Sample Masters Merit Business Dissertation

Modified: 1st September 2023

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Title: Is direct mail dead within a digital marketing world? Exploring the value of direct mail in multichannel communications

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  1. Business Dissertation Topic with With Titles (Masters Merit)
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Table of Contents

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Characterised as technology which enables interactivity, e-marketing refers to electronic dialogue tools such as Email, Social Media and Blogging which drive internal and external communications (Coviello et al. 2003). Considering a situation analysis in relation to society today, e-marketing has become a permanent fixture for marketers, impacting both business processes and consumer behaviour. The advent of Web 2.0. can be utilised to explain how e-marketing has progressed, to cultivate a culture of participation and a new method of networking today (Fuchs, 2017). As a result, e-marketing depicts the radical decentralisation of internet technology and the marketing mix, shifting typical consumption from observation to participation, with users emerging as contributors instead of recipients; generating a richer user experience (Fuchs, 2017). Research shows the growth of digital or e-marketing has been propelled by global digital transformation, which has uncovered that internet users continue to grow by an average of more than 1million users per day (We Are Social, 2019).

Outcomes of e-marketing have been increasingly well-documented within research. For instance, Brodie et al. (2007) found that adoption of e-marketing leads to positive business performance, or a competitive advantage by means of sales, market share and profitability to outperform competitors. Furthermore, studies by Teo and Pian (2003), Wu et al. (2003) and Gibbs and Kraemer (2004) showed that proactive use of technology in marketing strategy significantly impacted reach and a subsequent competitive advantage.

Subsequently, Direct Mail (DM) has faced a challenge to its place within the marketing mix over the last decade owing to the growth of e-marketing which is expected to play a substantial role in marketing plans (Keep Me Posted, 2019). One survey found that 25% of marketers reported a plan to dispose of DM as a channel for communication within the growing digital world (Keep Me Posted, 2019). As a result of this hesitation from marketers, DM declines of 10% or £1.5bllion are predicted over the next two-years (PrintWeek, 2019). In practice, the assumption that customers are expected to engage with brands via digital channels continues to grow. This is further reinforced by growing digital usage within a range of demographics where the ONS (2018) reported usage has trebled since 2008 within UK adults aged 65+.

Consequently, it is reasonable to concur with the view of theorists such as Bezjian-Avery et al. (1998) who posit that with the widespread update of e-marketing channels, traditional communications such as DM, Television, Telemarketing and Door-to-Door advertising will decline, especially as its target audiences increasingly adopt digital tools (ONS, 2018). This therefore lends to the argument presented by many strategists and marketers today relating to ‘is DM dead within a digital marketing world?’ (Forbes, 2017; Keep Me Posted, 2019). Contextually, many argue that phenomenons such as the plugged-in paradox, digital stratosphere and demand for instant gratification within generational cohorts has been driven intensely by digital transformation (HBR, 2017; BBC, 2015; Black, 2010). In turn, marketing channels such as Email, referred to as ‘’Direct Mail on steroids’ (Chaffey & Smith, 2013: p.77) and Social Media continue to grow in marketing use. Much research further advocates its value compared to traditional marketing channels, which are viewed as fundamentally more costly, with a less immediate call-to-action (Chaffey & Smith, Keep Me Posted, 2019). Consequently, the growing argument that DM is no longer necessary is increasingly substantiated, as consumers and marketers spend a intensive amount of time engaging within the connected virtual world.

There is however the progressive argument which suggests that DM can be adopted as a key channel within the marketing mix to achieve a Multichannel Communications (MCC) strategy. Multichannel marketing relates to the practice of customer interaction via a combination of indirect and direct communications, enabling customers to take action through a range of suitable channels (Rosenbloom, 2007). Figure 1 identifies channels which have commonly been adopted within a variety of MCC strategies: Table of traditional and digital communications

Contextually, this presents the opportunity for DM to maintain its value and relevance, through adoption of integrated communications which appeal to a depth of consumer behaviours and therefore improve campaign response (Chaffey & Smith, 2013). In support, 91% of marketers stated in a study that it is important to deliver better integrated multichannel marketing which reaches a wider range of customers (Econsultancy, 2018). In business, customer pressure has demonstrably been a key driver for MCC strategies, with a Keep Me Posted (2019) study uncovering that 81% of customers want to choose how to receive their information whilst 84% do not like when businesses take away their right to choose. Consequently, an outcome of this study will assist marketing practitioners with a developed understanding of the value of DM for the contemporary marketplace.

1.2 AIM

The aim of this research is to assist marketing managers with exploring the relevance of Direct Mail in marketing communications within the contemporary digital environment; whilst considering its role within the growth of Multichannel communications.


  • Explore the relevance and value of DM to contemporary consumers.
  • Establish whether marketers can leverage DM in Multichannel communications.
  • Evaluate the premise which considers ‘Is DM dead?’.


A mixed-methods approach will triangulate data (Saunders et al. 2012), allowing for an exploration to the understanding of contemporary consumer attitudes towards the use of traditional and digital communications as well as exploring how this is reflected by practitioners. The dissertation will clarify the contexts whereby DM may create value, including Multichannel consumption.

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This chapter will analyse existing literature surrounding communication channels in marketing practice. Channel within the realms of the review relate to the means by which organisations gain access to and communicate with stakeholders (Kellior, 2008). The review will focus on themes of: the changing face of communications, shifting consumer attitudes to marketing, the emergence of Multichannel communications (MCC) and relevance of Direct Mail (DM). Although the literature explores a variety of consumption contexts, they will be contextualised to form an understanding of the relevance and value of DM within the changing consumption landscape.


