Thursday, July 24, 2008

Green Direct Marketing: An Oxymoron?

I'm always a bit frightened when direct marketing, as a topic, makes the NY Times. Usually, the piece will not be all that supportive of our industry. A data breach, identify theft, how to stop your junk mail--those are the usual suspect topics.

So, this article, that extends some grudging respect towards a group of direct marketers who are trying to bring an attention to the environment to the direct marketing industry surprised me a little bit. From the article:
A group of direct-marketing companies, along with a handful of their corporate clients, are banding together to make an inherently unsustainable practice at least a little bit greener.

The group calls itself the Green Marketing Coalition, and it includes Microsoft, Washington Mutual and OptimaHealth. Not all the companies involved are big mailers, but they share the sentiment that there should be best-practices guidelines for the direct mail business, which has been vilified even before global warming became a hot topic.

“This industry just didn’t have any real green standards,” said Spyro Kourtis, president of the Hacker Group, the Seattle direct-marketing company that headed the Green Marketing Coalition. “So we figured we could set some that vendors and clients and others could all live with.”

So, what exactly are these guidelines, brought to us by the Green Marketing Coalition? I'll summarize:
  1. Use recycled paper, chlorine-free preferred.
  2. Choose vendors with internal environmental initiatives.
  3. Use UV Printing presses and comply with hazardous waste disposal standards.
  4. Improve list hygiene and data management (now, that's one I can get behind!).
  5. Proof and edit using PDF instead of hard copy print-outs.
I hate to say it, but I have to agree with this NY Times commentary on the guidelines...
So far, the coalition’s guidelines are long on earnestness and short on truly new ideas.
The cynical side of me is also a little mad that the group called the following "guideline" a guideline.
"Companies can benefit from the tax savings associated with going green. Go to for more information."
I'd like to propose that more guidelines (real guidelines!) be added. Here's my start:
  • Make sure that you've explored all channels, with an emphasis on those that don't require paper. Social marketing, e-marketing, telemarketing, mobile marketing, etc. all have a place in the direct marketing strategy. Get out of that direct mail rut.
  • Get a handle on customer preferences--try to find out if someone absolutely hates receiving postal mail (you might actually ask them). If they don't want junk mail, stop sending them stuff, immediately.
  • Do a better job of targeting, and commit to it. Make it your goal to cut out 1/3 of those you're mailing, just by targeting the right people. We've built models that cut out over 30% of non-responders, with no lessening of responses/sales. Yes, it can be done.
  • Test smaller, less elaborate formats. Do you really need the letter, the brochure, the call-to-action card, the response envelope (does anyone use these anymore?) etc?
  • Let your people tele-commute. Do they really need to be sitting in your cubicle to do their job? Let them save on gas and stress by working from home.
I love the fact that this industry is looking for ways to be more environmentally-friendly. Every little bit helps, right? My hope is that this is just a start and that we'll see more initiatives, with quantifiable goals.


Chris hansen said...

Suzanne, great additions to the Green Marketing Coalition's Green Marketing Guidelines. We could go even further than that, I'm sure, but it's a good start. I believe there are times when snail mail is a good option so I too encourage any effort in this direction, but given the environmental impact of mail, I agree whole-heartedly that anyone using direct mail should do everything they can to best target their recipients.And then I always come back to the question, What better way to target and qualify your recipients than email?

Also, thanks for reading MarketGreener. I'd be happy to trade links and add you to my blogroll if you're interested. (You can find my email in the about me page on my blog.)

Suzanne Obermire said...

I totally agree with your comment about better targeting and about incorporating email in your direct marketing mix. And, I enjoy your blog, so we'll add it to our blogroll!

Dean Rieck said...

You're right on, Suzanne.

IMHO, "green" marketing is nothing more than empty banter for most companies ... PC nonsense to make business people feel good about themselves and customers feel good about the company.

It's like anything else. People would rather talk than act.

Suzanne Obermire said...

Well, at least they're talking, right? Maybe real action will follow.

Suzanne (forever the optimist)