You Won’t Survive by Printing Alone

By Noel Ward

In the mid-90s I was going into print shops, setting up internal networks, training prepress people on using QuarkXPress and dragging many shop owners kicking and screaming into the tenuous new world of digital file prep and digital printing. Some embraced the new technology while others were skeptical or resistant. Suffice it to say that those who survived were not the skeptics or resisters. A couple years later I was an active advocate for digital printing, editing a magazine focused solely on the emerging technology. I got used to being called delusional while watching printers who denied the value of digital print slowly close up shop or be absorbed into companies who realized digital was just another way to print.

Today, virtually every print shop has some digital printing capability yet the need to change one’s game doesn’t stop. Successful printers know print is only one element of modern communications and that they have to do a lot more than put ink or toner on a page to remain relevant to customers.

What’s old is new. Again.
A colleague was in a marketing planning meeting recently with a group of millennials. As they planned a strategy only one person, a Gen-Xer, was advocating for direct mail. Once he explained how print and electronic media could work together to drive sales the group realized that the dusty relics of print and direct mail could still work today. And began looking for ways to incorporate them into their marketing plan.

A 2015 InfoTrends study indicated that more than nine in ten marketers expected the amount of direct mail they planned to send in 2016 would increase or remain the same. Why? Because it is seen and read. A survey by DMA (Direct Marketing Association) indicates that 70% of direct mail is opened and 79% is read for at least a minute. By comparison, the average consumer receives more than 100 emails a week. Think about the non-business email you get: Do you really pay close attention to it? If you’re like most people the answer is a resounding “no,” so most of those messages go unseen and are deleted.

The DMA study also found that relevancy is critical, so you aren’t alone when tossing those generic third-class opportunities that fill up your mailbox. However, you probably do open them if they are personalized: about 80% of consumers are more likely to open personalized direct mail. And here are the kickers: of those responding to a direct mail piece, 53% go to a retail store, 54% visit a web page, and 45% say the direct mail offer led to a purchase. Print still drives purchase behavior.

Channels matter
More important, response rates go up when more channels are used. The DMA study found that printed mail yields a 7.4% response, compared to print and email at 8.3% Rates hit 9.5% for campaigns using print, email, social media, and mobile.

Mobile—which is spanning generations—is the big deal here and it’s why printers must step up to using all forms of media. Mobile options are not just limited for use with direct mail, but can encompass many published and printed materials. A printed brochure or even a post card can link to a broad range of information about a company and its products, and tell a product- or service-related story along the way. Less than ten years ago this meant scanning a weird-looking QR code that took you to a web page that may or may not have been relevant, useful or even live. But now the game has changed.

At Hunkeler Innovation Days in Lucerne, Switzerland in February Xerox and Solimar showed how a direct mail fundraising solicitation for a fictitious zoo could incorporate AR (Augmented Reality) on a computer or mobile device and allow recipients to make a donation. In the example, an AR phone app was triggered by scanning the eyes of a zoo animal. This activated audio and video that made the solicitation come to life. This definitely isn’t the direct mail you’re familiar with! And no ugly QR code!

The same approach could be taken with nearly any product. For a real estate company it could be a postcard linked to a “walk-through” of a house. For a resort it could provide a property tour. For a cruise line it could offer a virtual glimpse of a cruise. Yes, AR and embedded video links add cost, complexity and take more work, but it makes for far more compelling offers and can even personalize messaging to recipients. And when it results in greater response and sales revenue your customer is probably going to remember who did the printing and helped pull it all together.

No excuses
Before you insist that your customers’ customers don’t care about electronic media, be sure you know that for a fact. Who, after all, is their audience? For example, the brochures you just printed about the senior-living community might be in 12-point type with wide leading for some older people. But their kids—who might be orchestrating the move for mom and dad—are 20- or 30-somethings who would find a walk-through video of a senior community a bit more compelling. And scanning an image with their phone that pulls them into that video might encourage them to call for more info—which your customer will probably appreciate.

Direct mail or printed brochures are not going to close a sale or ink a deal, but those printed communications are still important and even critical parts of the process. As alternative media channels grow in importance it is vital that print providers be ready to offer communications vehicles that go beyond print and link to the media sources more and more people are using every day.

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