wisdom and logic of delivering bulk junk mail that no-one opted in for.

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