After its introduction close to three decades ago, the quick adoption of email led many to believe the predicted obsolescence of printed communications was inevitable. As time went on, consumers were able to enjoy interacting with their favorite brands through a variety of digital channels. However, despite the focus on using digital channels to communicate with customers, organizations are not ruling out print as an important communication tool. Why? Because they know consumers still open and read their mail. Monthly bills and statements represent 12 opportunities to communicate information to customers. If consumers are opening and reading their mail, why not take advantage of this medium? This means a solid customer communications strategy needs to incorporate both print and digital channels.
Transactional communications are business to consumer (B2C) communications generated by those who send regular (monthly or quarterly) bills or account statements, such as banks and financial institutions, utilities and insurance companies. As electronic channels gained popularity, many of these companies made electronic delivery a high priority as a cost reduction strategy since the best way to reduce costs associated with print and mail — postage being the largest component — is simply not to mail the documents at all. Marketers jumped on the bandwagon by creating feel-good campaigns, asking consumers to “go green” and “save a tree” with the hope of increasing adoption. But the unintentional consequence was a lost opportunity to communicate with customers on a more meaningful level.
Companies also discovered that the open rate of electronically delivered documents was much lower than paper, indicating consumers were not looking at their e-documents. Additionally, the electronic version of the document was a PDF of the printed copy, minus the inserts that could have been included in the envelope. Marketing campaigns that incorporated inserts to cross-sell or upsell products began reaching an even smaller population. Suddenly, print began to look as good – if not more – attractive.
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE BECOMES THE PRIORITY
In the past decade, when producing customer communications, there has been a shift away from focusing on adoption rates and to a laser focus on the customer experience. Consumer expectations have been set by advances in technology, which continue to raise the bar, with companies like Amazon and Apple setting the standard. Devices like smartphones and tablets allow consumers to engage and interact with businesses anytime and anywhere. This has increased the expectation for on-demand convenience, real-time customer support, personalized service and — most important — memorable brand experiences.
Despite the availability of advanced technology, many people still prefer printed communications. In fact, today, monthly bills and statements have the highest open rates as compared to electronic documents. Paper statements are easy to access and review to identify errors or fraudulent activity and paper bills serve as a reminder to pay. Observing the open rates for regular mail versus email, companies clearly see the advantage of the opportunity that print offers.
USING PRINT TO MAKE AN IMPRESSION
With statistics showing that 90% of consumers open their paper bills every month, marketers have an opportunity to provide educational information, as well as marketing messages, to customers through a channel that has less competition when compared to digital channels. If your company is focused on getting documents out the door to meet strict service level agreements (SLAs), but not on content, it might be time to take a step back and review how you can improve the customer experience through these printed communications.
Improving document readability and enhancements that incorporate the use of color and graphics are just a few ways to improve the customer experience. Utilizing data to personalize the communication and incorporate on-statement marketing messages that are relevant to the consumer is yet another way. Marketing professionals know more than anyone the importance of good data. Data is collected from multiple sources; however, the challenge is aggregating and storing it in a single database where data analytics and business intelligence tools can access it and put it to good use. Using data intelligently to segment and target a specific customer population with messages that are personal, relevant, and timely, along with the use of color and the proper sentiment, is key. When a recipient holds a document in hand that is printed with them in mind, the kind of engagement marketers are seeking can be achieved.
MILLENNIALS DON’T RESPOND TO PRINT… OR DO THEY?
There has been a lot of focus on the millennial generation — those born between 1982 and 2000, according to the US Census Bureau. As the largest living generation in the United States, they have surpassed boomers and represent approximately 25% of the population. This is a generation that has grown up with the internet and, according to Accenture, is projected to spend $1.4 trillion by the year 2020. This tremendous buying power has marketers specifically targeting this generation.
Some may be of the opinion that millennials do not respond to print and direct mail; however, this is not entirely true. While they are typically glued to a smartphone and their social media pages, the USPS reports 47% of millennials check their mailbox every day, and 77% pay attention to direct mail advertising, reports Lending Science. This presents a perfect opportunity to combine print and digital to appeal to the multi-channel preferences of this generation. For example, a mail piece can highlight a link to a web portal where additional information can be obtained. Digital features such as QR Code® barcodes and augmented reality that connects to a video and interactive materials on the company website or social media property serve to increase engagement with a brand and enhance the customer experience.
Despite the focus on millennials, it is important for companies to consider all the channels through which customers prefer to communicate. Communication preferences tend to be influenced by age and shaped by the experiences of each generation. An organization may offer multiple channels through which customers may interact, but all channels will not be embraced equally. Reaching out to each customer with the right information at the right time on the right channel is a challenge for every organization.
PRINT THAT COLLABORATES
Print is still an important, consistent, and reliable channel of communication that has less competition for attention when compared to digital media. But print and digital communications do not have to follow separate paths — they can work hand in hand. By using printed communications to drive consumers to a digital channel, consumer engagement can be increased by creating interactions through multiple channels. Digital channels may provide ease of access on any device, but print offers a sense of credibility. So let’s hear it: Long live print!
This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.