Letters had been written off and with more rivals in parcels, An Post had to reinvent itself. Debbie Byrne explains the reboot.
Talk to say a dozen or so seasoned marketers about which major Irish brands have got their act together in recent years by proving profitable and capable of generating the right vibes among consumers and chances are at least half of them would cite An Post. What was for years widely perceived to be a staid old semi-State company has turned itself around and become something quite different.
It began in early 2018 with the hiring by CEO David McRedmond of former Eircom colleague Debbie Byrne. An Post commissioned research to better understand consumers, particularly younger people who regarded the brand as irrelevant. “It’s fair to say most Irish people love An Post,” Byrne, managing director of An Post Retail, said. “But millennials would have said ‘it’s not for me’.”
The research by Genesis revealed that An Post were in dire need of change. The study identified the consumer that the nation’s postal service needed to target and how they should go about it if they were to avoid becoming a dinosaur. An Post should now address itself to targeting a fictional character by the name of Ciara – a smiling, red-haired, self-confident and socially-conscious 30-something.
Byrne says Ciara epitomises your everyday millennial. It is a cohort of consumers who live their lives online and will only align themselves with brands which share their values. Like many of her counterparts, Ciara is time-poor, ambitious in her career and looks to get on in her life and she wants it all on her terms. This fictional character came before the new brand identity was rolled out.
Scanlon homes in on millennials: BBC presenter Angela Scanlon fronts An Post ads created by Folk Wunderman Thompson. She personifies ‘Ciara’, the fictional millennial character with a social conscience, who the company actively targets. Last year, An Post rolled out the Green Hub, offering homeowners information and access to service providers and low cost loans to help generate a more energy efficient, comfortable and sustainable home.
The rebrand had to reflect An Post’s new positioning, the transformation from a mails company doing parcels to being a lead player in financial services and e-commerce. It also had to say complement the new vision and home in on tech-savvy millennials by showing itself as a brand acting for the “common good”, with its new fleet of emission-free vans throughout Greater Dublin.
In the new brand identity created by Image Now, the old An Post wavy lines representing the old franking marks were discarded. Byrne says the new logo with its emerald green backdrop had a much more contemporary look, a break with the past and again tilting towards the new, millennial target market. However, they decided against going the whole hog by keeping some Celtic-style typeface.
To bring the corporate brand into line with today’s digital market, two new sub-brands were announced: An Post Money, a financial services arm handing consumers personal loans and credit cards and An Post Commerce, a B2B brand providing e-commerce and mailing services. BillPay is a prime example of the company’s inclusivity policy, looking after the most vulnerable in society.
Last year An Post Money reached a milestone in its bid to deliver better banking services with €1 million MoneyBack for customers of its An Post Money current account. By the end of April, more than 60,000 customers had opened an account with MoneyBack spend up in the two months of Covid-19 lockdown as their current account holders took advantage of their card.
In line with its ‘human about money’ promise, the An Post Money current account comes with a €5 monthly maintenance fee which includes unlimited contactless and point of sale (POS) transactions. Most money back recipients earn nearly €10 a month back into their account.
Research into account spending shows that the average grocery spend with the card at Lidl was €47 with customers earning nearly €2.50 back with every shop based on five per cent MoneyBack on spends over €25. Other partners include Supermacs, Intersport Elverys and SSE Airtricity.
Byrne said that reaching the €1m MoneyBack milestone reflected An Post’s drive to provide better banking that makes a difference to people’s lives, including a safe home for customer’s money and market leading rates on consumer loans and credit cards. Consumers are looking to make smarter choices, where trust, community impact and simple and straightforward products are key.
Byrne outlined how the next stage for An Post Money included further development of An Post’s omni-channel approach to services, combining the customer experience online and at the post office counter. “With 950 post offices, we provide a full suite of community banking services with a human touch while investing in mobile banking,” the former Life Style Sports marketing boss added.
The company’s fortunes have certainly improved over recent years. From a €12.4 million loss in 2016, the company got back in the black in 2017, announcing a €8.4m profit, followed by a €27m positive result in 2018. Last year, its operating profit was €39m, a jump of 40 per cent. The results were achieved in the face of cost cutting, the closure of post offices and the repurposing of unused properties.
In a drive to transform its parcel handling business, An Post opened a second and Ireland’s biggest ecommerce processing centre at the Dublin Mails Centre in Knockmitten, Dublin 12 in November, right next to the automated Dublin Parcel Hub, which had opened a year earlier. In the run up to Christmas, they handled around 3.3m parcels a week compared to a million a week the year before.
Garrett Bridgeman, managing director of An Post Mails & Parcels, said the company’s business model is changing from the old world of letter post to the new world of ecommerce parcels. The smaller parcel handled by the new centre – padded envelopes and smaller boxed items – is growing with outgoing volumes from Irish companies selling worldwide and incoming online shopping.
“We’ve been preparing and significantly investing in our technology and infrastructure capability to support businesses post Brexit,” Bridgeman said. “We’ll be able to manage the changes that Brexit will bring for businesses and consumers in a seamless way.” Construction of the new processing machinery began earlier in the year with full ‘go-live’ in November, in time for the Christmas peak.
