3 Precious Reasons To Be #Prigital

by Frank Delmelle - November 17, 2015

Digital accounts for more than 50% of the time people spend with media worldwide. Print is worth a seemingly trivial 5%. Why then, should CMO’s even consider the dinosaur many believe print to be?

1. “Response rates to letters are typically 30 times better than email”

“Mail is fast but letter is better,” a Warc survey figured recently: “response rates to letters are typically 30 times better than email and despite its additional cost, letters still account for over a third of total direct marketing expenditure.”

“Certainly, email beats the competition from a measurability standpoint.” You cannot be sure anyone reads your DM when it gets there. “With email, on the contrary, you know within 24 hours exactly which messages have been opened, by whom, what links the openers clicked on, and what part of your message was working.”

When it comes to response rates, however, “a good direct mail newsletter might generate a 3% to 5% response rate; while a good email newsletter might only get one half of a percent. Print newsletters seem to have more influence.” “Research from the US Postal Service indicates that households tend to respond to about 1 in 10 pieces of direct mail. And according to Research by Mail Print, 40% of consumers try new businesses after receiving direct mail.”

Even more euphoric is this 2015 DMA Response Rate Report headline: “Direct Mail Outperforms All Digital Channels Combined By Nearly 600%.” According to the DMA “direct mail response rates outperform digital channels by a long shot: direct mail achieves a 3.7% response rate with a house list, and a 1.0% response rate with a prospect list. All digital channels combined only achieve a 0.62% response rate (Mobile 0.2%; Email 0.1% for a Prospect list and 0.1% for House/Total list; Social Media 0.1%; Paid Search 0.1%; Display Advertising 0.02%). Telephone, by the way, had the highest response rate at 9-10%.”

Disclaimer: generalization is extremely tricky, obviously. ‘The print DM’ does not exist, neither does ‘the email’, which explains, for example, how this survey could deliver exact opposite stats: “In the email-only scenario, for every dollar spent, $2,600 returned from ‘the marketing machine’. For the direct mail-only campaign, each dollar spent returned $27, which means that the email-only campaign performed 95x times better in terms of ROI.”

If we’re to assess actual performance on the level of each individual case, this might be a nice one to start with: the ‘Neighbour Mailing’ – a.k.a. the Ear Plug Mailing – we recently developed for Telenet’s Play Sports did quite clearly boost conversions. We sent out a three-in-one direct mailing to sports fans. A core of the mailing (letter + folder) presented them the new name and exclusive offer of the Telenet pay channel Play Sports. At the same time we wanted them to spread the word. So we included two mini-mailings, they could drop in the mailbox of their neighbours. These miniature versions of the original mailing contained an apology and earplugs for the loud cheering, an invitation to come over and watch a game and a folder about the new sports channel, including a special offer.”

Even if we haven’t been able to measure the exact extent to which our audience actually converted into ambassadors at their neighbours’, the ‘Ear Plug Mailing’ did increase subscriptions in a significant way. Our own experience tends to confirm the power of print to generate conversions and – very likely – even advocacy, suggesting a potential impact for print in the customer journey’s most remote corners.

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A first critical success factor, for digital and print, obviously is the quality of the mailing list. Adobe’s Campaign UK Sales Director Mathieu Lavedrine recently put it like this: “The most important thing is to have a clean and up-to-date database, because without that, you have no way of sending your recipients offers and content they will find relevant.”

A fine illustration: Intronis, a data protection company, implemented “a multi-channel campaign centered around a dimensional mailer, with an initial direct mail incentive being an Atari game console replicator. The effort included two direct mail pieces sent to high-value prospects to drive a 30-minute phone conversation with Sales, along with an email element to introduce the campaign. Even though the campaign featured fairly expensive incentives, the effort drove a 700% return on investment. (…) The key metric from this campaign was a conversion rate of 35% and an ROI of 700%. Out of the initial group of 50 prospects targeted, 50% went ahead and scheduled the 30-minute call with Sales, and 22% of the 50 converted to Intronis customers.”

Aaron Dun, CMO at Intronis, attributes these results to targeting and tracking: “This campaign was successful because the team included only 50 prospects and tracked the results of each round to improve subsequent rounds.” “Retro can be both cool and effective,” one analyst concluded.

According to the CMO Council, by the way, “56% of marketers claim personalization drives higher engagement.” No wonder ‘the digital practice’ is increasingly being copied in print: variable printing is by no means a new process, but it’s being used more frequently as advancements in printing technology have lowered the cost, democratizing complex, yet affordable personalization.

2. “The average office worker checks email about 30 times an hour”

While that might sound like a discomfiture for the brick-and-mortar mailbox, it also means receiving an email is everything but rare or remarkable. Print marketing, on the other hand, “is used less, so it stands out more.” Call it economics. People still feel flattered – happily surprised if you wish – when addressed in a personal fashion by a physical DM.

Handwritten letter

A small campaign successfully striking that chord, was ‘The Tough Envelope’, a DM by Home & Beyond's Home Security Systems: “To illustrate how good Home & Beyond's security solutions are, the brand licensed Book of Jobi to create a mailer from very thin Micron sheets. This made the mailer extremely difficult to get into, because while it looks exactly like a paper envelope, it was almost impossible to tear. (…) Mailers were sent out to all the leading household goods retailers in the UAE, and 24% responded with a request for a demonstration. Today, two of the largest retailers in the UAE, Ace Hardware and Sharaf DG, stock Home & Beyond's range of home security products.”

