Residential Magazine

When Going Green, Don’t Overlook Direct Marketing Materials

Focus on environmentally responsible mail campaigns that can help attract new clients

By Michelle Peel

Direct mail can be an environmentally friendly marketing tool to reach, engage and acquire clients. Mortgage originators can take advantage of the benefits of direct mail to target prospects and do so in an environmentally conscious way. Some may think of direct mail as an old-school method — and possibly, that it doesn’t work or wastes resources — but that is far from the truth.

Direct mail is popular. According to Lucidpress, a desktop-publishing software application, 41 percent of Americans look forward to checking their mailbox each day; 70 percent believe mail is more personal than the internet; 54 percent want to receive mail from brands they are interested in; and 56 percent believe print marketing is the most trustworthy type of marketing.

Direct-mail response rates continue to outperform digital channels, according to the Association for National Advertisers/Data & Marketing Association. Direct mail with a house or company list, which is often comprised of current and past customers, or anyone who has contacted your mortgage company, can achieve a 9 percent response rate. All digital channels combined achieved a 3.3 percent response rate using a house list, according to the report.

Incorporating a direct-mail approach also is a wise use of resources. Using paper stocks made from sustainable sources, printing with soy inks and providing omnichannel response options for potential customers (through your website or over the phone, for example) allows companies in the direct-mail industry to lead the way when it comes to environmentally friendly mortgage-marketing efforts.

The power of paper

First, let’s dispel some of the myths about paper by presenting research from Two Sides, a nonprofit organization supported by the graphics communications industry, to talk about the sustainability of using paper and printing products.

Many people believe that going paperless saves forests, but the U.S. grows many more trees than it harvests. From 2005 to 2015, forests in this country grew by the equivalent of 2,740 football fields each day, or about 1.3 million acres per year. There are 20 percent more trees in the U.S. today than there were in 1970 at the inaugural Earth Day celebration.

Paper manufacturers encourage forest sustainability through their purchase and use of certified wood fiber, and by promoting sustainable forest-management policies and practices. Due in part to the efforts of paper manufacturers, U.S. forests grew by 12 million acres from 2005 to 2015 and are renewable resources that are constantly replenished using sustainable forest management.

Another common myth is that only recycled paper should be used to make new paper. But there is evidence that wood fiber from sustainably managed forests is essential to the cycle of paper manufacturing. Paper can be recycled up to seven times before the fibers break down. A continuous supply of fresh wood fiber harvested from responsibly managed forests is vital for keeping the paper lifecycle going.

Paper recovered through recycling accounts for more than 38 percent of the fiber used to make new paper products in the U.S. More than 80 percent of recovered paper is used in tissues, container boards and other packaging or board products, while approximately 6 percent of the recovered paper supply is used to make print-grade and writing-grade paper. Without fresh wood, paper production would cease within six to 18 months, depending on the paper grade.

Electronic-communication hazards

Electronic communication may be thought of as more environmentally friendly than paper-based communications, but with an estimated 2 billion smartphones, 1 billion computers and 5 billion to 7 billion other connected devices worldwide, e-mails, text messages and phone calls also have environmental impacts.

To manufacture one computer, for example, requires 529 pounds of fossil fuels; 49 pounds of chemicals (including hazardous materials like lead, bromine and arsenic); 1.65 tons of water; and a number of precious or rare earth minerals (such as gold and platinum). The share of greenhouse gases emitted by electronically connected devices could grow from about 1 percent in 2007 to more than 14 percent by 2040. By comparison, the pulp, paper and print industries combine for only 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

In 2015, there were 2.6 billion e-mail users worldwide, and the number of e-mails sent and received per day totaled more than 205 billion. The annual carbon-dioxide volume generated by e-mails (about 4 billion metric tons) is the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by up to 854 million cars.

Digital methods may be thought of as the preferred means of communication, but many consumers value paper-based communication because they wish to retain the flexibility and security of paper-based and postal correspondence. Ninety percent of U.S. consumers feel they should retain the right to choose how financial organizations and service providers communicate with them.

Additionally, according to a 2017 survey by Two Sides North America and media company Toluna, 65 percent of consumers preferred to receive bills and financial statements via both digital and paper platforms, while 68 percent of consumers ages 18 to 24 felt that reading print news, rather than digital newspapers, provided deeper understanding of stories.

Your integrated direct-marketing strategy should include both print and digital channels to reach potential borrowers of your mortgage products based on their channel preferences. Trusting news from digital-media sources has become increasingly difficult as fake news, hoaxes and misleading information proliferate the internet and are frequently shared on social media.

Green direct-mail campaigns

Here are three ways for mortgage originators to create direct-mail customer-acquisition campaigns that are environmentally friendly.

Choose paper stocks certified to come from sustainable sources. The first step is to look at your options. The paper may be pre-consumer recycled (meaning it is recycled during manufacturing); post-consumer recycled (by the consumer); or composed of virgin tree fibers and certified by an independent, third-party organization such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Certifications ensure the materials used to create the paper were obtained using forestry practices designed to reduce environmental impact. The FSC requires products to be identified with an FSC-certified label, which indicate the product is sourced from 100 percent well-managed sources, among other things. Many printers now offer FSC-certified paper as an option for environmentally conscious consumers. Make sure to check paper availability for the time frame you are targeting for your campaign.

Perform data analysis and list hygiene to maximize consumer value. More than 40 million Americans change their addresses every year. Maintaining accurate mailing lists can dramatically reduce the amount of undeliverable mail and help to reduce waste and costs.

Prior to a direct-mail campaign, you should have your mailing list cleaned through one of the U.S. Postal Service’s data-hygiene solutions. These options include the National Change of Address and Move Update programs, which compare mail files to a master list of movers over the past 18 to 48 months, updating addresses as needed; and the Coding Accuracy Support System, which improves the accuracy of ZIP codes, delivery-point codes and carrier-routeinformation.

By using list-hygiene tools, you can reduce paper, ink and energy consumption; reduce the amount of undeliverable mail; prevent remailing once address corrections are identified; and reduce postal costs. These hygiene solutions help ensure that every piece of mail goes to the intended recipient rather than a landfill as “undeliverable as addressed” mail. In addition, you can use data analytics and research to effectively target your potential customers with messaging aligned to their individual mortgage needs. Personalized messaging is proven to increase engagement and response.

Size material correctly to use fewer resources. Identify opportunities to enhance your direct-mail formats and reduce waste through a range of eco-friendly formatting strategies. If you are mailing a 9-by-12-inch package, for example, it may be possible to redesign it as a letter-sized package. Letters may be redesigned as self-mailers or to fit within smaller, Monarch envelopes. If you are mailing two sheets of single-sided paper, try to redesign the information on one double-sided sheet. You also may wish to direct potential customers to your website instead of mailing informational brochures.

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By following these steps, mortgage originators can take advantage of the benefits of direct mail to target prospects and create environmentally friendly marketing campaigns. These steps may even help you meet certain objectives of your company’s corporate responsibility and sustainability policy.


  • Michelle Peel

    Michelle B. Peel is the marketing and corporate communications manager at IWCO Direct and has more than 20 years of direct marketing-industry experience. IWCO Direct is a leader in data-driven, direct-marketing solutions and works with many of the leading brands in the mortgage industry.

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