I often get caught up in conversations about digital communications. Sometimes, that's all a client wants to talk about. They've pretty much written off mail as little more than a necessary evil, but they are enamored with email tracking, drip campaigns, triggered responses, forms, landing pages, and social media.

The latest technology can enable communications with customers, donors, or members in some really cool and interesting ways. I totally understand. I've helped clients develop digital communication strategies and I use the technology myself to keep in touch with clients, prospects, friends, and followers. But we shouldn't forget that postal mail also has some unique advantages that are just as powerful as any 21st century internet-fueled technology.

The other day I got a piece of mail that had the effect of reining me back from the digital brink. One single item was all it took to help me remember how incredibly powerful a physical mail piece can be. When it's done right, the impact of a mail piece can outweigh all those fancy things you can do with email, cookies, and on-the-fly personalization.

The Little White Box
The item I pulled out of the mailbox that day wasn't flashy - not in the least. In fact, the only markings on the outside were my name and address, a return address, and a mailing permit. One label on a plain white cardboard container, about the size of a box of checks. It wasn't an order from Amazon or anything I was expecting. I noticed the piece right away and immediately started wondering what could be inside the box.

Here's the point: I cannot imagine anyone who received such a package in the mail NOT opening it up. I'd be willing to bet that this mailing enjoyed about a 100% open rate. That never happens with email. Not even close. The average open rate for B2B emails is around 20%. Eight out of ten people to whom an email message is sent don't look at it. Some never even see it, thanks to spam filters or other deliverability issues.

In This Case, Simple is Better
Think about all the things marketers try with electronic messages to get the attention of their audience. Animated graphics, symbols in the subject line, personalization, enticing links and buttons, and videos come to mind. They have to anticipate how their messages will be presented in multiple browsers, email clients, and devices.

Even with all that creativity and effort, a little white box outperforms them all.

Sure it costs more to send material through the mail than it does to publish electronically. But if the object of the message is to elicit a response, a well-thought mail piece has a much better chance than its electronic counterparts. This is particularly true when the distribution list is fairly small.

The package I've described came from my local Postal Customers Council. I don't suppose their mailing list is huge. So relying on a 20% open rate in an email announcement (which they also sent) cuts their potential audience way down. Besides the fact that using physical mail to promote an event is especially appropriate for a postal organization, the Dallas PCC was even craftier.

Message and Medium Perfectly Matched
Inside the box, along with a small decorative item, was a brochure promoting an informational seminar. The topic to be covered was USPS package and parcel shipping services. They used package delivery to get the word out about their event on the same subject! I can't think of a more appropriate application of mail services.

I'm all for using any digital communication channel to achieve the goals of the organization. Automated digital solutions can do things that are pretty amazing. But don't let your customers forget that good old postal mail has some unique advantages too. Pick your moments and use the properties of mail that are impossible to replicate in the digital world. The results can be outstanding.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He writes about topics of interest to the communications industry. Mike will be speaking about why print is sometimes the better choice at Xploration 15. To keep up with Mike's tips, trends, and commentary visit www.printmailconsultants.com and sign up for Practical Stuff - a free newsletter for customer communication professionals.