Tangibly, the phenomenon of digitisation has become central to consumer daily routines, shaping the traditional ways in which consumers and businesses interact and how the internet is being used. An increasing amount of time is spent online browsing, e-mailing, cloud storing, streaming and accessing Social Media via connected devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops (Taiminen & Karkaluoto, 2015). The expression, “if a company cannot be found in Google, it does not exist” seems to personify consumer behaviour today, where consumption has shifted to a demand in improved interactions (Shein, 2015: p.26). Christodoulides (2009) additionally argues a company’s website is the home of the brand and additional channels should be supplementary. Literature has conclusively shown that digitisation is positively related to business growth, performance and competitiveness (Taiminen & Karkaluoto, 2015; Galloway, 2007; Shein, 2015). Digital marketing including Social Media, provides valuable opportunities to extend reach and attract new customers more efficiently by reducing marketing spend and enhancing frequency of direct communications (Chong & Pervan, 2007; Barnes et al. 2012; Mangold & Faulds, 2009). Simmons (2007) shows that Email is utilised regularly in information sharing, relationship building and to drive call-to-action in a one-way format, not indifferent to DM. This reinforces the view by some that Email is a suitable and effective replacement for DM (Taiminen & Karjaluoto, 2015). Notably, Reijonen (2010) argues that traditional marketing is no longer applicable to SMEs, who adopt strategies which are more informal, spontaneous and reactive. In consequence, this points to the premise that DM is no longer valuable, driven by a new breed of consumers who are no longer content with being passive recipients of generalised marketing materials (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Two-Way Communications (Kiani, 1997: p.188)

Two-way communications table

Given that this was suggested to be one of the prominent initial uses of DM (Bezijian-Avery et al. 1998), digitisation differs in its use of constant dialogue and movement into obtaining valuable insights into preferences and needs, focusing on prioritising customers or market orientation (Kohli, 2017). As such, growing perceptions that the web is a faster, less-expensive, more-immediate communication channel which offers high-levels of flexibility, addressability and accessibility have assisted the progress of digitisation in marketing practice (Taiminen & Karjaluoto, 2015). As a result, Mulhern (2009) argues that offline advertising including DM will eventually be online. This highlights the ability of digitisation channels to act as a relationship tool, freeing advertising, news and information from the technological limits of print infrastructure in channels such as DM.


DM encompasses all types of print matter sent from businesses to consumers by letterbox, typically utilised as a traditional approach to mass communication which aimed to drive universal sales (Keillor, 2008). Early examples included mail-order catalogues, which formed one of the first instances of non-store retailing from the comfort of home (Keillor, 2008). More intensely within marketing, practitioners have expanded use of DM to improve quality customer contact within targeted, customised and creative material which aims to drive a call-to-action and stimulate customer relationships (Luceri et al. 2014; Harridge-March, 2008). DM utilised in this manner was found to have potential lasting impact, providing the ability to deliver a large quantity of information to customers and longer shelf-life with a large proportion of recipients retaining the DM piece for future reference. Contextually, this points to a unique advantage of DM, as shorter shelf-life of digital channels is uncovered as a core weakness (Danaher & Rossiter, 2011).

Following the shift to digitisation, a growing prominence on market orientation and customer preferences have driven consumer control over the information they choose to interact with (Strategic Direction, 2010). In turn, this has intensified competition for consumer attention to the extent that advertising clutter is viewed as a growing problem (Evans et al. 1995). Subsequently, traditional communications such as DM have developed a stereotype as ‘junk mail’, emphasising poor perceptions to its relevance. Evans et al. (1995: p.16) substantiated negative consumer attitudes where: 76% found DM was unethical, 67% did not consider DM as useful, whilst 47% considered DM as an invasion of privacy. A contemporary study by Françoise and Andrews (2015) further uncovered a extensive increase in ‘No Junk Mail’ stickers which acted as an avoidance behaviour to evade promotional materials. It has been conclusively shown that DM as a channel is one of the most expensive forms of advertising, operating on a cost-per-thousand basis (Figure 3). Case studies (Hall, 2010), demonstrate how within the charity sector, a shift from traditional to digital business can cultivate business benefits, reducing financial viability of DM (Figure 3). An implication of the negative perception surrounding DM reinforces why marketers are hesitant to continue its use, leveraging digital channels in an effort to remain competitive (Taiminen & Karjaluoto, 2015).

Table comparing traditional and digital communication channels

2.4. MCC

The phenomenon of market orientation posits the growth of industries according to proactive and selective behaviours from consumers which inform business trends, conduct and processes (Pookulanaga et al. 2011; Kohli, 2017). Contextually, consumers are more educated about products, communicating with peers about the value of a company’s service, swiftly migrating to different businesses and channels if they are not content with interaction (Shih, 2004). This process is outlined as channel migration, the behaviour where consumers frequent several channels such as DM, Social Media and TV within decision-making (Pookulanaga et al. 2011; Broderick, 2008). The complex and diverse buying behaviours of consumers today has been referred to as the practice of Multichannel communications (MCC), outlined as interactions which consist of more than one channel within purchase behaviour (Rangaswamy & Van Bruggen, 2005).

Owing to digitisation, it is common for customers to adopt various channels at various stages of the buying process, such as collecting information online before making an offline purchase (Broderick, 2008). It has been suggested that MCC is associated with higher customer profitability with studies confirming that Multichannel shoppers spend 30% more than Single-channel shoppers (Goel, 2006; Venkatsean et al. 2007). Holistically, this points to the growing prevalence of channel flexibility as a priority for marketers to consider, catering to consumers’ preferences for purchasing the exact product they want, precisely when they desire and through the channel of choice (Johnson, 1999; Crawford, 2005). Danaher and Rossiter (2010) argue that as Multichannel consumers still command a depth of channel choices, this suggests that DM can be utilised in an integrative capacity in communications. Payne and Flow (2004) concede the value of DM in the B2B sector, illustrating its criticality in customer satisfaction, invoicing and as a follow-up to informal Email communications.


Following the emergence of MCC, marketers have begun to adopt integrated communications which encompass DM, suggesting its potential as a relevant tool in marketing strategies today (Kellior, 2008). Despite DM’s existing presence in communications, there is still relatively little literature published in its applicability to MCC today (Luceri et al. 2014). Kalyanara and Phelan (2013) focused on DM’s ability to drive store traffic as a call-to-action whilst Kellior (2008) refuted that a combination of DM and Telemarketing yielded positive results after one study sample switched from use of integrated Email and Telemarketing. Findings uncovered that whilst this approach was not as inexpensive as using Email, DM offered a more personal and directed form of communications to customers (Kellior, 2008).

However, an opposing view concedes the superiority of Email to DM, combining the strengths of more traditional marketing with advantages only available via technology such as personalisation (Danaher & Rossiter, 2011). Coelho and Easingwood (2008) emphasise as a communication channel, Email can deliver the same corporate goals as DM, therefore occurring as a cost-effective replacement. In practice, given the complexity of the digital world (Figure 2), it can be assumed that Email offers better flexibility and adaptability compared to DM which is bound by a rigid print infrastructure (Mulhern, 2009). However, as practitioners argue that contemporary GDPR has emerged to combat data negligence and poor consumer trust, statistics show that DM perceptions continue to fluctuate (Sage, 2018). For example, The Drum (2017) uncovered 87% of consumers found Email to be more credible than Email (48%), whilst a Forbes (2017) study unearthed for business, DM achieved a 4.4% response rate compared to Email’s 0.12%. Consequently, as research points to polarising perceptions of DM over time in its applicability, there is little consensus to the dimension of value that DM generates today.


