Brenden Rolston, owner of direct mail manufacturing business ActionHQ, talks the evolution of mail and how the print marketing medium has come full circle.
What does your business do?
Action HQ is a data-driven, personalised marketing agency and we work with data for personalised communication and deliver it through traditional mail, text and online platforms. My mother founded the business and I bought it off of her in 2007, after 10 years. ActionHQ is 20 years old now, we started back in 1996.
What sparked the idea?
It was early days in direct marketing when she set it up and there was huge demand for businesses to grow database, back in the floppy disk, early-computer days when people were starting to learn how to collect data and communicate one-on-one versus traditional methods.
It was a really big, global trend into direct marketing and the initial stages of understanding data and communication, and so she went with it and it grew bigger than she anticipated.
She really focused on service and invested in a lot of different kinds of machinery which could do different sorts of finishing techniques for direct mail.
How big is the ActionHQ team?
We have 15 on the team, but add more to production when we need them.
Who are some of your clients?
Our clients are diverse - we look after retail, not-for-profit, manufacturing customers and also financial institutions. Mercury Energy, Hirepool, Oxfam, Hill Laboratories and Fuji Xerox, to name a few.
What's been the biggest change in the industry over 20 years?
There's been two big things. First is the digital space - email marketing came along early on and search has come on during that period, too. The other thing that has happened is the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2008. During the GFC people who couldn't measure their marketing [success] basically closed off their marketing, and it created a lot more focus on us on measurable marketing during that period.
The other interesting thing about email is, even though there has been a big craze and it's gone quite well in the early days, now there are massive struggles for marketing executives as people just delete them and not reading them.
It's full circle for direct mail. We work in the email space but our roots and passion is around direct mail, and for the last few years it has been obvious that the clutter in that email space has been a massive challenge. Direct mail is different now, and not like it used to be - it used to be high volume, low-value, low-cost person size mail and now we're looking at more targeted, higher value direct mail pieces which have much more impact. The nature has changed quite a lot which is interesting.
What's been the biggest trend you've seen in 20 years?
The consumer has become more clever, you have to communicate with them in a more respectful way because they can see through the grey stuff. With marketing you have to be much more honest. Also, consumers are now on a digital detox, de-cluttering in a big way. There's been a massive amount of digital clutter and we're at the stage where it's information overload.
There's been a massive amount of digital clutter and we're at the stage where it's information overload.
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What does a typical day at work look like for you?
My team take good care of the daily running of the business and let me know that the place runs best when I let them get on with the business. My job is mostly about working with our clients to develop campaign briefs, then briefing the team for project delivery. Additional to that is team support and slotting in where some additional help is required. It's important not to take the eye off developing new business and we are often developing our own marketing campaigns.
How do you ensure your business stands out from competitors?
Competitors in the traditional mailing space focus on processing mail, we focus on understanding data and how it can be used to achieve business solutions. Based on that we are often looking at reducing the size of communications but being more targeted. High target is ultimately better than high volume.
What are your long term plans for ActionHQ?
In the last few years we've been working with new software called XMPie which is designed to be a single source software to deliver personalisation through direct mail - email, text messaging and online, and so the key for us now is about creating accountability in direct marketing - getting closer to data is where our future is.
What advice do you give to people thinking of starting their own business?
Understand who your business customers are and their profile and understand how many other potential customers are available in the market - find out what your market share is so-to-speak.