The Italian Renaissance, which began in the 14th Century, was fuelled by benefactors keen to stimulate popular interest in the arts. The movement profoundly affected cultural life across Europe and changed the way millions of people thought not only about art as a medium, but their world as a whole.
In some ways, Royal Mail's role as a major force in direct mail innovation is similar to those of the Florentine families responsible for the widespread regeneration centuries ago. As a media owner, we must drive the medium forward, making every advertiser aware of the power of direct mail to create great campaigns that engage consumers on a personal level and consequently drive growth for businesses.
Next year could see the dawn of a renaissance for direct mail if the wind continues to blow in our favour. Nielsen Media Research figures show the decline in advertising spend on direct mail is reversing. Meanwhile, economic turbulence means marketers are once again being compelled by their bosses to prove that each penny spent on communications is making a difference.
Direct mail is in pole position to prosper - the medium is unique in offering targeted, personalised marketing to both customers and prospects. And at a time when measurement, evaluation and return on investment have returned to the front pages of marketing textbooks, direct mail is ideal for proving the worth of a campaign.
The market is worth £2.2bn, but media owners have a responsibility to do more than just soak up budgets from brands.
This is why Royal Mail has worked hard to develop a cutting-edge product portfolio over the past 18 months. Our Personalised Integrated Media offering allows companies to post customised CDs or DVDs to individual consumers. The disk is content-rich and completely measurable, tracking customer use and hot spots without having to visit a website.
We also challenged the industry to consider the power of physical direct marketing in a digital world. Mail is the only medium that can stimulate five senses at once - invaluable engagement at a time when cut-through is key.
This was demonstrated by the launch of Matter - a mailed box full of delightful surprises that contains physical representations of brands and gets products directly into the homes of customers. More than 60,000 people registered to receive a box from the initial test mailing of 1,000, showing the growing power of the medium.
I am optimistic we are helping to redesign mail for the future by building on its inherent strengths and adding a healthy twist of innovation. This comes at a time when the media industry is open to change and advertisers are making sure every pound is effective.
E-mail is becoming a chore for consumers, whereas creative, physical direct mail is offering cut-through - possibly the reason why 16 to 24-year-olds are now most responsive to direct mail.
The icing on the cake is the knowledge that combining the power of digital and direct mail gives the highest return.
Royal Mail is working hard to inform media agencies about the benefits of direct mail. We recognise the role agencies play in channel development and know media owners must work with agencies to create innovative opportunities. Those media agencies that don't just brush direct mail under the doormat by automatically recommending "sexier" TV can be a hero to their clients by boosting ROI.
Of course, all stakeholders must remain aware of their green duties. We have launched Responsible Mail, offering advertisers advice on how to reduce the overall environmental impact of their campaigns. In addition, Royal Mail pays to offset CO2 emissions as part of its carbon-neutral door-to-door scheme, and it is funding a new BSI environmental standard for direct marketing.
As we move into an exciting new year for direct marketing, making sure all the strands of our strategy - from channel innovation through to agency and customer partnerships, environmental considerations and consumer engagement - means direct mail will be hard to ignore.
This is not just a fanciful prediction for the future. The wheel is already turning towards more personalised, direct communications, using the measurability of mail and the endless content of the internet.
Royal Mail will play an exciting role in the future of direct mail. We already lead the way in innovative solutions and we will continue to create compelling media propositions to widen the scope and effectiveness of direct mail in 2009.
Antony Miller, head of media business development, Royal Mail