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Going Global: Fashioning Your Direct Marketing Strategy in Italy

Date: October, 2011 --

A recent email promoting a consumer mailing list from Italy reminded us that we hadn't talked much about Italy recently.  This particular promotion offered an average monthly hotline of 90,000 names from a universe of some 3 million. Italy is a complex, diverse, and nevertheless interesting market. Herewith a bit of data about the market:

The country has a diversified industrial economy, with a developed industrial north dominated by private companies and the less developed agricultural south. It also has a robust underground economy which some estimate as large as 15% of gross domestic product. And Italy is struggling with its own unemployment and recession issues, being among the four countries somewhat harshly referred to as "the PIGS", Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain. 

Italy's per capita gross domestic product on a purchasing power parity basis is in excess of $30,000. By comparison, the US is approximately $45,000. Its gross domestic product, like most industrialized countries, is 73% in services, 25% in industry in 2% in agriculture.

This is most definitely a family-focused nation with strong traditions of family life and loyalty to one’s locality.  Italy's generally family-owned luxury goods manufacturers, located primarily in the north, are world-famous for their design and craftsmanship. In fact, many of these firms have resisted, until recently, having to outsource to offshore production.

With a population of 61 million people, nearly 70% of whom live in an urban area, the Italians seem to be primarily retail shoppers.  Television gets the lion's share of advertising and the TV channels owned by the company of its Prime Minister, Mr. Berlusconi, get the lion's share of that. Households tend to be large and young single people tend to remain with their families until they marry, if not beyond. Part of this is due to the cost of housing and high unemployment among younger people and part due to custom.  As a consequence of these and other factors, the birth rate is now at 1.4 children per female, below the rate of 2.1 needed for a level population. Italy’s population, like Japan’s, is falling at the rate of 0.1% per year. 

Direct response television works very well as both a merchandising and name gathering exercise. Very few Italian consumers use mail order and a study by Deutsche Post found that 77% never order by mail order, well below the average for Europe. Direct mail is effective, however, and with mail volumes at approximately 28 pieces per person per year, your DM piece is likely to receive careful attention. 

 Only about half of the Italian population can be considered to be Internet users, which puts the country at about the world average, albeit well below the European average of 58%. In 2007, the last year data was available, only 9 million people, or 16% of the population, had broadband access.

The list offering we referenced at the beginning of this article is part of a relatively small population, and the data industry itself is a relatively small one for the size of the market. Swiss Post recently estimated there were only 18 list providers actively at work. Part of the reason for this may be that the postal system, until recently, was a government operated office with the efficiency and creativity one would expect. The organization under the liberalizing regime for the postal industry required by European law has improved dramatically and launched many creative initiatives into the digital space. 

Another reason the list population is reduced is that until the last five years or so, the Italian data protection regime has been among the strictest in Europe. The local business advocates have been able to bring about dramatic change, changing the opt-in principle to opt-out for companies with respect to their own customers, and some similar changes with respect to publicly available names and addresses such as those in the telephone book. However, as with the rest of Europe, email addresses may only be used with opt-in consent and the dropping of cookies requires affirmative consent.

Italian consumers are avid readers of newspapers and periodicals and these can provide effective lead generation; however, circulation numbers are not high by the standards of nearby countries. Also, remember that Italy has one of the oldest and proudest cultures in Europe and their language is one of their points of pride. Your promotional copy will need more than mere translation and of necessity must be based on Italian cultural norms and possibly even take local dialects into account. Moreover, cultural sensitivity and understanding of the internal protocols will be critical for success. 

As for products, Italian consumers are noted for their love of style and appearance, especially in clothing, home furnishings and of course their automobiles. Certainly, like France, Italian fashion is admired and copied around the globe. That sense of refinement and style will need to be reflected in both your product and its marketing.

Remember also that Italians are sensitive to having their names properly ordered and spelled and their addresses, which in Italy can be very complex, absolutely correct. Trust Data Services to keep your Italian address data clean, accurate and current, "in the Italian fashion."