It has become critical to understand the process in buying behaviour, specifically as society has transformed digitally and the marketplace continues to change in structure. To depict the changing behaviours, preferences and expectations of customers, market fragmentation is the concept coined within academia to pinpoint growing trends towards individualism (Zeithaml, 1985). Its thesis is based on the increase of sub-groups in consumption based on factors which transpose traditional demographics (age, sex, income) (Gambardella & Giarratana, 2013). Instead market fragmentation emphasises trend variables such as attitudes, lifestyles, hobbies, interests, religious beliefs and ethnic origins which impact consumption (Evans et al. 1995).

In consequence, trend variables has cultivated a demassification of the marketplace, resulting in a proliferation of consumers who purchase based on a deeper psychological level. Considering the implications of consumer behaviour towards channel consumption, Shine (1994) suggests that the demassification of consumers has worsened the wastage ratio of traditional communication channels such as DM. As a result, traditional offline businesses have been forced to re-evaluate the methods in which they approach consumers, developing marketing models which integrate online and offline channels (Broderick, 2008). Fundamentally, shopper behaviour within decision-making is a useful area to explore surrounding MCC. A synthesised model is applied to existing literature within cross-channel contexts (Figure 4).

MCC Decision Making chart

Notably, the model explores emerging topics within literature relating to avoidance behaviours such as lack of motivation, and situational/economic factors (Darley et al. 2010). It further encompasses key elements of MCC theory, acknowledging that customers research within one channel but purchase within another (Piercy, 2012). An implication for the study would therefore be to ascertain whether marketers ensure consistency of message within all channels used, given that channels can be interchangeable within decision-making (Figure 4). A further implication centres on the premise of ‘trust’, which may indicate why channels are interchangeably interacted with, and how clearly information is exchanged between businesses and customers. From a MCC perspective, decision-making is therefore tangibly complex and based on a variety of factors such as individual characteristics, social influences and situational or economic factors. It will be therefore valuable to establish how attitudes towards digital and traditional (DM) channels differ in its value and relevance throughout the buying process.


The review examines the implications of DM in a world of digitisation, exploring the shifting relevancy of channel relevancy to consumers today. Whilst digital channel transformation has increased in relevance due to factors such as cost and a rise in consumer power; there are still examples of DM’s value in a Multichannel context. For some practitioners, perception to DM is a tangible issue, owing to the negative attitudes that consumers have owing to GDPR and unwanted junk mail. However, contemporary studies point to the impact of GDPR to digital consumption, indicating consumer preferences for DM over spam Email. The conceptual framework depicts shifting consumer demands demonstrated throughout the literature review.

Chart showing conceptual framework of consumer behaviour

Subsequently, it is essential to establish an understanding of the ways in which DM is relevant to decision-making, over other channels. It is therefore the aim of the researcher to explore opinions and practices of DM communications, offering a valid approach to the changing methods of marketing and decision-making. This will therefore assist the researcher with identifying whether DM is dead within a digital marketing world.



This chapter presents an informed justification to the research approach employed throughout the dissertation. As the topic explores the relevance and value of channels within the shifting landscape, it was appropriate to adopt both qualitative and quantitative data collection to gain a holistic understanding. Primary data focused on the investigation of research into perceptions and attitudes by means of qualitative interviews which were utilised to gain an in-depth understanding of underlying causes of human behaviour and why individuals interact with certain channels over another (Cottrell, 2014). This was significant as there were many indications within Section 2.0. that pointed towards a negative perception of traditional channels including DM. Secondary data centred on an objective measurement of published data-sets or existing case studies in order to draw reasonably valid generalisations as to the extent in which unearthed perceptions are reflected in business practice (Cottrell, 2014). This ensured a holistic research approach, combining new and existing data via triangulation techniques which helped to establish a thorough understanding and extend accuracy of judgements, implications, reliability and validity (Denzin, 2012).

Adapted Triangulation Model diagram


A pragmatic approach will be adopted within the research methodology, indicating the value of working with different philosophical positions to appropriately answer the research question. This is essential as a limitation of working with one philosophical position, is that there are many different ways of interpreting the environment and no single view can provide a complete picture (Denzin, 2012). A pragmatic multi-method tactic which ensures credible and reliable data collection will help to drive an informed understanding of the research within a contemporary context (Saunders et al. 2012), advancing the scope of study and presenting an argument with reduced bias from the perspective of the researcher.

Two applicable continuums include interpretivist and positivist paradigms (Saunders et al. 2012). Initially, interpretivist philosophy was pertinent to outline consumer attitudes towards DM and digitisation, examining how businesses reflect market orientation in practice. Cottrell (2014) suggested the researcher should adopt an empathetic viewpoint, viewing each participant phenomenologically or subjectively. This is significant as advertising clutter and demassification suggest that consumers are exposed to a range of channels which may uniquely impact each variable response, impacting factors such as social influences, situational or economic considerations and individual preferences (Edelson, 2002). Positivism within secondary data collection considers the relevance of observable reality, or exploring causal relationships and law-like generalisations between subjective interviews and objective case studies (Saunders et al. 2012). A practical implication of this approach is that the study will explore the social context objectively, positing a justifiable comparison of participant perception to real-life practices. In turn, this will negate the influence of the researcher’s ideological beliefs and remove potential biases which could impact the results of the study (Cottrell, 2014).