Staff currently working in the manual sorting of small parcels were re-trained to support the new Beumer Packet Processor which handles 100,000 items a day. Like its Beumer big brother in the centre next door, the new self-learning tech is purpose designed and can recognise Irish locations, eircodes and Irish language addresses and can cope with a variety of sizes and formats.
To beef up its mails and parcels offer, Julie Gill was hired as commercial marketing director. She joined from Eir where she was head of connectivity, having spent almost a decade at Telefonica. She headed up a commercial division managing 02 and worked on devices and business sales.
A cuppa from Craggy Island: Pauline McLynn as Mrs Doyle in Father Ted made the query “Will you have a cup of tea, Father?” a household line. To coincide with the launch of the Father Ted silver jubilee stamps, An Post also researched customers’ favourite Father Ted moments. Best loved episodes included ‘Hell’ on 21 per cent; ’Speed 3’ on 18 per cent; ‘Kicking Bishop Brennan up the Arse’ on 17 per cent and ‘A Song For Europe’ on 16 per cent. McLynn is pictured with An Post’s Julie Gill.
Last August An Post released a set of four stamp designs marking 25 years of the much-loved C4 sitcom Father Ted. The stamps featured iconic one-liners synonymous with the four main characters: “That’s mad, Ted” (Fr Dougal); “That would be an ecumenical matter” (Fr Jack); “Will you have a cup of tea, Father?” (Mrs Doyle) and the infamous “That money was just resting in my account” (Fr Ted).
An Post followed up on the Father Ted stamp series by working with Javelin in unveiling four new stamps celebrating the evolution of U2 over the past four decades. With input from the band, An Post collaborated with U2’s creative director Gavin Friday and graphic designer Shaughn McGrath, to develop the concepts inspired by the band’s albums and entitled ‘U2 – a Celebration 1976-2020’.
Soon after the rebrand, An Post teamed up with charities to launch what was Europe’s first free personal address and mail collect in support of the 10,000 or more people in Ireland who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation. Address Point is a free personal postal address which is more accessible than the PO box network, with 200 or so participating post offices across the country.
The scheme is run in tandem with Dublin Simon, Focus Ireland, Peter McVerry Trust, Merchant’s Quay Ireland, St Vincent de Paul, Capuchin Day Centre, Threshold, Inner City Helping Homeless, Crosscare, the Dublin City Council Homeless Executive and all local authorities. To avoid stigmatisation, the words Post Office do not appear in any of the people’s personal addresses.
An Post emerged as Ireland’s most highly-rated brand in how it responded to the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis, some way ahead of the country’s leading supermarkets and public transport companies, a ‘Now Next’ report by the Genesis agency from last May showed. Supermarkets and the HSE were seen as having done the most to help Irish people cope with the effects of the pandemic.
An Post announced Community Focus, an expanded range of post office and postal delivery supports for customers and communities to help everyone stay connected now and into the future. It is supports for customers, most particularly for older and vulnerable people living alone, where An Post delivery staff check in with senior citizens on their routes.
Family members of older or vulnerable customers can register for the free check-in service by completing the postal address and eircode of the customer at anpost.com/CommunityFocus. Should any customer have a specific need for groceries or a prescription from the local pharmacy, An Post links them up with Alone, the charity supporting older and vulnerable people.
Where older or vulnerable customers are unable to get out to buy stamps for cards or letters, An Post picks up their mail from their home and covers the postage for them. Recognising the increased restrictions in nursing homes across the country and to bring a little joy, An Post ensures free delivery of all cards and letters posted to and from residents of nursing and care homes.
By writing Freepost where the stamp normally goes, An Post carries cards and letters without charge. The company provides same-day delivery of newspapers for older and vulnerable customers Monday to Friday. Customers who are unable to collect social welfare payments like the old age pension during the pandemic can nominate a person as their temporary collection agent. Forms and full details at post offices.
Before the pandemic, the An Post Early Bird events provided marketing and media leaders with a chance to meet and greet over breakfast in restaurants like Fallon & Byrne and The Ivy. Among the guest speakers were Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland, Glamour editor Samantha Barry and Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell. Last March it was the turn of neuroscientist Dr Beau Lotto.
The winners of the An Post Irish Book Awards were revealed on RTE One by Miriam O’Callaghan. A Ghost in the Throat, Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s combination of essay and autofiction, was book of the year, while Donal Ryan’s Strange Flowers was named the top novel. A Light That Never Goes Out, the memoir by the late Keelin Shanley, was the RTE Radio 1 Listerners’ Choice Award.
An Post will soon unveil its latest plans helped by a research workshop with Paul Kelders’ agency Jump! The focus remains on communicating the sustainability message and the ease of access its customers have to financial services. As Byrne says, there are 500 post offices across the country without a bank within 5k. An Post will provide the Revolut experience but with a more human stamp.
In an interview with Michael Cullen