When people learn that I work in the printing and mailing industry I sometimes get comments like "Oh Do you have plans for something else later?" or "That's tough to be in a dying industry." Those individuals too polite to express their opinions just give me that look usually reserved for old people who are a little out of touch with the real world.

It really doesn't bother me. Regardless of the perceptions of people who believe mail is dead, I know there are plenty of ways physical documents beat the pants off of electronic alternatives. I'm perfectly happy to be working with organizations savvy enough to recognize the benefits of every communication channel they use, including print. These are the people who have figured out how to use print to their advantage.

Print Implies Importance
The way my customers and I see it, digital migration has lowered the volume of mail, making the remaining pieces more impactful. I'm comfortable with that. Anyone getting personalized physical mail today probably takes notice. This is good for someone sending quality direct mail, bills, or statements.

Even those people who claim they never get anything meaningful in the mail know that important items like jury summons or a letter from the IRS will be delivered in an envelope. If such messages come by email they are probably a scam.

I doubt anyone (except perhaps Kramer from Seinfeld) really refuses to collect their mail or dumps it out without looking at it. What if your grandma sent a check for your birthday?

Email Can Be a Headache
Spam and overly-zealous email campaigns are clogging up consumer inboxes making mass deletion and revocation of email permission a survival strategy. That's OK with me too. I know as long as mailers do a good job with data accuracy and address hygiene their physical mail pieces are going to be delivered and seen by the recipients. That's a huge advantage printed materials have over email.

When you think about it, the barriers to electronic message delivery are formidable. Pop-up blockers, anonymous web browsing, and spammer lists make it difficult to predict how many messages sent will actually get delivered to the intended recipients. Outdated email addresses, image suppression, junk mail folders, and abandoned email accounts further decrease the chances of messages being read, even if they make it through the gauntlet of delivery filters.

Because of damaging computer viruses, identity theft, and ransomware consumers are wary of opening emails or clicking on links unless they are absolutely positive of their origin. Legitimate emails often get caught in the nets designed to catch malicious messages. Email authors are warned not to use too many really useful and powerful words like free, attention, limited time, or urgent. Due to misuse by spammers, even words like mortgage and pharmacy are viewed suspiciously by Internet service providers and corporate spam filters.

Room for Improvement in Print
All is not perfect in the world of physical documents though. The biggest problem I see with printed communications is in the construction of the messages themselves. So many times, businesses fail to create relevant, personalized, and compelling mail pieces. The huge advantage direct mailers have over their digital counterparts is wasted when they churn out one-size-fits-all junk.

I wrote a blog piece in March called "A Printing Triumph Followed by Immediate Fail." It describes a perfect example. Up until the time I opened the piece and read the content, the marketer had me in the palm of their hand. I took notice of the piece and I recognized the sender as a company with whom I do business. I felt special they spent extra money to create and deliver it to me, and I anticipated news, information, or an offer worthy of my time to pursue. Unfortunately, the contents included little personalization and indicated the company had neglected to extract anything but my name from the giant storehouse of data they had about me. Consequently, they failed to craft a communication and offer that was appropriate for me. How disappointing!

The good news for producers of print is the issue with content relevance and accurate targeting is easily fixed. Unlike some of those problems encountered by digital communicators, creators of printed messages have almost complete control over the areas that could really improve the performance of their communications. Modern composition tools can create documents with variable data and graphics. Printing devices are capable of producing full color variable documents at high speeds. The premium to print variable content in color, once considered a barrier to effective marketing, has diminished to insignificant amounts. And we've got more data than ever before to use in constructing buyer profiles and distinguishing the characteristics of individual prospects.

Every Printed Document Worth Its Cost
It is true that adding more work to the creative and data manipulation processes prior to printing adds to the cost of physical documents. However, lowering overall print and mail volumes by suppressing unlikely prospects or removing duplicates can offset extra up-front investments in design. And a boost in responses to personalized and targeted communications will likely improve the ROI even further.

Mailers who are able to sharpen the focus of their campaigns should find the response to their materials to be more than satisfactory. The complexities of Big Data should not be a deterrent. Simply crafting three different messages or offers for new customers, current customers, or past customers can make a big difference in the results of a campaign. Or perhaps it means trimming some names from the list if the offer or service obviously doesn't apply to them. Just a little more effort to create relevant content can transform a campaign from average to all-star.

Print isn't the standard solution anymore. It frequently isn't the first choice, but if mailers exploit the advantages they have in delivery and awareness, along with using data more effectively to compose relevant messaging I'd say print is definitely worth it.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, a firm that helps companies lower costs, develop future strategies, and improve quality in their document operations. You can read more at Mike's blog. Or visit www.printmailconsultants.com and sign up for Practical Stuff, a free newsletter for document print and mail professionals.