A multi-method approach was utilised, comprising interviews which were synthesised with secondary case studies. Defined as purposeful discussion between two or more parties, interviews are valuable in drawing upon the knowledge of consumers and their attitudes and unique experiences towards communication and marketing channels (Saunders et al. 2012). Whilst the conceptual framework was adopted to inform the semi-structured questions, an inductive strategy was still used to gain an understanding of the changeable attitudes towards channels, contrasting from a deductive approach where theory leads research within a stricter type of methodology (Saunders et al. 2012). In its application, the inductive approach accounts for a deeper exploration of ideas by providing a working-hypothesis, gauging responses to phenomena and pursuing new insights within a field (Shields & Rangarajan, 2013). Five semi-structured interviews were conducted on a face-to-face basis, over the course of the research, which provided rich, qualitative information about attitudes, experiences or perspectives towards traditional and digital channels (Cottrell, 2014). Contextually, this allowed for a higher margin of researcher consistency as face-to-face interviews provide the researcher with valuable social indicators such as reading body language; influential in helping to understand attitudes to the proposed phenomena (Legard et al. 2003). Whilst researcher bias can be a prominent weakness in interview data collection, this was mitigated by use of semi-structured planned questions founded on the conceptual framework (Saunders et al. 2012). Interview questions were further piloted in a peer-testing phase to ensure that all questions were easy to understand, used appropriate vocabulary and had the same level of importance.


Secondary data collection by means of case studies centre on the utilisation of existing information for a specific research-focused purpose (Greenhoot & Dowsett, 2012). An advantage of field-based research in this way is its cost-saving implications owing to the depth of data available in the public domain (Saunders et al. 2012). As the primary data chiefly explored the perception that individuals have towards marketing channels, it was therefore relevant to consider how these would be reflected in practice. ROI (Return On Investment) is a critical variable in measuring value and relevance, objectively interpreting how relevant or attributable communication tools were to success of campaign. Results were formulated by synthesising existing academic journals and WARC (2019), a subscription database which highlights 15 marketing campaigns in practice that encompass DM, Digital and Multichannel channel impact to overall effectiveness of strategy (Appendix 1).


The sampling method adopted was non-probability purposive, accounting for a selective group to satisfy research objectives (Saunders et al. 2012). Maximum variation sampling or heterogeneous sampling is another relevant method utilised to capture a wide range of perspectives relative to the dissertation question (Saunders et al. 2012). Notably, the conceptual framework outlines the prevalence of consumer demassification and market fragmentation as a result of digitation (Section 2.0.). As a result, selectively choosing participants who reflect a wider and more diverse demographic based on variables such as age will help to establish how channel perceptions, attitudes and experiences may have evolved or developed over time. This in turn assisted the researcher with identifying common themes which are evident across the research sample, cross-analysing findings with how perception is corresponded to in marketing practice via the case studies. The researcher was also able to secure an interview with a reputable marketing communications agency, further being able to explore the extent to how clients and consumers are influenced by types of communication channels. A participant and case study outline is detailed in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Data Sets

Data Set 1 (Interviews)

Data Set 1 (Case Studies)

  1. Participant A

(Agency Director at a reputable Marketing Communications agency)

5 x DM Channel Campaigns, measuring ROI (2015-2019)

  1. Participant B

(Aged 26 years)

5 x Digital Channel Campaigns, measuring ROI (2015-2019)

  1. Participant C

(Aged 19 years)

  1. Participant D

(Aged 36 years)

5 x Multichannel Channel Campaigns, measuring ROI (2015-2019)

  1. Participant E

(Aged 28 years)


The data collection strategy adopted throughout the research approach is outlined:

  1. Interview Stage – Data Set 1 will be carried out across an age-range of 19-36 years, with age considered a variable factor of how media channels may be perceived by consumers.
  2. Case Study Mining & Analysis – Data Set 2 explores recent campaign strategies over the last 5 years, examining those which contain DM, no DM or DM combined with other channels. Its purpose is to act as a credible objective form of comparison to depict evident practical cross-correlations.
  3. Comparison Study and Summary – Data Set 1 and 2 are compared and contrasted to identify correlations, key performance indicators and how academic and existing practical findings can be synthesise to justify new findings.

The interviews were conducted in places which were convenient to the participants, ensuring maximum comfort when taking part in the study (Cottrell, 2014). This in turn meant the researcher had to account for travel to several locations to conduct the interview sessions over a two-week period. Following Tessier’s (2012) theory, the interview utilised a combined narrative when recording and presenting findings, adopting field notes within the interview and expanding on the notes from audio-recordings post-interview. OneNote technology was adopted to minimise time spent on field notes and post-transcripts, saving the time of the researcher (Tessier, 2012). Following data collection, a thematic analysis (Figure 8) was adapted to demonstrate overall findings in relation to the research. King (2004) outlined thematic analyses as a useful encoder of qualitative information, presenting common themes across samples which in turn demonstrated the most suitable observation and overall interpretation. Appendix 2 summarises perceptions, connecting mutual themes via data analysis. This was then cross-correlated with the valuable marketing agency interview to demonstrate how marketers reflect perceptions in practice.

Figure 8: Thematic Mapping

  1. DM
  • Concepts of DM and attitudes towards channel
  • Relevancy of DM and perception
  • Frequency of DM and how this impacts action
  • Personalisation and perception
  1. Digitisation
  • Scale of digitisation and impact on consumption
  • Frequency of digital interactions
  • Two-way conversation flow
  1. MCC
  • Combination of channels to build effectiveness
  • Preferences change based on relevance and trust
  1. Consumer Behaviour
  • Avoidance behaviours to channels
  • Post-purchase thinking
  • High-involvement process impacts engagement

The limitations section is highly significant within the methodology, due to the multi-method data collection approach which has various implications to manage (Saunders et al. 2012).


For primary data, there are data-quality issues that must be considered owing to the semi-structured nature of interview questions:

  • Reliability: The absence of standardisation within the interview process could lead to issues surrounding reliability. For instance, Silverman (2007) challenges whether an alternative researcher would reveal similar findings.
  • Bias: This extends to issues surrounding bias, relating to interviewers and interviewees.
    • The interviewer has to consider the implications of subconsciously or unconsciously imposing self-beliefs on interviewees and trying to lead perspectives through comments, tone, or non-verbal behaviours.
    • For interviewees, the interview process can be intrusive, especially as its central goal is to explore unique perspectives. Social desirability or interviewee reluctance may therefore only provide a partial picture (Cottrell, 2014).
  • Generalisability: Statistical generalisability is an issue, specifically as the information collect while in-depth only represents a small sample (Cottrell, 2014).
  • Validity: As interviews are rich in data, they provide the capacity to infer meanings to a wider sample, but the validity of overall data would be exclusively dependent on how much participants are willing to share.

