The Executive Head of strategy at Havas CX Helia discusses how embracing the digital dimension in a hitherto offline space has the potential to change a brand’s fortunes, but insists on the use of direct mail as a more personal marketing tool.

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

Headshot of Lucy Halley

Lucy Halley, Executive Head of Strategy, Havas CX Helia

There's been a growing amount of research into attention as a better predictor of commercial outcomes than things like OTS or impressions. How much does attention figure in your agency’s planning processes?

I'm a creative strategist rather than a media planner. From that point of view, I think in terms of how we appeal [to] a customer's time and attention. That's a massively important consideration to us. We're very mindful that all of us exist in an over-communicated world right now. If you believe your customers are seeing between 6,000 and 10,000 different adverts every day, why should ours be the one that they pay attention to? I think we see that we have a massive responsibility to use that time and attention responsibly and respectfully.

That is particularly true from the CX point of view because, often we're interacting with people via these one-to-one channels. For example, when you’re on people's phones – that’s an incredibly private space, particularly in a cookie-less world. It's a position of trust that your customers put you in and so we have to rise to that challenge and treat their time and attention respectfully and responsibly.

How would you define ‘meaningful attention’?

For me, at the heart of that [concept] is the idea that we create a meaningful value exchange. We don't just approach it from the point of view of “What's in it for our client’s brand?” or “What do we want customers to do?” It's about being really mindful about what's in it for the customer if they behave in the way in which we're asking, and that we challenge ourselves to really deliver full value in their lives in return for their attention and action. It’s about genuinely doing stuff that’s helpful, informative and entertaining – whatever that might be, depending on the client and the brand. I believe meaningful value exchange is really at the heart of how we should aspire to capture a customer's attention.

You led a particularly successful campaign in this space for Toolstation. Could you tell us about the original brief for that and the background to that campaign?

We had been working with Toolstation for a period of time. They were one of those brands that did really brilliantly through COVID because, having traditionally been a trade brand, they suddenly attracted a whole lot of consumers which the business didn't know what to do with, and how to treat these audiences differently.

We were engaged in a wide-ranging programme of work for Toolstation. The catalogue, from a trade point of view, was both a blessing and a curse. It's about 800 pages long and they were mailing it quarterly. It's available in their stores and tradespeople absolutely love it. It really is their Bible. We did quite a lot of ethnography studies to understand the role of the catalogue in those tradespeople's lives. They have quite an emotional connection with it but it doesn't represent the best experience of shopping with Toolstation.

An 800-page catalogue can be quite awkward and time-consuming to navigate to what you want. Once you find it and go to the store [to buy the product], you might find that the product is out of stock. That's massively frustrating, particularly for tradespeople whose time really is money. That doesn't represent the best possible experience of Toolstation, so there was this desire to migrate customers away from this big, expensive, clearly environmentally-unfriendly quarterly catalogue and get them into an online, more superior experience. It was faster, allowing them to do that stock check, and so on.

What was clear to us was that there was a significant behaviour change that we needed to affect because of the emotional connection and the role that that catalogue played in customers' lives. We had to think about the best ways to drive those digital behaviours to be acceptable and appropriate to tradespeople, and ultimately help them experience a meaningful value exchange.

In terms of moving the brief towards something more actionable, what different challenges and insights did you find? And how did you ultimately execute the campaign as a whole?

What became clear to us quite quickly was that physical direct mail was still going to have a role to play in the campaign. We weren't going to be able to switch people from a paper catalogue into digital channels immediately, and overnight. We also had to connect them with those digital channels and help them see how it could represent a better experience for them moving forward.

So [we moved away] from an 800-page catalogue to about six pages in the end, but there was a really lovely piece of data analysis at the heart of this campaign. There are 21 departments across the whole of Toolstation, but the majority of their customers only shop in six of those departments. One of the ways of commanding meaningful attention is by being super relevant. That forms those memory structures. The task was: How can we connect people quickly with those six departments that are really important and relevant to them?

Also, QR codes were an absolute gift to us. I think a lot of us have sort of struggled to find practical applications for them, and then suddenly post-COVID, everyone was much more accepting of them. So, the way in which we could harness those QR codes to connect customers directly into those departments online was really key to the success of this campaign. It was about making them creatively impactful and using them to ‘cut through’. So, for example, if there was a QR code that would take you to the lighting department, the code looks like a light bulb and not a jumble of pixels. This is a shorthand that helps people understand how that code is relevant and useful to them.

The other stroke of genius we had was to not send those QR codes in a flat, DM pack. We actually turned them into stickers. So tradespeople could paste those stickers wherever they would be most useful to them. This way, the QR codes would be at their fingertips. So, the catalogue was now living in tradespeople's vans, on their dashboards. They could quickly scan the code and browse the product online, check the stock and get to their local store to buy it.

You've mentioned the combination of media across catalogues, mail pieces, online and QR codes, plus the way you understood tradespeople's customer journeys. How did you plan for the different stages of the customer journey within the campaign?

The journey is pretty simple and straightforward. So it was really about connecting those tradespeople with the departments that were most relevant to them. We did that through data analysis, checking which categories they historically shop in and where we could connect them with those QR codes via the DM pack. Then there was the seamless integration with the online world, helping them get instant access to Toolstation, using an online experience that got them those products quickly without forcing them to take time off to shop.

It was a fabulous ‘Click and collect’ proposition.

Migrating customers away from the catalogue is a difficult behaviour change to affect and it needs to be an ongoing effort. It doesn’t happen overnight. But our results were really significant. I was chatting to the Toolstation clients the other day and they said, “Lucy, we've done in six months what it took others 12 years to do.” They no longer mail the 800-page catalogue to customers. It is still available in-store if people want to pick it up, but they no longer mail it out.

What results did you see from the campaign? And how could some of this thinking be applied by other marketers?

The results were phenomenal and it's kind of embarrassing to talk about them! We saw an uplift of 9% on frequency and 14% in revenue per customer for those customers that received the QR codes. The costs of the QR codes were a quarter of the catalogue production costs. There was a significant cost-saving for the business, too.

In terms of learnings as we move forward with other clients? I'm a massive fan of DM and I genuinely believe it does still have a role in the customer experiences that we create. I think we've proven how effectively it can connect the offline and the online experience and often that can be problematic for clients.

Customers still really appreciate physical experiences. This was aggravated to an extent by COVID, where we were living so much of our lives online. And, all of our meetings were via Zoom, we were dating on Tinder and shopping via Ocado. We lived in this virtual world but as customers, we value physical experiences. So, direct mail’s power to feel valuable physically in our hands is not something to underestimate. It is interesting that this perspective is true even for younger audiences.

Sometimes we default to DM for older people but actually, we’ve seen younger customers responding positively to it. They live more of their lives online than older people do, so physical experiences become super important to them.

Whilst direct mail is more expensive, if you deploy it strategically at key moments, we can witness moments of magic throughout the customer experience. I think considering direct mail in those moments can be really powerful.

Thinking of direct mail relative to other channels, what do you see as the particular strengths and weaknesses of the channel that marketers should be more open-minded about when planning media?

There are a few things. I think it can be a sensorial experience, a lovely one. It’s an opportunity to engage all of the customer’s senses. You can make it really tactile, deliver mail, deliver sound. I think we need to factor in ‘privacy’ as well. For most people, DM can feel like a more private space and people feel safe in that space. So when you need more sensitive communication, depending on the client brand, direct mail is a channel that we should consider.