The chief investment officer at Wavemaker UK discusses the role of direct mail in marketing, and whether attention is a vital factor in determining campaign outcomes.

Read the whitepaper 'The attention advantage: Exploring the impact of mail in an attention-scarce world' here.

Headshot of Ian Stevens

Ian Stevens, CIO, Wavemaker UK

Let’s begin with you talking a little bit about your role and responsibilities at the moment.

I am the chief investment officer at Wavemaker. The essence of my role is ensuring that our clients are spending their money wisely and that we're getting the highest quality media. My role covers all media channels – everything from newspapers and up to posters and TV. An interesting dimension to the role is working with all the vendors in the market.

We are invested in not only the effectiveness and the value we can drive for clients but also in making sure that we're investing responsibly in terms of the people and the planet. We’re always looking to invest in businesses that have strong credentials, support sustainability, have a diversity perspective, etc.

When you think about investing in different kinds of media, or when you construct a media plan, what are some of the metrics that you focus on the most? Do you also consider these in terms of how they differ by campaign objectives?

That’s an interesting question. Like I said, I cover such a broad range of media that depending on which clients I talk to, they might be split up around digital and offline or, performance and brands. The metrics can change a lot. The most effective outcomes or metrics are the ones that directly relate to business outcomes. There are loads of metrics you can use as a proxy to get there. Sales is obviously a really big one in terms of ROI and measuring effectiveness.

Often, we also work with clients around brand awareness engagement, reaching frequency and checking if the most effective media metrics are delivering business outcomes. Further, we analyse if the behaviour change might be sales- and growth-oriented, and what their marketing goals are. We can bring it back to effectiveness, ROI on ad spend, and so on. It links in an interesting way into attention as a metric.

I think there are lots of different lenses and measures to get to outcomes. ‘Attention’ is a hot topic at the moment that lots of people are jumping on. Is that a better outcome than a CPM or is it a proxy? Let's talk about that separately.

Attention is a hot topic in the last couple of years; a lot of work has been done in this field, and people are saying attention is perhaps a better predictor of business outcomes. So, how prominently does attention figure in the midst of your work?

It would be ludicrous to say that attention isn't important, whether you're engaged in advertising or any other activity. Psychology says that attention is clearly very important, but at Wavemaker, we don't specifically focus on attention as a metric.

A product is still a proxy, right? We can focus on outcomes, rather than media or marketing proxy metrics. It's a way of defining the quality of an impression. And we've kind of been talking about it at the company, and we did some research on this subject. So say there is a video that has a million different impressions. It is partially viewed on the phone and fully viewed in the cinema for 60 seconds. It’s going to have different impacts on people, and those impacts aren't all equal.

Attention does help define the quality of the metric of an impression. I think it's an important layer to put over the top, but I don't think we'd ever have that as our leading story around attention delivering effectiveness. Some impressions have less attention than others because they do not necessarily serve the same purpose as the others, but they still have value. Attention is important, and different people in the media world are currently using it as a lens, or a differentiator. There may be difficulties around the universal measurement of impressions – you’ve got origins and different things out there that the media tries to bring together. That’s obviously a challenge and possibly very difficult to crack. But with other lenses like attention, you can help spin a story and I think it's a really useful lens to add Into the mix. But versus the things we discussed earlier, I don't think it supersedes any of those but sits alongside.

Attention naturally favours media channels that have sound, vision and scale. If we're talking about direct mail, it obviously doesn't have sound so it’s not the same as watching a video. They’re all different channels, and that's okay. They all have different purposes. So I think we need to move away from just talking about eye tracking, or advertising will never command a hundred per cent of our attention. There's always going to be something else going on in your environment. It's about using that attention in the right way.

When it comes to creating some meaningful attention, which channels would you say do the best In that regard currently? Which ones are not up to scratch yet?

It would appear that the best channels to invest in are those that offer a full-screen visual experience, especially when you’re not doing anything else. But direct mail comes to your door, you go and pick it up. You physically have it in your hand. That's a level of attention that you don't have when viewing a TV. It's different and intentional. It has the potential to reach an audience that some of the other channels do not.

So you have to live with the fact that whilst you've got less attention, you're engaging the audience that you might not be picking up somewhere else. I don't know what ‘meaningful attention’ means specifically, but certainly, from my experience, I think direct marketing has a strength in that respect. It’s more geographically relevant to me, so I'm picking up something that's near me. So my attention might be more focused towards it.

Shifting our focus towards direct mail and relative to some of the other channels, what do you see as its strengths and weaknesses? What do you feel are some of the prevailing attitudes towards direct mail from an agency perspective?

I think direct mail has a 100% role in marketing. Depending on the brief, you can expect some very strong results from direct marketing if it's done in the right way and it's delivering something that's interesting and valuable to the user.

I think there might be a sense that it's not loved by clients in the same way. Some media drift in and out of fashion for clients such as DM or linear TV that it has a legacy feel and that it's less exciting. But not everything has to be exciting, and things can deliver results while being targeted and disruptive. These are big positives for direct mail and actually something that at Wavemaker we're really passionate about.

There are definite expenses in creating direct mail), especially if we personalise it. It can be disruptive and viewable, and it's engaging in that you've got to go and get it. There might be a school of thought from a consumer perspective. It could possibly create some slight irritation among consumers, especially if they have a concern about wasting material like paper.

Where do you believe direct mail could play an important role in the media mix? You mentioned geo as a particular area…

I think email works really well, as does SEO. TV and radio could be used to promote direct messages, especially if they are not more local, and they are much easier to use. With direct mail, it can be really effective and out of home as well as in a multi-channel approach. I don’t have a predisposition to say only direct mail works, but I think it can tie up with a few others. In terms of geo, clients are interested in making their advertising unmissable in a certain postcode. You cannot necessarily activate TV and radio for a local area and down to a postcode. But direct mail just fits perfectly in a postcode and is really personalised.

Do you have any specific example of a direct mail campaign that you recall that really impressed you?

I don't know if this is what I want to quote, but the direct mail that I received myself, I really love the Majestic Wine one. It works really well just for me. I like their approach because I think it's relevant; they have such a diverse product range.