For secondary data, there are limitations to consider surrounding the case study data collection method:

  • Data Aggregation: As interviews are rich in data, they provide the capacity to infer meanings to a wider sample, but the validity of overall data would be exclusively dependent on how much participants are willing to share.
  • Quantifying Data Variables: Data may be difficult to quantify in relation to new research and so cannot be combined as a data set, referred to as measurement validity (Saunders et al. 2012).
3.3.6. ETHICS

As the limitations can have various implications for the practical value of the study, the ethics section presents a justified and informed ethical understanding of how the limitations will be managed to improve generalisability and validity of findings (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Ethical Implications

Ethical Implications

Applicability to Study

Ethical Management (Bryman & Bell, 2015)

Reducing risk of harm

  • Social discomfort may be problematic.
  • Avoiding participant coercion, social desirability and reluctance.
  • Protecting sensitivity.
  • A consent declaration (Appendix 3) will outline research goals and increase participant confidence by defining suitable data protection considerations and stipulating the right to withdraw.
  • Representative letters instead of legal names throughout the official recording of findings will protect anonymity.
  • Participants were provided with researcher contact information to address concerns and ensure transparency (Appendix 4).

Obtaining informed consent

Protecting privacy

Avoiding deception

Providing the right to withdraw

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Interview findings were outlined in field notes and placed within a thematic map (Appendix 2), following on from the semi-structured approach to interviews taken (Appendix 5). These were then compared against the secondary case studies to generate an informative correlation and representative outcomes.

Figure 10 summarises themes explored by participants within interviews (Appendix 3), relating to channel consumption, relevancy and value.

Figure 10: Summary of Findings

Diagram showing themes explored by interview participants


All participants outlined a depth of channel preferences in marketing communications, which DM was then compared to throughout the interview questions (Appendix 5).

Pie chart of channel communication preferences

Across the interview sample, attitudes varied as each experience outlined by participants was reasonably specific relative to the channels they frequently engage with. However, all participants (A-E) agreed that as some of the channels they engaged with was not specifically opted-into, this had an overall impact on how the message was valued and subsequently acted upon.

Participant A (Appendix 2) outlined a perspective from a marketing communications agency, emphasising the relevance and value of DM:

“There’s a single or two-stage approach to getting a response. Two stage is if we have to initial cold prospect for clients, from our experience DM, Email or Trade Press are the most useful”.

“For sole traders, we have a go-to mailer strategy where coupon offers for wholesale clients have created a response rate between 10-22%.”

However, the consumer proportion of the sample (Participants B-E) reacted negatively to a cold-prospect or two-stage approach to DM communications, associating DM with junk-mail:

“Post (DM) is a channel I avoid, because mostly when I get generic brochures in the post, they go straight into the recycling bin”. (Participant B, 26).

“Sometimes, I get useless letters about credit cards or mortgages which have no relevance. They just get thrown straight out.” (Participant D, 36).

“If I get brochures they stay in an unused pile and then get recycled. I prefer to look at things on a screen.” (Participant B, 26).


However, the sample does attribute relevance to DM in specific applications, giving examples of positive channel experiences:

“When I receive post it’s usually really detailed, even if its generic. I can see straightaway whether it’s valuable or not, because all of the information I need to make a decision is in one useful place.” (Participant D, 36).

“With wanted mail, I can keep it in a safe place and pick it up again when needed. Plus all of the information is in one handy location and not stored all over my desktop.” (Participant E, 28).

This contrasts from the overall perception of DM in the conceptual framework (Figure 5) which posits that DM is less relevant in contemporary practice. Whilst the sample predominantly do not value mass-market post or junk mail, there is a clear preference for DM from organisations they have a pre-existing relationship with:

“I get mail from Barclaycard as I have a credit card with them. This helps me to manage my finances, track my spending and get access to the best deals. I get promotional catalogues from Very who I have an account with. The White Company, Tesco, Costco and Boots are other companies who always send me personalised offers and I always end up redeeming them” (Participant E, 28).

“I definitely prefer face-to-face communications or physically having the information in front of me. Online I’d have to do a lot of research to get to that stage and I don’t have the time to do that.” (Participant D, 35).

“I get post from university which is always important and I get special vouchers from Boots because of my loyalty advantage card… They send me offers in the post based on items I’ve bought in the past.” (Participant C, 19)

The marketing director (Participant A) outlined for some sectors that DM is still the only available tool to communicate with B2B clients:

“For independent retailers, it’s got to be DM. That market does not respond to or interact to Email or anything digital. For tradesmen such as deckies or builders too, it can’t work any other way but DM. Telesales might work but not within office hours when they’re at their busiest, so for the best return we know its DM.” (Participant A).

However, participants conceded with the perspective of the conceptual framework (Figure 5), correlating to the negative perception surrounding cost-efficiency and expensiveness of DM as a ‘two-way’ communication tool, citing stamp costs as an obstruction:

“I hate the hassle, because of the cost of stamps. When it’s freepost then great, I’d do it if it was worth it, but if I need to buy a stamp I sometimes won’t bother.” (Participant B, 26).

“I don’t mind mail, it’s just a cost and time issue because stamps are expensive and then I have to find a post box or post office. So I’d prefer to send an email which is much less hassle.” (Participant C, 19)


Secondary data indicates strong ROI via cold prospecting within DM communications (Appendix 1). This corresponds to a preference for unsolicited DM as opposed to spam email which was instantly deleted by participants (Appendix 2). Specifically, BMW’s DM response rate of 10% resulted in an additional $7million in new sales (Appendix 1). Literature generally perceives that DM is perceived as junk, but its value compared to Email in the interviews uncovers a unanimous agreement that DM is less intrusive than ‘Spam Email’ due to the large volume of Spam Email received on a daily basis (Appendix 1). This contradicts with the literature review’s findings that DM causes consumer annoyance (Kellior, 2008). This points to the premise that DM still has some relevance for marketing, owing to changing perceptions to Email. Additionally, the sample preferred DM for customer relationship purposes, correlated in the case study sample where there is high ROI (Appendix 1). This corresponds to the literature review’s understanding of opt-in mail, which highlights when there was relevance and personalisation, DM had a longer shelf-life and subsequent response rate (Françoise & Andrews, 2015). This was perceived within the interview sample where personalised vouchers and samples were more likely to be retained and drive a call-to-action as opposed to mass-market DM which was less useful. Overall, consumer behaviour supported DM as a suitable channel throughout information search, but perception towards its preference over other channels are still contentious owing to attitudes surrounding cost-efficiency and annoyance.


