I ran across an article on the internet a couple of weeks ago. At first I thought it was a joke, but the author was serious. He provided step-by-step directions on how to make a business-size envelope using your inkjet printer and Google Docs. There were eight or ten steps. The process involved cutting, scoring, folding, and glue.

Obviously targeted to a home user who has a need for a single envelope, the article didn't have anything to do with high-volume mail production. But it illustrates a point. Sometimes we get so used to using certain technologies we never even think there might be a better solution. For me, a trip to the Dollar Store to buy a box of envelopes makes infinitely more sense than making one from scratch. It floored me think there are people out there who look to the internet first as the way to solve an envelope shortfall. Do we have to Google everything before using our brains?

Here's another example of similar thinking
A 20-something houseguest of ours was heading to the airport for her flight back home. She needed her reservation number to print boarding passes at the airport kiosk. No problem. I found the information and started to write it down on a post-it note. "Oh, don't do that" said the young woman, "Just send it to my phone." It was only an 8-digit number!

To satisfy her request required me to:
1. Ask for her phone number.
2. Add her to the address book in my cell phone.
3. Send her a text message.
4. Make sure it went through. I didn't want her to arrive at the airport without her information.

Instead I jotted the number on a scrap of paper and handed it to her. Took about three seconds. I ignored her eye-rolling expression.

Even though she didn't like the idea of having to lug that 2-inch square piece of paper all the way to the airport I figured I saved her the trouble of making sure she had battery life, finding a cell signal or Wi-Fi, and locating the correct message while standing at the boarding pass machine. If you've ever been behind someone trying to do that, or waited while a shopper scrolls through their emails at the check stand looking for an electronic coupon at the store, you know how irritating that can be. My analog communication technique probably saved other travelers some frustration that day.

Digital delivery deems to be the default
In the communications business we run into similar attitudes. Some people make document delivery decisions as if electronic channels are the only choice. They never consider that print might be a better fit.

Digital documents aren't always the best way to go. This is especially true today when so many people are using mobile devices to read emails, and so many mailers don't bother optimizing their content for mobile presentation. I run into this all the time. If I open an email on my phone and I can't read it without enlarging and scrolling all over the place, or there's a PDF attached, I won't waste my time on it. Unless I could tell it was especially important or interesting there's little chance I'll open the same message later on the computer.

For impact and consistency, print is better
In contrast, I look at every piece of physical mail that comes to me. The person or company who sent the mail piece has a much better chance of getting my attention with their headline, graphics, or offer than the e-mailer that expects me to perform extra steps just to see their content.

Postal mail lacks barriers like aggressive spam filters or Gmail tabs. Unlike email, the printed colors, fonts, graphics, and layout the recipient sees are guaranteed to be the same as when the piece was produced. Most consumers get a few pieces of postal mail, but boatloads of email every day.

If delivery, presentation, and awareness are important than maybe a physical mail piece ought to be at least considered more often. If the message is worth the time to create, it deserves to be delivered in a way that provides the best chance of being read by the recipient. And please don't waste your time making origami envelopes!

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He writes (and occasionally rants) about topics of interest to the communications industry. In April, 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.