Marketers are looking for ways to connect more meaningfully with customers. These days, they are not interested in doing 200,000 static mailing runs, but they will invest in a print and online campaign that gathers information for their database. They will send out 50,000 or 70,000 highly targeted and personalized pieces, because the response rate goes up when they do.

    The mailing print community sits at the back end of this process, but it should be helping to handle the front end too. If printers don’t start having these conversations with their customers, they’ll see their print runs continuing to get smaller and smaller. Their revenues will go down unless they move upstream and help provide the online and digital components of the communications program, which are starting to now drive the high-value print component.

    What mail printers need to be offering their customers is cross-media services. This phrase scares some because it sounds like something new, intangible, and completely outside their comfort zone, but it is definitely worth investigating. And, if you’re already printing variable data mailings, cross-media does not have to be that hard to do.

    What Is Cross-Media Marketing?

    Cross-media is a form of direct marketing that combines multiple channels such as direct mail, email, SMS (text) messages, websites, mobile apps, and social media. With a consistent look and feel across all channels, cross-media is a powerful tool for companies to engage with their customers.

    A simple example of cross-media is a standard direct mail piece that includes a personal URL (pURL), which the recipient of the mailer can type into a web browser or click on a QR code to view a personalized landing page. This campaign uses just two channels, print and the web. This example can be deployed for many uses — event registration, surveys, database cleansing, and more.

    A more sophisticated example would also include using the QR code on the printed mailer to take a recipient taken directly to a mobile-friendly website, so mobile is a third channel.

    Using multiple channels increases the reach of the campaign by supporting customers’ preferred means of receiving communications, making it more likely that recipients will respond to a call to action. Cross-media also increases opportunities for engagement by offering different types of media, such as video or interactive 360-degree views of a product, in addition to the static content in a printed mailer.

    Increased Response

    Perhaps more importantly, using multiple channels produces significantly better response rates than any one channel can on its own. There is substantial evidence that including a printed piece in a marketing campaign can significantly increase the response rate. According to an Adobe study, companies who introduced a mail component into their campaigns to increase sales leads or new customer acquisition reported a 12% increase in responses over email alone.

    And the more channels used, the better the response rates become: figures from InfoTrends show that a direct mailer plus a web landing page or email can increase response rates by 27%, while having both the web page and email in addition to the mailer raises them by 37%; adding mobile marketing as well raises the rate by 45%. A UK direct marketing company ran a cross-media campaign to educate its own clients and to raise money for a variety of charities and achieved a 53% response rate.

    Another key aspect of cross-media is personalization. Study after study has confirmed that consumers respond more readily to communications that are tailored to their specific situation, needs, or desires than to ‘one size fits all’ advertising. Depending on the sector, personalized campaigns can outperform static ones by a factor of up to 10.

    Cross-media is much more than supporting direct mail with web pages, email, or texts, however. The digital channels allow tracking of customer responses (including the use of pURLS or QR codes included in printed mailers), which brings measurability and therefore enables calculation of communication campaigns’ ROI. This then can be used to drive a cycle of continuous development and refinement of the marketing strategy.

    Why Printers Can Do Cross-Media

    While email and other digital channels may appear to be the easiest and cheapest to personalize, print retains a number of advantages: it can convey quality, has permanence, reaches all demographics, and cuts through the digital clutter. It also has high penetration rates — 91% of direct mail is opened, according to a UK Royal Mail study.

    Enterprise-level companies are also looking to their printers for help with multi-channel marketing. A 2012 InfoTrends study suggested that over 45% of marketers thought it important that their print service providers should offer integrated multi-channel marketing, while a 2015 study found that two-thirds were looking for strategic help with customer communications, including transactional documents.

    Although managing digital channels in cross-media will initially be unfamiliar to printers, they do have a major advantage — printers know how to print and already have the necessary equipment and expertise. Complete integrated cross-media production tools give printers the means to easily plan, create, execute, manage, and analyze campaigns that include printed mailers with QR codes and personalized images, email, SMS, static, and personalized web pages for desktop computers and mobile devices.

    Printers with personalized mail experience will already have overcome one of the biggest hurdles to offering cross-media, which is the ability to understand and work with data and databases. The same principles are used for producing cross-media communications, so although there may be new production or campaign management software to acquire and to learn, the underlying concepts will already be familiar. Initial ventures into cross-media can be as simple as adding pURLs or QR codes to mailers, as outlined in the examples above; more complex projects can be developed as the printer gains experience.

    Adding cross-media services is a way for mail printers to further cement relationships with their customers and increase their margins by moving up the production chain to produce higher-value print. It’s also a good way to grow the business — according to an InfoTrends study, half of printers who had become marketing service providers reported annual growth in excess of 20%.

    As vice president and general manager, value-added and Web-to-print products, for EFI, Charlotte Tueckmantel directs EFI’s efforts in developing a range of advanced workflow technologies, including EFI DirectSmile Cross Media software. DirectSmile Cross Media, a product that received a 2015 PIA InterTech Award, helps printing companies, agencies, and corporations create, personalize, track, and automate marketing across all media without requiring HTML programming skills.