The sample conceded that Email is viewed as a common communication source, but most Emails go unread due to spam filters and the volume received daily, impacting its value. In comparison, DM is seen as more personalised and relevant, offering less intrusive value.

“My mail is always personalised because I don’t opt-in to mailing lists unless needed. I get all my spam through Email and they stay unread or deleted.” (Participant C, 19).

“It’s always unsolicited Email now.” (Participant D, 36).

The marketing director conceded with the sample, arguing although digital tools have progressed, there is lower perceived trust which allows DM to maintain relevance:

“There is a rise in customers blocking and deleting Emails, so they aren’t getting through in the first place. So actually, DM can be useful as a first point of contact, then to be followed up by other channels such as microsites even” (Participant A).

However, compared to traditional DM, digital tools were perceived as more accessible and immediate to more slow-moving outcomes of DM:

“I’m a quick shopper, so if I bought a candle for example, I’d just search online for a candle and its scent online instead of the hundreds of candles The White Company sends me in a catalogue..” (Participant B, 26).

“I use social media for all communication and research when I can.” (Participant C, 18).

Other forms of digital communication frequently discussed include:

Pie chart of digital communication preferences of participants


Participants explored a diverse range of digital channels and comment favourably, with the marketing director also reporting a substantial rise in use of these tools, with marketers having to adapt their approach accordingly. However, as a cost-effective alternative, existing attitudes to Email are shifting, impacting Email’s purported position as a replacement for DM. In Appendix 1, for some case studies an abandonment of DM proved successful within ROI, despite Email being perceived as more intrusive. The majority of digital case studies demonstrate that for mass-market approaches, digital channels can be useful in improving brand awareness and visibility. However, as marketing strategies become increasingly digitised (Appendix 1), Email’s perception has suffered in consequence with strong attitudes surrounding spam, wastefulness and volume. This diminishes the assertion by much of the literature review concepts surrounding digitisation, which argues all other channels as supplementary to the internet (Christodoulides, 2009) and argues that traditional channels such as DM may still have some relevance. It is subsequently clear that Email cannot be regarded as a suitable replacement for DM in communication, owing to shifting negative perceptions which have arisen in consequence of digitisation and its oversaturation.


Interestingly, all participants conceded the value of Multichannel shopping and the integral role that DM has played in decision-making:

“They send me brochures and a 20% voucher when they have new ranges. So I have the choice of using this online or in-store and I never fail!” (Participant B, 26).

“Student finance is the best example, I rely on mail and then online tracking. That way I know where exactly my paperwork is.” (Participant C, 18).

“Home insurance… contents cover… upgrading to a rewards bank account… These are just some examples of where mail has led to me booking an in-store appointment with my bank and getting a great deal. This was really important when buying my first house.” (Participant E, 28).

The marketing director presents an noteworthy example of how DM can be utilised to combat some of the challenges involving digital in the Multichannel journey:

“For a skincare client, they wanted to market a new product via social media to a new audience. One of the challenges of such a physical product is that you can’t realistically prove from digital channels that it works. You have ads, but this is a matter of trust. So the solution is a DM info pack with free samples. You offer a guarantee and help to build credibility and a relationship.” (Participant A).

The sample present some useful insights into how digital channels cater for their limited attention span, but DM is useful for further relationship building:

“I saw a Tube ad briefly, but for some reason I thought the site was called Noodle. So I Googled Noodle… eventually found the company Noddle… they sent me a personalised information pack in the post. This helped to build my credit score.” (Participant B, 26).

“I clicked a social media ad for a new build development. I tagged my sister in the post as she was looking for a house but forgot about it… She filled in her info, they sent her a brochure in the post and she booked a showhome viewing and went for one of their properties.” (Participant C, 18).

“I booked a last-minute hotel experience through a Groupon Email and was a bit uncertain about what it entailed. I didn’t even need to contact the company as they posted a lovely package via letterbox with complimentary masks, a detailed itinerary and parking passes. It was a lovely touch.” (Participant D, 36).


Conclusively, the case studies support integrated DM in practice (Appendix 1), with a tangible increase in sales and market share. This supports the literature review’s assertion that DM can be used as a channel to support Multichannel call-to-actions, such as driving store or online traffic. Furthermore, this view is evidenced by the sample’s consensus that personalised material and vouchers by DM drive decision-making and influence consumer behaviour. In turn, this emphasises the appeal of DM for marketing and consumers when used as a mechanism to drive action. Conversely, the case studies (Appendix 1) indicate that for PR and digital strategies, there are other suitable forms of traditional channels including television and cinema to drive and call-to-action and subsequent sales, as evidenced by John Lewis’ Christmas ad (Appendix 1). However, with respect to the thesis that digitisation has taken over (Section 2.2.), the sample agrees that whilst digital channels command limited attention spans within the buying process, DM maintained relevance in driving behaviour with credible information; shown to impact perceived value and trust. Across the sample, when DM was personalised, this significantly influenced perceived importance, credibility and overall relevance with much of the sample purporting to retain informational for future relevance, impacting relationship management. Contextually, this would indicate that as digitisation has begun to catalyse negative attitudes to Email, DM provides a form of reassurance, supporting trust in other channels and driving an overall response or call-to-action. Across findings this can be seen in DM’s ability to drive web and store traffic across the case studies and interview sample (Appendix 1; Appendix 2).

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Explore the relevance and value of DM to contemporary consumers.

Owing to the subjective natures surrounding perception, it is difficult to be conclusive on the overall interpretation of DM as a channel within today’s digitised society. Intrinsically, background research (conceptual framework) and the primary and secondary data collection clearly point to the existence of a fragmented consumer environment, where digital channels have clearly impacted consumer attention, accessibility and attitudes to communication. As such, this has thus cultivated perceptions of DM which are entirely dependent on the value of content received. For instance, despite its expensiveness as a channel compared to digital tools, participants still perceived a high-level of value for personalised content such as redeemable vouchers, samples and informational packs (Section 4.1.4). This contextually points to the relevance of DM for relationship management, reminiscent with findings across the conceptual framework that DM is traditionally more informative than information across digital screens. Furthermore, a lack of consumer trust was another significant factor which arose from the literature review, owing to the negative perception that has arisen from DM being perceived as junk mail. The findings concede this view towards generic, mass and impersonalised DM which had little or no relevance to much of the sample (Appendix 2). However, notably, attitudes towards Email have evidently shifted with cold emails or ‘spam’ being seen as more intrusive due to the higher volume of content received daily. Contextually, this points to the premise that as Email faces diminishing consumer value and relevance, attitudes to DM have benefitted instead. This is consistent with case study findings which explore significant ROI from use of DM in a contemporary setting. Subsequently, the study has demonstrated relevance of DM as a channel in communications today.


