Making an Inkpact

Who doesn’t like to feel special and significant and remembered? No-one, that’s who. And this is very much the premise of the innovative marketing company Inkpact, which was set up in 2015 by Charlotte Pearce who had a moment of epiphany at a conference when she discovered someone bemoaning the lack of progress they were making in setting up meetings – with emails having no effect whatsoever.

She offered to send some hand-written letters to see if this was more engaging – and it was. Out of 30 letters written, 20 resulted in meetings. A business was born and Inkpact now has hundreds of freelancers (known as the Scribe Tribe) working on customised, hand-written mailing campaigns for retailers and others in both the UK and US with that number only set to increase.

After her initial business idea Charlotte partnered with Andrew Martin, now CTO of Inkpact, as the business needed a scaleable tech platform to function as a quality control mechanism and to allow for remote working.

So how does this actually work? A client will give over the marketing details of its campaign, Scribes will be assigned and sent the stationery, text, instructions, stamps and all other materials necessary. They log into the Scribe portal – this also has tips and help on it but crucially is the method whereby every single letter written is uploaded and scanned for any anomalies or errors. Yes that’s right. Every single one sent out is checked by the tech platform first.

Inkpact tries to give its clients as much choice as possible on the kind of projects they want. There are, for example, three handwriting types to choose from: Flourish – for high end campaigns and full of loops and swirls; Modern; and Clean. All the messages are written in fountain pen and sent with a first class stamp, which marks them out as special correspondence for most people and all helps the recipient feel looked after (with the added bonus of being smudgeable so that any doubting Thomas can test its veracity).

There are of course competitors, many using robotics, to do the same kind of work but as Jeannine Rafferty, Chief Customer Officer at Inkpact, told Retail Insider people know these are not genuinely hand written as they are too uniform. She added that the people who make up the Scribe Tribe are one of the unique selling points and a feature that brands love. This is because the Scribes are quite often recruited from the ranks of those who either find it difficult to do a job in the outside world for whatever reason or have been latterly affected by Covid-19 restrictions. In usual times single mothers, people recovering from illness, students and those with some disabilities are all represented and now during the pandemic many artists, restaurant workers and those involved in the entertainment industry have swelled the ranks.

Member of the Scribe Tribe. Rachel Elderkin, dance artist

According to Rafferty brands are very positive on being part of that message of helping people get back on their feet. “This work puts real money in real people’s pockets and clients are genuinely interested in finding out about the people writing their campaigns,” – to put a face to a name. It is for this reason that Inkpact calls itself a social enterprise. In fact, for one Boden campaign the Scribes were actually asked to sign as themselves working on behalf of Boden as that direct connection was felt to add so materially to the value of the campaign.

But now to the nitty gritty – what exactly is the impact of a hand-written campaign? And how can it be measured? And how do retail brands use it best? As Rafferty explains the client company is always encouraged to keep a control group back for comparative purposes. This non-letter receiving group either receives nothing at all or a standard email so when the campaign is done the incremental revenue increase from the receiving group is calculated and this equals the impact.

A good example is a Sweaty Betty campaign, which targeted consumers who had shopped with the brand for 15 years and were sent a card and a discount voucher. Over 30% of Inkpact recipients transacted and spent a whopping 210% more than the control group.

As Rafferty admits it is not the cheapest form of marketing and doesn’t suit everyone but when it does fit it gets big results. “If you are selling a £5 item this won’t be for you as sending the card will take a big chunk” but for companies with an average basket value of £100 it lands well. Inkpact obviously works mainly with CRM and marketing teams and has a hit list of 200-300 brands where it feels it could add value but there are many sectors contained within that including estate agents and hospitality along with retail. The main challenge according to Rafferty is to educate clients that this marketing channel exists at all.

The standard project turn-around time is 10 days but some clients run a system where new customers automatically get a handwritten thank-you note and the turn-around on this is three days because a scribe will usually be assigned this ongoing campaign and have all the stationery relevant with them all the time.

Campaigns range from the seasonal Christmas and Easter types to out-of-season one-off promotions, recognition of new consumers, cross-selling to existing clients, and thank-you’s to long-standing and loyal customers. Interestingly, Inkpact tries to steer companies away from including notes in subscription boxes despite their huge popularity and curated nature. This is because impact is much harder to measure. “It’s not the out of the blue surprise and delight for the card because someone is getting a whole box of goods anyway,” says Rafferty, however, the company has done gifting campaigns, most notably with John Lewis who sent a small Christmas decoration and card to some of its most loyal customers.

The reaction was significant and emotional, with many recipients taking to social media saying the gesture had made them cry and many also took the decoration into the store to personally thank staff. For John Lewis the results were very beneficial and not just financially as some JLP staff told Inkpact they go back to those positive social media comments if they are having a difficult day.

Of course part of the very emotional reaction to hand written campaigns is driven by the pandemic. Inkpact’s previous focus was on B2B companies but that dropped off significantly as people no longer worked in offices. However, the switch to a B2C has proved very timely as bored/anxious/ill people have been shut in doors for long periods with nowhere to shop except the internet. “Many online brands have no human interaction points at all,” says Rafferty, adding: “They therefore have to focus so much more on relationships to keep their customers engaged.”

For the future Inkpact will continue to work mainly in English although it has scribes (and algorithms) confident in writing most European languages that use the Latin alphabet and Japanese is being trialled at the moment. But the success of its business to date is surely proof that in this hi-tech world something as old-fashioned as receiving a letter still has enormous value. The pen, it seems, is still mightier than almost anything else.