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Pivot at the Send Button

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by Kimberly A. Edwards, President, California Writers Club (Sacramento Branch) —

Kimberly A. Edwards

Print marketing is making a comeback in a digital world, but a mix of both might ultimately be the best approach.

When marketing budgets tighten, print newsletters and other tangible marketing tools are often the first to go. Why? Because print is considered more expensive. But not so fast. Print continues to hold value, as trend watchers are noting.

“Ten years ago,” says Ashley Leone, marketing and corporate communications coordinator at IWCO Direct (iwco.com), “many analysts believed that direct mail and other printed products would be obsolete with the mass innovation of technology. Yet print is alive and well, and, frankly, exceeding expectations.”

Leone cites research that shows postal mail outperforms electronic media in acquiring new customers four-fold. Studies show the staying power of print material and a higher response rate when used in conjunction with other channels, such as e-mails and websites. Marketing experts consulted for this article seem to agree.

“It’s my belief,” says Leone, “that print will never become extinct because our biology derives too much from it. Print has a connection to the human experience that won’t be replaced by digital interactions, no matter the new tech toy.”

Alas, because the written word is not the hot new game in town, print can easily get pushed aside in the pursuit of “sexier” options like online and social media channels. Yet recent reports on the decline in e-books reflect a renewed appetite for print, due in part to digital fatigue, though limitations of reading devices may also contribute to this development. Print has unique characteristics that merit reconsideration.

Challenging the Assumptions About Millennials

Leone finds herself craving print (“Direct Mail Insights: Millennials Love Print – Who Knew?” PrintingNews.com). “I, along with 89 percent of other millennials, get our mail at the first opportunity, according to a study by the USPS and Summit Research. Maybe we like print because we spend days staring at a backlit screen and our poor retinas need a break.”

Millennials are the most likely of any generation to read direct mail, according to an InfoTrends study, “Direct Marketing Production Printing & Value-Added Services: U.S. Report.” Twenty-five percent of millennials consider reading direct mail a leisure activity. Millennials notice print, paper, and image quality more than any other demographic.

In 2016, Quad/Graphics (“Millennials: An Emerging Consumer Powerhouse”) found that even though millennials are the most digital-savvy generation, more than half ignore digital advertising. They pay more attention to direct mail and print advertising. While many discover new brands through social media (following, pinning, liking), fewer than one in 10 base a purchase decision on a social network. Millennials actively shop from catalogs and inserts using print and mobile coupons. Nearly half made a purchase because of something they read in a magazine.

According to a Zero Moment of Truth macro study, 82 percent of those ages 18-34 cite print as part of their purchasing journey. Hard copy ads spur 53 percent of millennials to respond online, while technology such as QR Codes and scannable coupons make for seamless transition from holding a printed piece to making a purchase online.

The Drawbacks of Print

There are, of course, downsides to print marketing. The salient alternative is digital media, whose charm comes from its accessibility, speed and convenience, and lower costs. E-mail marketing messages can be more frequent, track opens and clicks-per-subscriber, link to rich media (e.g., video, polls, etc.), and offer various ways that recipients can choose to interact.

Many companies send e-mail newsletters daily. They are able to target specific groups through content relevant to each. Customizing content is inexpensive. Issues can be addressed as soon as they come to light. E-mail newsletters can manage their own subscriber database, including new recipients, unsubscribes, and non-delivery. They can hyperlink back to a website, encouraging the community to engage and generating data for analysis on the news that interest readers.

However, the downside of e-mail is the lack of personalization and the distracting onslaught of e-mails that fill inboxes every day. E-mails can be disregarded, unsubscribed, or zapped. Those perceived as spam have been found to annoy recipients more than postal “junk” mail.

Tales From Three Marketers

John Graham

John Graham of GrahamComm Marketing/Sales Consultants (johnrgraham.com) in Quincy, Massachusetts, uses the case of the newsletter to illuminate some of the differences between print and electronic versions. “They’re apples and oranges,” he says. “To judge them on the basis of cost is a huge mistake. Most of the time, little thought is given to the implications of the change from print to online, particularly the impact on readership and response.”

According to Graham, print newsletters provide the opportunity for longer articles and complete explanations. They let the reader “pore over” information and to easily return to it. If written and edited carefully and properly designed, the print newsletter can be a highly effective form of communication.

Graham says that e-newsletters or e-bulletins offer a quick read with short articles. Success depends on compelling, reader-focused content: not what you want to say, but what the reader wants to see. The interactive e-newsletter offers a two-way conversation, particularly with a brief video. With available analytics, it’s easy to gather and analyze reader data to see what’s working. The major negative is that e-newsletters are easily deleted and ignored.

One of Graham’s clients experienced the harsh reality of loss when switching to electronic media. “It was a logistics firm with 7,000 hard copy subscribers. When the company replaced the print newsletter with a digital version, the response rate dropped dramatically. They were certainly surprised when I informed them of this drop.”

Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Patrick Schwerdtfeger (patrickschwerdtfeger.com) of Trend Mastery Inc., in Walnut Creek, California, spends more than $18,000 per year on postcards. “I’m definitely in the camp of those looking beyond online channels. The sad reality though is that it’s almost impossible to know if it’s actually working. I continue to do both postcards and also some e-mails along the way, but it remains a guessing game for me. I feel like I need to keep doing it and hope that, over time, it will build familiarity with the 7,000 recipients to whom I’m sending. So far, I have done the mailing nine times, once every two months.”

Author of Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed (2011, John Wiley & Sons), Schwerdtfeger calls attention to a printed newsletter he receives from a local real estate agent. “I always take notice when it arrives. He sends them in large manila envelopes and prints the newsletter on double-sided and scored 11 x 17 sheets of paper so it looks like a small magazine. I think his approach is effective.”

Beth Mora

Beth Mora of MoraByondMarketing (morabeyondmarketing.com) in Sacramento, California, finds that print works well as a handout at booths and for leaving with people met at events or at the back of the room after speaking. “The focus of your printed material is to leave something with potential clients that will interest them enough to seek more information on your website,” Mora says.

According to Mora, e-mail provides the option of multiple lists to serve specific interests. “Of course, you can always send notices, newsletters, and general audience information to all lists,” she says. “But if you’re planning a workshop on writing children’s books, you’ll get a better response if you promote only to those writing children’s books.” Mora likes the auto-responder feature that allows for pre-written follow up e-mails that are automatically sent out at later dates.

So, Which Is Better for a Marketing Plan?

For most companies, the answer is both. Direct mail is regaining a foot in the marketing plan because customer loyalty is a top goal. Brands perform better when using a balanced approach with online and offline channels. The challenge is to track across many media channels to assess user engagement and response, which in and of itself poses new challenges for measurement gurus.

Nevertheless, as long as more products are sold, the result can be considered a victory. “Effectiveness is what counts,” Leone says. “There’s something luxurious about being able to touch a page and stare as long as you like without the fear of your device going to sleep. That luxury leads to more time spent with the printed messaging, allowing customers to learn more about the offer, which translates into improved response.”

Kimberly A. Edwards is president of the California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch.

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