Establish whether marketers can leverage DM in Multichannel communications.

In an uncertain and fragmented marketplace where demassification has shifted consumer attitudes to channel communication, the value and relevance of specific marketing channels remains uncertain. For instance, academic points to a consensus where DM is dead and digital has taken over everyday lifestyles and consumption habits (Section 2.7.). However, it is tangible that ongoing fragmentation has impacted consumer attitudes to trust and transformed attitudes to different types of channels. For instance, whilst Email is seen to deliver value (Appendix 1), the participant sample associates Email with ‘Spam’, pointing to its diluted effectiveness owing to the large quantities of Email continuously sent over a daily basis. Whilst generic DM was viewed in a similar manner by some of the sample (Appendix 2), when DM was warranted or requested by consumers and served the purpose of relationship building e.g. by samples, vouchers and personalised informational packs, it was significantly more valuable and relevant to the sample. Contextually, this would suggest that within an environment where Multichannel consumption is more prevalent, DM can be leveraged for its unique advantages within a Multichannel and digitalised world.

This was apparent across the literature review where findings conceded that Multichannel campaigns where DM was included in the marketing mix had a 12% larger ROI than those without DM (The Drum, 2017).


Evaluate the premise which considers ‘Is DM dead?’.

The conceptual framework emphasises the changing behaviour of consumers in the progressively digitalised marketplace. Over time, this has shifted DM’s role as a mass-market channel to a consumer focused tool, with elements of personalisation designed to capture attention and ensure customer retention. However, it is evident that the evolving digitalised world has transformed consumer lifestyles and habits, with all participants demonstrating a strong awareness of digital forms of communication and positive experiences (Appendix 2). For the purpose of marketing, this correlates with the case study analysis which asserts that digital campaigns can generate strong ROI whilst leveraging more cost-effective resources. Nevertheless, compared to more traditional forms of marketing, digital channels were perceived in many cases by participants as less credible, believable, attention-capturing and personal (Appendix 2). Subsequently, it can be regarded that though the consumption environment is increasingly digitalised, the rise and inferable over-utilisation of Email volumes have impacted perceptions, trust and relevance of DM which have led to its added contemporary value. Consequently, whilst digital communications continue to remain a key and crucial of marketing management, DM has the advantage of its physical value including shelf-life and retaining by customers to build relationships. In turn, it can be reasoned that DM is still highly relevant and valuable within the growing digital world and is not in fact dead as many academics presume.


The research has explored whether DM still has a role to play within a digitalised society, and whilst there are many examples in practice of digital campaign effectiveness (Appendix 1), the findings add to the body of knowledge around the perception of DM. Whilst generic or mass-market DM was negatively perceived across the sample, attitudes to Email have assisted the growth of personalised DM as a valuable communication channel. Furthermore, Multichannel marketing presents the opportunity for marketers to capitalise on channel consumption shifts, adapting DM within the progressively digitalised world. Whilst background research indicated perceptions to DM would be negative, in actuality, DM delivered unique value to consumers when applied in relationship marketing. Future research which explores the perspective of practitioners and consumers over time will strengthen findings, exploring the migration and neglect of channels according to relevance and value.

Recommendations for future direction include:

  • Expanding on samples, exploring a more diverse age-range to identify how attitudes to DM may have evolved over time.
  • Explore how perceptions to channels have evolved from the perspective of marketing experts, uncovering why some channels are chosen over others.
  • Investigate the phenomenons of digitisation and DM relevance amongst consumer behaviours on a regular basis to improve finding credibility and insights.


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Appendix 1 – Secondary data case studies








direct mail campaigns

the salvation army


5.4million cold prospects


Grow new donor volumes

262% and £9.5mil increase in new donors

(Third sector, 2017)

furniture today


200k cold prospects


Dm switch from email

1% response rate resulting in 500% new leads

(Ballantine, 2014)



2million warm leads with probability of upgrade


Retain customers

3.1% response rate, resulting in 9% new sales

(B2b Marketing, 2017)



1million purchased list


Drive sales of high-end saloons with emotional dm package

10% response rate, 43% new test drives and £7mil in sales

(Campaign, 2016)

bt sport


Independent pubs


Raise awareness and drive bundle sales

All-time web traffic high. 80% conversions

(Marketing Week, 2014)

digital campaigns

gatwick airport


Mass Market

Digital Kiosks

Improve customer support

57% increase in online buzz, 100 PR articles

(Gatwick Airport, 2018)



Warm list


Abandon DM for Email for resource efficiency

$1million sales

(Econsultancy, 2018)

bpl law


Law Graduates

Social Media

Hire 40 grads and build awareness

40% increase in applications, 3x social media following, doubled website traffic

(Campaign, 2015)

rs components


2.8million search queries


Large keyword list to build website SEO

1000% increase in traffic

(RS Components, 2016)

Public Health England


1.6million health workers across 35 regions


Newsletter eCRM strategy

35% increase in reactivated memberships

(Public Health England, 2019)

multichannel campaigns

john lewis


Mass market

TV, Social Media, PR

Elton john integrated Christmas campaign

903% increase in sales, 4:1 positive online sentiment, 3.5tb of online PR

(YouGov, 2018)



Warm list

Website, Email and Social Media

Email to convert site visitors

35% conversion rate and 24% clickthrough rate

(Adobe, 2019)

royal mail


50 marketing managers

DM and Social Media

MarketReach personalised campaign to increase business spend

3mil reach, securing 40% increase in business

(Royal Mail, 2018)

tesco cc


Mass UK

DM, Press and Outdoor

Increase awareness and sales

Highest rates of credit card acquisition

(The Drum, 2017)



Mass UK

DM and Retail

Small mailer which drove footfall into local newsagents

5% increase in UK sales

(Media Hut, 2018)

Appendix 2 – Thematic Analysis of interviews


attitudes, preferences & relevancy

traditional channels

modern digitisation

multi-channel consumption

participant A

“Marketers turn away from DM because they think it’s an old hat thing, but actually, what people are realising now is that in certain sectors you can’t ignore it.”

