Retailers and brands are battling the double whammy of rises in raw material prices and a fall in consumer spending as the public struggles with the credit crunch. Marketing is often one of the first things to go in a downturn, but advertising experts say companies that continue communicating with consumers are more likely to maintain sales.

Fmcg brands have traditionally relied on price-driven marketing, such as voucher promotions, to drive sales. But today’s consumers are brand-savvy and, thanks to the internet, have good access to price and quality comparisons. Many consumers now want more from their favourite brands: they want to build a relationship with them. While TV advertising can showcase a nice brand image, and press ads promote tactical price cuts, targeted direct mail is also a sophisticated way of reaching individuals.

Winning someone’s attention with a relevant message addressed directly to them can be the building block of a long-term relationship. Often, mail is the best starting point for an advertising campaign as it provokes a response, be that a purchase or further research. Mail is a flexible and innovative medium. ‘Sensory mail’ – which stimulates the recipient’s senses through the smell and feel of the mailing rather than relying only on visual impact – allows marketers to create an emotional connection.

It’s hard to establish that all-important emotional bond through email or internet advertising, but dovetailed mail and online campaigns can have real impact. More fmcg bosses should also consider the rapidly growing medium of customer magazines. They are read on average for 25 minutes, deliver a 44% response rate, 8% sales uplift and 32% brand loyalty. A regular brand magazine, with in-depth and eye-catching editorial, is a strong marketing proposition.

Driving value from long-term relationships, rather than stop-gap pricing strategies, will be crucial to fmcg companies. Marketers and retailers must use the vast amounts of customer data at their fingertips to produce more relevant, timely and engaging communications.

Mark Thomson is media director at Royal Mail.