By Drew Tremblay
Over the past few years online technology has had an effect on how we connect in our everyday lives. Whether in communicating with others, buying products and services, banking or being entertained it has changed our thinking.
Think about it. We all have monthly payments that come out automatically from our accounts; there is no need to write cheques anymore. We can check our bank balances, apply for credit cards or loans online and we can chat with automated virtual assistants. We can shop through our computers and phones and have the items delivered the next day.
Online technology drawbacks
Many companies have been moving to online to reduce the amount of paper-based communications mainly for immediacy, especially when we are connected all the time. Yet in some ways online technology has made connecting to customers much more complicated.
What about reaching out for new business? Banner ads that pop up on your laptop or phone can be ignored: you can get an app to block them completely. What about contacting your existing customers? But too often this outreach gets lost in the daily email deluge or trapped in spam filters and the customers might not take action on what you have to offer.
Digital and mail facts
That’s where direct mail come in. This method of marketing is targeted to the customers you want to reach. Here’s some other facts:
- Is digital really green? Companies are also framing their rationales to moving to online for environmental reasons, namely to save trees and have lower carbon footprints. But the reality is the paper-based communications have one-time environmental impacts. Yes, paper is made from trees, but forests are renewable and sustainably managed in North America. Paper companies produce their own energy as by-products of the pulping process, which means its green energy in that lowers their footprint. And yes, paper is recyclable.
In contrast every time you go online you consume energy. Big data like for targeted customer marketing consumes big energy. Look at the new huge data server farms that are springing up and the massive power lines feeding them. Even green energy can be controversial with people opposed to big solar and wind farms and large hydro dams that flood open space. I could go on, but you get the picture.
- Ability to reach customers. Direct mail reaches customers physically and emotionally. They touch, open, read and act on it. It can be creative and make people smile. The U.S. Postal Service did a study called The Mail Moment and it showed that 77% of people sort through their mail right away. I do and have acted on it, like an offer to bundle my service from my telecom carrier.
If the mail piece is personally addressed you will be more likely to open and read it, possibly putting it away and going back to it later. Receiving mail with your name on it is a pleasure; it’s that extra added touch.
- Value and urgency. Like receiving your credit card bill in the mail. You can see your purchases, take action, file it for a later date or pay right away. You can pin it or tape it to your refrigerator door to remind you of the due date. The constant reminder that there will make you take action and attend to it sooner. And you don’t have to remember (or forget) complicated passwords.
In contrast people who get bills by email can easily forget or pay them late. One reason, besides the email deluge mentioned before is that you have to take many more steps to act on them when you get them online. You have to open, review, act and file the online bill, it goes in the cloud and then to look at it again you have to open the device and go through the same process. And you might have to print it. Moreover, if you miss your payments companies will make past due phone calls to remind you.
- Greater security. Mail statements are secure; no one goes through your mail anymore to get your identity, instead they can try and get into your computer or smartphone. You can shred or better yet tear up your statements and put them in your compost or with your smelliest garbage. No one will go through them to get your identity.
- Message retention. Many studies have shown that reading direct mail has greater information retention than reading online content. For example, Canada Post’s study, A Bias For Action, published in July 2015, showed that participants had a much higher recall of the brand i.e. company name of an advertisement they had just seen from a direct mail piece than from a digital ad. A web banner or an email cannot compete with the creativity of a wonderfully designed direct mail piece.
Direct mail +online
While online is convenient and immediate direct mail gets noticed. The best approach is using them in tandem, like printing a web site URL or email on a mail piece or paper bill to help customers track their spending and usage. Done well the customer and business (and our environment) wins.
Drew Tremblay is principal, AKT Sustainability Strategies, specializing in forestry and environmental non-government organization and stakeholder engagement. He a director of the Forest Stewardship Council. Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.