The Electronic Document Systems Foundation (EDSF), the only foundation dedicated to enhancing the value and relevance of document communications worldwide, has released a new study, "Printing in the age of the Web & beyond." In the study, 2,000 consumers and industry professionals were interviewed to find out their projections on the effect the Web would have on the print industry. Some of the research findings also directly relate to the high-volume mailing industry.


According to the EDSF research, "Physical mail accounted for nearly 20% of the world communications market in 1995. Fax and telephone covered 75% and electronic mail just over 5%. The market share of telephones and faxes will hardly change by 2005, but electronic mail should double. The share of physical mail in the communications market will decline. This decline in market share does not contradict the upward forecast for physical mail, since the communications market as a whole is growing faster than the postal market."


The Future of Change

Document production managers today face increasing complexity in their day-to-day operations. They are expected to increase the quality and personalization of customer communications while at the same time decreasing the cost per message. Technology is changing so rapidly that finding the right solution set can almost seem like a moving target. However, companies that wait too long to take advantage of new technologies will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in meeting the needs of their customers.


Businesses and individuals now have a growing range of communication options beyond postal mail and faxing, the Internet and hybrid mail, all depending on one's purposes and preference. The industry has changed so dramatically that it has adopted the term "messaging" rather than the traditional word "mail" to encompass all of these options.


While the Internet will certainly have an impact on the way companies communicate with customers in the future, traditional postal mail is not going away.


Implications for the Mailing Industry

Because of the increasing, and much disputed, adoption rate of Internet messaging in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) arenas and the slow-but-steady increase in print/mail through 2020, mailers will need to be able to provide both paper and electronic documents to their customers. The crucial challenge for companies is to integrate these two delivery processes effectively. "If you are a solutions provider for the B2B or B2C mailer and you want to stay competitive, you must provide your customer with the ability to deliver both electronic and paper documents," states Bill Fay, vice president of Software at Bell & Howell Mail and Messaging Technologies. "This can be accomplished by providing the products themselves along with strong consultative support or by providing businesses with an outsourcing service for their Internet applications."


According to EDSF's study:

  •            The digital revolution could produce a large number of new and worthwhile products for postal operators.

  •            The advent of e-commerce is already having an effect on all delivery services, especially postal services.

  •            Retail postal sales over the Internet surpass predictions.

  •            Electronic mail and Internet access are still very limited in certain regions of the world.

  •            The greatest effect of this digital revolution will be seen in the B2B segment in high-income countries, since they will have implemented electronic technologies that eschew paper-based communication.


    Web and One-to-One Marketing

    Transaction documents have moved from an accounting necessity to an integral component of any program. Before the advent of e-mail, new technologies in the form of ATMs, Direct Deposit and Automatic Debit had begun to "depersonalize" the relationship between business and consumer. Documents that corporations send to their customers account for 90% to 95% of their total communications with their customers. This means that documents are now the main way a business communicates with its customers. As a result, personalization of mail has taken on greater priority in the industry. EDSF's study says, "According to Don Peppers of the one-to-one marketing fame, marketers must reconsider broadcasting to customers and instead begin a dialogue on a one-to-one basis. They must offer value in the form of service and ease of use instead of pushing products with a need to measure the amount of information shared rather than the traditional measurements of timing, frequency and monetary value of purchases."


    EDSF's study also states:

  •            Personalized direct mail will grow significantly over the next two decades. It will be the basis for relationship and targeted marketing.

  •            Mass mail will continue until everyone has access to the Internet.

  •            Marketers will be challenged through targeted approaches.

  •            By 2003, the number of marketing e-mails will equal the volume of direct mail forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service, and by 2004, the average household will receive nine pieces of marketing e-mail per day.


    One very positive effect the Web has had on the mailing industry results from its power as a data-mining tool. In the future, the study of Web-surfing activity will become a more common method of customer profiling for both electronic and paper-based mailers. Supplementing traditional demographics with this new technology has added new levels of sophistication to information-gathering technology, allowing businesses to profile their customers using a much wider knowledge base than previously possible. The resulting increase in the ability to personalize messages is immeasurable.


    An important function of B2B and B2C targeted marketing programs in the future will be to provide documents in the preferred format of the customer such as electronic, paper or both. Mailing solutions providers for high-volume mailers are already perfectly positioned to accomplish this. The most logical and economical way to implement electronic bill payment and presentment (EBPP) or ESP is to begin with the paper-based infrastructure that's already in place and integrate the electronic messaging. That way, businesses don't have to "start up" a whole new enterprise but rather, add another messaging format to an existing operation.


    These new levels of sophistication and the resulting mass of both new and historical data that will be accumulated, however, will result in an enormous need for increased data-storage capabilities. Again, Web-enabled solutions will fulfill the volume and long-term document archiving requirements.



    The advent of the e-world in the paper-based mailing industry has brought with it many opportunities and benefits: an increased number of applications, enhanced data-mining and data-archiving solutions, online customer service, but it has also brought challenges. The personalized content of mail and new government regulations mandating privacy concerns will make the guarantee of document integrity more critical than ever. Fortunately, technology for integrity products has advanced quickly and been enhanced by the Internet. Solutions providers can now offer a new generation of comprehensive production management systems provide a flexible "umbrella" of automation that integrates data across any production workflow and any type of equipment or process. This integration of data gives the high-volume mailer total, closed-loop processing capabilities. What this means for the mailer is that it can track and reconcile documents in real-time across the entire enterprise, and what this means for customers is that they get all of, and only, their documents.


    The biggest challenge to document production managers is not target marketing, corporate branding or building customer relationships via the document, but it's accomplishing all of this at a lower cost per piece. Personalizing the contents of documents without adding additional postage or significant printing costs will challenge the high-volume mailing industry. Targeted marketing messages on bills, statements and envelopes will become more prevalent. As postal costs rise, postal discounts will continue to be an important factor in keeping the cost of paper-based mailings under control. Address cleansing, ZIP Code assignment and sorting products will become increasingly sophisticated and critical.


    Building Relationships through Service

    Another benefit the Web has presented the industry is new opportunities for improving customer service. The new comprehensive production management systems, discussed earlier, provide customers Internet access to their jobs an invaluable tool within the service bureau industry. High-volume mailers with integrated electronic and physical billing applications can access an online version of their customers' bills when hosted on their Web sites, which makes it easier to address any billing issues.


    The Web Friend or Foe?

    No one doubts the increasing adoption rate of Internet messaging, and no one agrees on the speed in which it will be adopted. Two constants are the slow-but-steady increase in print/mail and the resulting postal mail. Industry analysts who predict a slower adoption rate site the fact that worldwide, the Postal Service can reach the largest percentage of the population, says the EDSF study. As a result, the effect of the Web in today's high-volume mailing industry should not be viewed as a threat but as an added application, an increase in product offerings and an enhancement to existing applications through document personalization, integrity and customer service.


    To order EDSF's "Printing in the age of the Web & beyond," please visit http://www.edsf.orgor contact the Foundation at 310-541-1481 or


    Bill Bulleit is director of Marketing at Bell & Howell Mail and Messaging Technologies. He can be reached at

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