“For some of the markets we work in (Independent Retailing, Builders and Construction), DM gives the best response in terms of growth volume.”

“Businesses are also coming away from Email, especially talking about cold emails because of a decline in response rates. There is a rise in customers blocking and deleting Emails, so they aren’t getting through in the first place.”

“For a skincare client, they wanted to market a new product via social media to a new audience. One of the challenges of such a physical product is that you can’t realistically prove from digital channels that it works. You have ads, but this is a matter of trust. So the solution is a DM info pack with free samples. You offer a guarantee and help to build credibility and a relationship.”

participant B

“I hate the hassle of DM. For complaining, Twitter is a useful substitute.”

“Post (DM) is a channel I avoid, because mostly when I get generic brochures in the post, they go straight into the recycling bin”.

“I prefer to look at things digitally. It’s easier to search for what you want as opposed to spending time looking through catalogues. Even with Argos I think they know this too. I’ve found that their catalogue contains way less products than on their website. They know that time can be spent in better ways.”

“They send me brochures and a 20% voucher when they have new ranges. So I have the choice of using this online or in-store and I never fail!”

participant C

“On screen I have to screenshot sometimes as I don’t always remember what I’ve seen. I also don’t listen to parts of social media like twitter as often people just criticise and never say anything good.”

“I get post from university which is always important and I get special vouchers from boots because of my loyalty advantage card… they send me offers in the post based on items I’ve bought in the past.”

“I get all my spam through Email and they stay unread or deleted.”

“Student finance is the best example, I rely on mail and then online tracking. That way I know where exactly my paperwork is.”

“I clicked a social media ad for a new build development. I tagged my sister in the post as she was looking for a house but forgot about it… She filled in her info, they sent her a brochure in the post and she booked a showhome viewing and went for one of their properties.”

Participant D

“I definitely prefer face-to-face communications or physically having the information in front of me. Online I’d have to do a lot of research to get to that stage and I don’t have the time to do that.”

“When I receive post it’s usually really detailed, even if its generic. I can see straightaway whether it’s valuable or not, because all of the information I need to make a decision is in one useful place.”

“It’s always unsolicited Email now.”

“I avoid social media because I’m not interested in what random people have to say about products.”

“I got a notice letter from my phone contract provider telling me my family plan would be up for renewal soon. So a follow-up telesales call got me a great deal on a new package and I saved even more money on a new phone.”

Participant E

“With wanted mail, I can keep it in a safe place and pick it up again when needed. Plus all of the information is in one handy location and not stored all over my desktop.”

“If important, then I always respond by mail. It’s easier to keep track of things and stay on top of paperwork when it’s in front of you. I much prefer Direct Mail.”

“I think it’s highly useful. I like being able to have all the information needed in front of me. It’s much easier to refer to, track and stay on top of.”

“There’s the odd occasion where I get letters from random companies, but most of the time it’s always unwanted Email now.”

“At times, when I’m expecting an Email I have to go through hundreds of Spam Emails because I get stuff so often.”

“Face-to-face sales, a brochure in the post, some online research and a later test drive helped me make my decision when buying a new car.”

Appendix 3 – Consent Form





  1. I can confirm that I have read and understood the document: Information Sheet (V1) for the purposes of the study. I have had the opportunity to review the information, ask questions and have had satisfactory responses from the researcher.
  2. I understand that participation within the study is voluntary and I am free to withdraw my responses at any time without any prior reason. Furthermore, should I choose to not answer any specific question, I have the freedom to decline to answer.
  3. I understand that data and information collected during the study may be looked at by third-parties including the university, moderators and examiners where it is relevant to my taking part in the research. I therefore give permission for these parties to access my record which the researcher will provide.
  4. I consent to the use of field notes of my participation and verbatim quotation within the researcher’s Findings and Analyses section of their dissertation.
  5. I agree to take part in the study.













Appendix 4 – Participant Information Sheet




You have been invited to participate in a dissertation study. Before you agree to take part, it is important to understand why the research is being conducted and what this involves for you. Please take the time to read through the following information carefully and ask any questions when deciding whether to take part.


The research aim is to assist marketers to determine the contemporary benefits of Direct Mail (DM) within the growing digital world. The research will be exploratory in nature, attempting to gauge an insight into the attitudes towards DM and its value and relevance to consumers within marketing today.


The study will explore the perspective of the ranging demographic to uncover the attitudes that individuals have towards traditional channels they engage with, amongst the progressively digitalised environment. There will be several other interview participants, including consumers and marketers.


Participation will be entirely voluntary and you are free to withdraw at any time, without any prior reason. A copy of the consent form can be provided on request and all participation will be kept completely confidential according to the Data Protection Act 1998. Any information collected and reported will be redacted so you cannot personally be recognised by name or any personal information provided.

The study encompasses:

  • A semi-structured interview where a range of questions will be asked face-to-face in order to gauge your opinions on the dissertation study.
  • The interview will last up to 45 minutes, however, you are free to take as long or as little needed answering each question.

Appendix 5 – Semi-structured interview questions


  1. What channels do you commonly use within marketing campaigns?
  2. Has there been a rise in digital channels used?
  3. What is your preferred channel use for a campaign? Are there some you specialise in?
  4. Have you had any campaigns where only Direct Mail was used?
  5. Have you had any campaigns where there was no Direct Mail used?
  6. What channels have provided you with the strongest campaign return? Would you say there’s a combination for best practice?
  7. Are you aware of Multichannel campaign marketing? How often do you adopt this approach?
  8. How would you determine ROI of Multichannel campaigns?


  1. What media channels have you engaged with today or other the past week? What were they for? Did you opt-in to any sort of specific message or were they just received?
  2. What do you consider DM to be? How would you define it?
  3. What are your views about DM? Do you think it’s useful?
  4. How often do you receive DM? Has this changed over time?
  5. Have you ever received DM from a company you already have an existing relationship with?
  6. Do you ever respond to brands or businesses by DM? Or do you prefer another channel?
  7. What digital channels do you engage with?
  8. Do you often communicate with other brands?
  9. Do you prefer digital communication?
  10. What tools do you use when shopping for goods? Has there ever been a combination of channels when thinking about your buying history?
  11. Why?
  12. Are there any channels you avoid? Why?
  13. What was the last high-involvement purchase you made? Can you talk me through the buying process?

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