Despite the widespread use of email, SMS text, and other electronic communications, printed direct mail remains in demand for both marketing and transactional communications. Although printed materials are more expensive to produce and mail, analysts and trade associations agree that printed mail generates a higher response rate versus electronic correspondence — and this is true for marketing materials as well as for transactional items, like invoices and statements, which consumers are almost sure to open and read.
Precisely because electronic communications are much faster and more affordable to deliver, consumers nowadays receive a lot more of it, regard most of it as “spam,” and they often simply hit the delete key without even opening the email. Recipients are more tolerant of printed “junk mail” for several reasons: it can be set aside and read at a later time; it’s often more personalized and targeted than electronic communications; and it can include carefully designed text and graphics that create a stronger emotional appeal. A high level of personalization greatly improves a customer’s experience, which has proven to help win and retain customers. For marketing, the most effective strategy is combining both electronic and print communications, often using direct mail to initially engage customers or prospective customers, then following up with email notifications or SMS texts.
Improving the Document
Today, transactional documents are almost always personalized and contain data and information that relates directly to the recipient, no matter if they’re print or electronic documents. Transactional documents go out to thousands or even millions of people, usually on strict delivery deadlines and though these are, technically, personalized documents, their messaging can be targeted for marketing or promotional purposes. Prior to their use as transpromotional (transpromo) communications, these types of documents rarely offered anything more than black-and-white text with a company logo. Adding more targeted messaging initially required a good deal of manual programming that had to be done before the documents moved into actual production.
Post-composition tools — also called “middleware” — simplified operations, making it possible to make changes to documents and/or alter the data stream between origination and production. Post-composition solutions provide a bridge across all applications by converting all the input data streams into a consistent page format regardless of input file type. Mailing services professionals can thus engage a single application that will work with the various data streams they manage. Data stream independence is important when enhancements involve many different applications across the enterprise or for print service providers (PSPs) who receive data from different clients in a variety of formats.
As post-composition solutions have evolved, functionality and ease-of-use have improved. The introduction of graphical user interfaces (GUI) has made it easier to perform the most complex types of document changes with limited use of scripting. Using a GUI, you view the document, select the specific areas of a document you want to work with, and then apply modifications that are independent of the original data stream. Because these tools are object oriented, you can easily access and define the elements you need, such as page number, address, barcode, account number, etc. You can also create a variety of new conditions, such as: colorizing documents, adding marketing messages, adding charts and graphics, repositioning data or the address book, and/or adding intelligent mail barcodes (IMb). These post-composition solutions then let you transform the enhanced documents into any common output format, such as PDF or HTML5, for either print or electronic communications, regardless of the initial data stream format.
Production and Delivery Improvements
While print mail production and delivery will always cost more than electronic alternatives, post-composition tools can help control costs in important ways. For example, low-volume or short-run jobs cause printers to start and stop, reducing the throughput on mail inserters and complicating the mail piece tracking process, but post-composition tools allow you to concatenate this type of work by grouping multiple jobs into a single stream for greater processing efficiency. Banner pages of existing jobs can be kept or eliminated, and a new banner page for the entire set can be created. Integrity marks and intelligent insertion files can be generated and added to the set as well.
By splitting large jobs, you can better balance the workload between printers and inserters and maximize overall production throughput. Post-composition tools let you split jobs using a variety of criteria. Print jobs can be segmented by the number of pages, the number of documents or any combination of parameters. The system will make sure the inserter marks and integrity barcodes are properly generated for each output run regardless of the sort scheme.
Many companies still print high-volume applications in simplex printing. However, making a move to duplex printing will lower page counts, cut paper and envelope costs, shorten print and insertion run times, and result in dramatic postage savings. The ability to convert simplex documents to duplex without the need to re-program the original application achieves significant cost savings within an organization. Marketers can add digital inserts/onserts and messaging and pages can be re-numbered — all with the insertion control marks updated automatically. Additionally, companies can further automate mail processing via householding, which allows different documents intended for the same household to be delivered in a common envelope.
Electronic commingling is yet another time- and cost-saving opportunity. Job merging — often used in combination with USPS’s Presort Accuracy, Validation, and Evaluation (PAVE) program — greatly enhances efficiency by combining once disparate production jobs together. Rather than individual print and mail runs, jobs from different applications and customers can be merged and sorted to facilitate the best and most efficient processes.
Everything Old Is New Again
While transpromo is no longer a new concept, it’s always been an effective way of reaching out to customers individually. Post-composition tools make it possible to add a high degree of personalization to every communication, in order to support moving from customer communication management to more sophisticated strategies for customer experience management. Post-composition tools also increase operating efficiencies and help your company take advantage of lower-cost mailing and delivery options, provide significant improvements for your customer communications, and elevate the customer experience as a result.
Keith Woedy is Vice President of Research & Practice Lead at Madison Advisors, which specializes in offering Fortune 1000 companies context-specific guidance for a range of content delivery strategies, particularly those addressing enterprise output technologies and print and electronic customer communications. Connect with Madison Advisors at www.madison-advisors.com, on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/madison-advisors or on Twitter @madison_advisor.
This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.