As organizations devote more resources to developing electronic messaging, I’ve been thinking about what would happen if print wasn’t part of the customer communications landscape. Some marketers, unfamiliar with the way it works, avoid working with direct mail. How does this affect their campaigns? Is it becoming more difficult for digital-only efforts to succeed?

Print often occurs in many successful customer journeys. Even when companies acquire a customer digitally, they later communicate via physical documents to upsell, send cancellation or renewal notices, deliver membership cards, explain warranty information, etc. Sometimes relationships can be purely digital, but often the customer experience would decay if print and mail were absent.

Reliance on only electronic channels has risks. Cutting through the digital clutter so customers will see and react to non-printed messaging is a big challenge. Repetition seems to be the only way to improve the conversion odds, which just adds to the chaos.

Challenges Beset Digital Communications

Have you noticed over the last year or two it’s gotten harder to deal with the digital communications coming your way? It sure has for me. My email inbox is so crowded it’s no longer possible to be sure I’ve handled the few important messages I receive. I know I’ve missed some. Every day my phone receives several robo calls, unsolicited text messages, and notifications. I block what I can and ignore the rest. Irrelevant content fills my social media feeds, making the channels progressively less useful.

Purposefully misleading news accounts, bots, and scams make digital communications perilous for recipients. The scammers have improved their technical abilities. Phony messages are becoming difficult to spot. Trust in the authenticity of messages is eroding, and so consumers develop avoidance strategies.

Those with a vested interest in advancing paper communications should talk to ad agencies and marketing people about how mail enables their digital campaigns to have an impact. Explain about the increased comprehension, trust, recall, and valuation humans associate with messages they receive on paper. Present neuroscientific evidence about the impact of a touchable medium. It’s not just a theory. People actually relate more positively to paper than to online content.

Making Mail Better

Mail can take advantage of those same advanced targeting methods marketers are using to follow us around on our electronic devices. There’s no reason mailers can’t take information about an individual’s browsing activity and social profile to craft a printed message with relevant offers and images. With just a little information gathered from a website visitor, software can assign a postal delivery address with reasonable accuracy. A series of well-designed direct mail pieces will bolster the performance of complimentary messages sent via digital channels.

I’m not suggesting direct mail should follow the example of electronic re-targeting and swamp a prospect with repetitive ads. That isn’t necessary because just a few iterations of a mailed message have more staying power than a boatload of online banner ads.

We know that print supports the success of digital channels, but this fact isn’t always recognized in the siloed environments of brand owners and agencies. Some retailers discovered that print was essential to online sales when they discontinued printed catalogs and saw their online sales drop.

Technical advances and data availability allow mailers to create many of the same customer experiences marketers are using today in digital channels. Mail needn’t be mired in the past. Those in the physical document business must be aggressive in proving why it needs to play a vital part in all customer communication strategies. Spend some time educating those who decide about where to spend their marketing dollars. Show them how to break out of the escalating trends that are making electronic communications more voluminous but less effective and how modern document composition and production methods can make their messages stand out.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at and Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.