Features: February 10th, 2006

Reaching The iPOD Generation

By Leonora Corden

Marketing and public service seem to be unusual words to include in the same sentence. But the reality is that increasingly public services need to get messages across to service users and others. Top of the agenda at the moment is the ‘awareness campaign’ to encourage take-up of on-line services. As public service change and develop in different ways there is an increasing need to market messages and the importance of marketing is increasing. So how can the marketing challenge be approached and are the options?

Private companies spend millions of pounds every year marketing their products and services to their perceived customers in order to drive sales and brand awareness. In today’s media age there is a plethora of ways to reach these audiences ranging from the traditional – TV, radio, press ads and direct mail – to the cutting edge – blue casting, pod casting and now even odour ads – outdoor advertisements that give off smells, such as in bus stops!

Whilst marketers are getting increasingly inventive with the way they communicate with the public, media proliferation has become a double edged sword and is now one of the biggest challenges faced by marketers. Since the early 1990s there has been a 560% increase in the number of TV channels (incredible considering only a decade ago the majority of us still only had four channels), a 120% increase in commercial radio, 80% more cinema screens and 40% more magazine titles. Choice has fragmented what were once mass audiences, making it more and more difficult to engage the people you want to reach, whether you are a commercial brand, a Government department or a local authority.

Learning from a successful campaign

That said, The Electoral Commission’s 2004 ‘Don’t do politics’ campaign is a good example of an integrated marketing campaign that needed to reach as many people as possible. The campaign was the Electoral Commission’s first fully UK-wide, multimedia campaign, running from March to polling day on June 2004.

The campaign involved TV, radio and press advertising, direct mail and billboards – the multi-channel approach ensuring that as many people as possible would be touched by the campaign, and with the direct mail reinforcing the message and providing more in depth information. The objective of the campaign was to promote awareness of and participation in the European Parliament, local and London elections. Research had shown that whilst people continued to switch off from the political process, which they saw as dull and irrelevant, they were still passionate about political issues. This led the Electoral Commission to conclude that it wasn’t that voters were apathetic; rather they felt alienated by the political system. Yet, when politics becomes relevant to every day life, UK adults would be much more likely to engage. From this insight emerged the campaign’s main objective – to make politics personal.

The campaign was extremely successful, with one in three respondents saying they had voted as a result of seeing the campaign, and one in four claiming to have discussed politics with family and friends. 64% of UK adults had seen at least one element of the campaign and awareness of the election date rose by 53%.

Getting through to a niche audience

Of course marketing to a niche audience is more difficult – particularly given the problems of media fragmentation. This is particularly true if the niche audience happens to be young adults. The iPod generation, as they are now termed, is a notoriously fickle breed and very marketing savvy. 70% of 18-24 year olds will have swapped credit cards at least three times (CCA) to take advantage of 0% rates and 60% shop online regularly to ensure cheaper prices for goods (National Office Statistics). Loyal they are not and engaging with them is a difficult task, particularly for Government.

It is therefore very interesting that it was recently reported that the Government is to take radical steps to raise political awareness among teenagers. Young adults turning 18 will receive a mailshot containing a guide to voting in a bid to improve political participation and boost their turnout at elections. It has been recommended that the guide includes tips on how to register to vote, a brief history of Parliament and information on the role of MPs, local councillors and other elected officials.

So why has the Government chosen the post as the vehicle to communicate this hard to reach audience? Particularly given the iPod generation’s love of new technology, wouldn’t SMS or email be more effective? In a word – no. The idea of the guide is as an informative reference manual that will be kept. It seems unlikely most teenagers would print it off if it turned up in their inbox and SMS is only suited to short marketing messages.

The post is something consumers have a unique and extremely powerful relationship with. Receiving mail has become such an integral part of our lives, and is something that people are genuinely emotionally attached to, perhaps more so than any other channel. This sentiment is confirmed by research from the CRAM Institute that reveals why consumers have such an emotional bond with the post. There is a myriad of items that are delivered to a typical letterbox from birthday cards and invitations to banks statements and bills. But unlike the other communication channels such as email, where people claim to feel bombarded by spam messages, the CRAM research demonstrates that the daily delivery of the post is approached with hope and longing. So much so that people are disappointed when they don’t receive any mail, and some even stated that they’d rather receive a leaflet than nothing at all. Furthermore, direct mail is proven to strike a chord with the 16-24 age group. DMIS figures show that 54% of 16-24 year olds have replied to direct marketing – a staggering finding.

The Government understands the importance of continuing to engage voters and specifically those young people that represent the next generation of workers, consumers and even politicians. Using a personal and targeted medium like the mail, which can reach every 18 year old in the country through their letter box, will help it achieve its goals.

Leonora Corden is Head of Large Market Development at Royal Mail.