The Power of Paper

Aug 13, 2014

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Video may have killed the radio star, but the same can't be said for digital in its evolutionary tangle with paper-based marketing communications. While digital was primed to pulverize print, it may have actually made paper more powerful in part by making it more precious.

True, digital has rejiggered the universe and is now lord and master. Printed editions of newspapers are plunging from the buffalo jumps toward extinction, while hand-written correspondence has become quaintly Edwardian. Death to snail mail! All hail digital! 

Paper Gets its Mojo Back

But a funny thing happened in this march toward a digital dominance. Just like vinyl albums, paper got its mojo back. And found its new street cred in the craziest of addresses—our mailboxes. Yes. We all cheered the demise of direct mail. At its worst, it defiled the sanctity of mailboxes and office mail with mindless marketing aimed to return a few by sending out to many. And let's face it—it was often at its worst.

And Then the Email Avalanche Struck

Mad Computer Guy

Email delivers low-cost efficiency, and therein lies much of its appeal. The average business user now receives 115 emails each day—and that's growing quickly. For marketers, this makes it increasingly hard to reach a prospect. Emails are scanned, filed, or quarantined, but increasingly are seldom opened and rarely acted upon. For a recipient, this is just a damn mess of clutter and overload. And therein lies the resurgent opportunity for printed marketing communications.

This digital onslaught didn't imbue paper with secret powers—paper has always had them in its DNA. Email just made us once again long for these tactile benefits. The mystery of the reveal, as a letter or package is opened. A finger brushed across a recycled linen paper stock. Or our eyes brought to a halt by the visual pop of the new Jimi Hendrix Forever Stamp—senses and emotions largely absent from an email.

Wedding Invitations

Crap is Always Crap

Of course, not all direct mail is equal. Crap will always be crap regardless of whether it's printed crap or digital crap. But a new print opportunity exists for those who want to use design and a creative approach to create maximum impact on a one-to-one basis.

Consider the curiously interesting case of Paperless Post. Founded in 2009, the New York City tech startup creates online invitations and does north of $10 million in revenues. It competes with Evite and others by differentiating through the stellar design of its personalized invitations. Its design is so good, and its functionality so easy, they are able to charge for what others give away for free.

So what did this successful Internet outfit decide to do just last year? It began offering—you guessed it—printed invitations on beautiful paper stock.

Reading this on a screen, you're probably wondering, “Why would a hot tech startup go back to the future?”

"When 50% of your users ask for something that's 10 times your price point, it would be a risk not to try it..."

"When 50% of your users ask for something that's 10 times your price point, it would be a risk not to try it. Whether it's an online notification, an email or by paper, each sender should have the ability to control how their cards are sent in any media, including paper,” said co-founder Alexa Hirschfeld in a Wall Street Journal article.

Integrating Multiple Channels

The move positions the company to reach customers through multiple distribution channels-something marketing experts say is still sound strategy.

“We're seeing mail being used in some tremendous new ways—especially as part of integrated marketing campaigns,” said Patrick R. Donahue, Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer of the Postal Service, in a speech earlier this year.“ All of this is leading to a reappraisal of the role of mail in the marketing mix—and we're starting to see the beginnings of that reappraisal.”

Besides its fantastic design, this allows Paperless Post to offer its customers a choice between the electronic and printed worlds-or both. Just like its e-invites, the company offers handcrafted design, with printed versions enabling fanciful stationery and pop-up envelopes. And so far, no one seems to mind that the company's name is to narrow for its broadened scope.

We've had similar success using creative design and an integrated multi-channel approach at Oliver Russell. In the B2B direct marketing realm, one of our specialties is designing high-impact print campaigns to reach high-value targets in corporate enterprise, such as C-suite executives. These might often combine online channels that integrate PURLs and QR codes. In some of these programs, digital actually abets paper as we're able to use digital printing to flexibly create custom pieces that are cost-effective to print in smaller quantities.

A Premium on Creativity

We love these campaigns at Oliver Russell because they allow you to be completely creative—which is what you need to get past an executive assistant to schedule a meeting with key decision maker. The personal touch plus the custom nature of these marketing efforts definitely creates a prestige factor for high-value prospects.

Our executions might use big-bold color and unusual shapes and construction, such as a pop-up, dimensional mailer that gets opened and passed around the office. Or they can deliver a special package to key influencers to celebrate a product's retirement—complete with cake and, of course, printed marketing response materials. (And yes, they ate it up.)

Besides helping obtain a sales meeting with a prospect, direct mail is also exceptionally effective at driving customers to a retail location, a website, or a tradeshow booth.

Consider Your Impact

Tree Brain

Resources are always a consideration, both in terms of natural and financial ones. You can minimize your paper impact by using recycled or reused paper with non-toxic inks, being smart about the design and print run of the marketing communication itself, and using a quality list. On the dollars side, you might not have the budget to reach a wide universe with print-but in many, many instances you can deliver superior ROI with mail compared to email.

It's still about creating opportunities and sales. And in the sales process, we often talk about how many touches it requires to convert a lead. But what we don't talk about enough is how that touch feels to our prospects. Well, paper delivers the one occasion customers actually get to touch our marketing communications. And you know what? The results are in—they still like it. Just ask the Chief Financial Officer who gave you her business card at lunch. Bet it wasn't digital.