The exclusivity of print even enables campaigns to remain 100% below the line, such as this ‘tongue in cheek’ event invitation for the launch a new Lexus: “The direct mail piece served as an invitation with a branded leather box that teased with the line, ‘You may be needing these’. The reveal was a little tongue in cheek, adding some humor by revealing 2 balls of steel.” Results: a full house on each of the three event days. “20 key motor writers were invited and the ISF launch was featured in seven pieces of national coverage, two trade publications and three online car specific sites. This generated circulation of 1.4m with an advertising equivalent value of €76k and PR value of €229k.”

Formats add to the effect, by the way, if the (euphoric) 2015 DMA Response Rate Report mentioned above were to be believed. “According to the study, oversized envelopes have the best response rate at 5.0%, followed by postcards at 4.25%, dimensional 4.0%, catalogs 3.9% and letter-sized envelopes 3.5%.”

If exclusivity – slow food would not be a bad metaphor – would be print’s major pro’s, poor speed and cost remain major drawbacks. For all things transactional – think mobile CRM – print’s production times are hopelessly long. Likewise, print’s exclusive feel comes with a price tag: compared to email, “direct mail costs about 100 times as much.”

Still, says once again the DMA, ROI’s are more than positive: “$1.00 spent on print advertising expenditures can generate an average of $12.57 in sales.” And that high return ratio “was found to be universal across all industries.”

One way to find relief for print’s higher cost, would be to convert readers into paying subscribers, which is what (digital) fashion retailer Net-a-Porter did with its glossy, star-studded print magazine, Porter. “Porter is on its way to becoming the new Vogue, with an initial international circulation of 400,000 readers (…). Their glamorous publication is an impressive feat, but it doesn’t come cheap, retailing at $9.99—four dollars more than Vogue.”

‘Repurposed’ print content can obviously also generate return online. Walmart’s Live Better magazine’s printed copies, for example, are reaching a million households, “not including readers who access the content on the Live Better website, tablet app, social media or email newsletter.”

And last but not least: qualitative return should absolutely be taken into account. If your DM audience returns a tweet or even a hand-written thank you note – which actually happened following a loyalty mailing we did for Telenet earlier this year (see photo) – the advertiser must have done something worthwile.

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This example also syncs with the finding by the US Postal Service that most DM recipients pay attention to print mailings. According to Mail Print even 85% of consumers reads its snail mail every day. International Communications Research figured that 73% of consumers prefer DM above all other forms of advertising. And the DMA’s latest Statistical Fact Book states that “across all ages, the fraction of households who immediately discard print ads is lower now than in the 1980s, averaging about 6%. (…) “The fraction of households who immediately read print ads has increased for most age groups, to an average of about 45%.”

Stats galore, in sum, in favour of print, even if very few surveys take into account that other critical success factor called ‘editorial quality’…

3. “People spend up to 30 minutes with a ‘newsstand-quality’ magazine”

Ad-blockers – there they are – banner blindness, clutter folders, spam filters or even the notorious digital ‘content shock’: circumstances in cyberspace seem to further encourage advertisers to reconsider print.

‘Newsstand-quality’ print magazines – think Airbnb’s Pineapple or Net-a-Porter’s Porter mentioned above – report average reading times of 30 minutes. Even if the average DM scores far below that magazine benchmark, it still generates a kind of attention that’s never associated with email, let alone a Facebook post or, even worse, a banner. Contently recently qualified print as “the new black”. Others claim print is “the last medium in which ads are not ignored.”

If people spend half an hour with a print publication, they obviously have according expectations when it comes to editorial quality. Fashion retailer John Lewis, for example, owes the success of its customer magazine to its editors, who translate the mag’s strapline ‘Shopping Intelligence' into “edited choice and useful shopping insights.” “Combine that with great editorial from national newspaper columnists India Knight, Miranda Sawyer and Toby Young and readers get a newsstand-quality magazine to enjoy.” ROI: “Survey respondents spend an average of 30 minutes reading John Lewis Edition. Furthermore, 89% report doing something after reading an issue, and 70% say it has prompted them to visit more departments either instore or online.”

Crucial, in sum, is content worth reading. Especially print requires radical relevance. According to the DMA Fact Book mentioned above, “the fraction who find direct marketing ads useful has increased especially for high-income households and for ages 18-21. More than 62% of that last group read print ads immediately.” And rightly so, of course: “74 percent of readers trust educational content from brands—as long as it doesn’t push a sale.” Four Seasons Magazine is a fine example of useful, branded inspiration, offered to more than a million of affluent readers worldwide. Subaru drivers feel smarter after reading Drive Performance magazine. Etc.

All leading titles offer a courteous mix of content and commerce, by the way. Pineapple, Airbnb’s print magazine is even 100% ad free. And if UK-based luxury watchmaker Christopher Ward’s magazine is carrying content dripping with their own watches, it only does so because its readers really “want to know.”

According to Marin Software’s second annual Digital Marketing Manager’s Census, 68% of senior marketing professionals say online and offline need to be better integrated. A recent survey by Pitney Bowes, for its part, reveals 3 out of every 4 advertisers prefer to combine digital and print. And they should. Short distances are undoubtedly best covered by digital, but if it’s a marketing marathon you want to win, now is the time to include print.

Frank Delmelle

Content Strategist