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Should printed marketing collateral die?


In the digital era where smartphones, iPads, and computers monopolize our communication and life, there seems to be little space for more traditional marketing material. And yet, data tells that printed catalogs and brochures might be one or the most powerful tools a marketer has.

A constant decline in numbers

From a first look at the numbers, one can suspect that sooner or later printed documents will be forgotten. Printed catalogs are disappearing mainly due to their cost.

As highlighted by The New York Times after a peak in 2007 the number of catalogs distributed in the US has decreased consistently. Studies in the EU found a similar decline in the amount of printed material produced in the old continent. In this graph, you can see illustrated the intensity of this decline in the United States.

Catalogs mailed per year graph
The Changing Economics of Email and Print in an Omnichannel Strategy | thedma.org

A look at the data

To understand how paper performs compared to digital media, I looked into both the results of the delivery and the true effectiveness of the message.

To compare a similar experience, I looked into email marketing and mail marketing.

Digital media

For the digital side, I found data from Mailchimp (its user base is 15 million customers) and GetResponse.

The benchmark from GetResponse, analyzed the data form their 350,000 users and includes very interesting and more-granular data—if you want to check out the results for the countries where you operate they have also divided the results by country.

MailChimp found that:

  • on average only 1/5 of emails get opened
  • the click rate is 2.43%.

That means that if you send out 100 marketing emails, 20 people will open your email and probably only 2 people will visit your landing page.

For GetResponse:

  • the open rate is 24.82%
  • the click rate is 4.07%

While their measurements are higher than those highlighted by MailChimp: interesting in this benchmark is the effectiveness of the landing pages (conversion rate), which vary from 4.5% to 12.7% (depending on the industry).

Using the data from MailChimp (open rate and click rate) and GetResponse (landing page conversion rate—I’ll use 10% for simplicity) we get that for acquiring a client you need to send on average 500 emails (0.2%)!

Paper media

As I mentioned above, I wanted to compare the data from the digital world with something similar in the physical world—so I looked into catalogs and flyer sent via mail.

The Royal Mail Group did an amazing piece to convince us that direct mail is an opportunity. The numbers look extremely interesting. Compared to the 20.81% open rate of MailChimp, more than 92% of direct mail is opened.

In the article, the Royal Mail highlighted a other important data points:

  • 48% of UK adults took action after receiving direct mail!
  • 2m bought something
  • 5m used a voucher or coupon
  • 8m tried a new product or service
  • 3m made an inquiry by phone
  • 18% of direct mail is kept to look at again
  • 90% of consumers read catalogs sent to them
  • 70% go online after receiving catalogs
  • 70%+ increase in the number of purchases
  • £110 increase in online spending.

The data is confirmed also by research done by the Australia Post where 62% of the respondents said catalogs & flyers influenced their behavior—making catalogs & flyers the most effective advertising channel!

Return On Investment

When looking at the Return On Investment, I found contrasting data.

Royal Mail states that direct mail delivers an average £3.22 ROI compared with online’s £3.12 for every £1 spent. While the Direct Marketing Association reported that email had the highest ROI, at $28.50, compared the $7 for direct mail.

The science of printed material

Data shows that the paper media has an undoubtedly different effect compared to a digital one. There is already a lot of research in this field, and we have a good idea of why the results above are so different.

Sappi North America in collaboration with neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman has done a great job to explain the power of printed material. They created a 6-video series and a publication on how touch influences emotion and decision making. The video series is incredibly interesting, and it takes only 20 minutes to watch it all.

Two very interesting points discussed in the series are the effect that printed material has on humans at a psychological level (Endowment effect) and how a different media triggers different feelings for the final user.

Endowment effect

The Endowment Effect is the tendency to consider the things we own more valuable. It’s because of this behavior that we accumulate things we don’t really need.

Endowment effect graph

As explained by Dr. Eagleman, the endowment effect is so powerful for humans that just the mere suggestion of ownership is sufficient to trigger it.

Later research found that just imagining owning an object, or even just imagining touching it, was enough to trigger the endowment effect. And once something is yours, you really hate to give it up.

Catalogs are enough to drive ownership imagery. Touching a nicely crafted catalog is sufficient to trigger the endowment effect. Somehow the tactile experience of touching a piece of paper is a surrogate for touching the thing itself. So touch ends up being a really important part of our decision making!

The endowment effect might have been behind the data registered by the Royal Mail Group in the article I mentioned before. 14.2m people were probably subjected to the endowment effect, couldn’t resist, and had to buy something.

Feelings transmitted by the traditional media

Dr. Eagleman also ran an experiment where they tested three different media to introduce different brands: low-quality paper, high-quality paper, and digital.

They found that with the high-quality paper participants:

  1. were more likely to have a positive first impression
  2. recalled the name of the company 3 times more
  3. were more likely to recommend the company to a friend.

Dr. Eagleman’s finally concludes that:

“The physical nature of paper influences our decisions.”

Print and digital are not alternatives

Marketers can use different tools to connect with customers at different touchpoints of the buyer’s journey.

"Multi-channel shopping and buying are on the rise, and retailers know that customers who use more than one of their channels are usually the most valuable. In fact,  Nordstrom reports that customers who have a multi-channel relationship with the brand spend four times as much as those who do not." Source: Why the Print Catalog Is Back in Style – Harvard Business Review

As reported by the Royal Mail Group:

When integrated with other advertising channels, direct mail becomes even more powerful. According to BrandScience research, the online component of campaigns pays back 62% more and the TV component pays back 37% more when there is direct mail in the mix. On average, direct mail pushes up return on investment from £2.81 to £3.40 for every £1 spent.

While digging for data, I found this case study from Whoisvisiting.com that is truly amazing. By combining a digital media with a physical one, they achieved an ROI of 26%, but most importantly converting the lead was fast and the campaign improved brand awareness.

Print collaterals get consumers excited and helps them envisioning purchases they weren’t making. While the online lets them understand the products at a different level (video, reviews, etc.) and optimize their choice to exactly what they want. Both channels should work together.

What we learned from the digital revolution

Technology created new modes of communication and the mobile revolution increased the potential of digital media.

There is a wide range of solutions now that marketers are using to communicate with customers digitally. Content marketing or email marketing are probably the two most common examples of tools that a company can use.

A new high variety of instruments allows to precisely segment the population and speak with the correct audience about the right product. The combination of precise data and low costs per delivery made emails a very powerful tool of communication with customers.

This revolution we had changed the way companies interact with their users—and once again helps us appreciate how important personalization is in our communication.

But as a marketer you are always looking into new methods to engage with clients and both the digital and the printed world have tools that you can leverage to communicate better.

Personalize the experience

You can create completely different tools as in the case of Whoisvisiting.com or even use the same publication and adapt the content to the type of media.

For example, the digital version of a brochure or a catalog might contain videos or interactivity. It’s very simple to do that directly in InDesign. Here is an example of a digital version of white paper made in InDesign with a plugin called IN5:

What’s important is understanding the customers’ needs, what they might want to learn about your company, and how the media can reinforce your message.

As explained by Denise Lee Yohn in a post for the Business Harvard Review, personalization is the way to go, and the printing industry is ready to help you with this challenge:

What’s more, new production and printing capabilities in print media have taken the cost and complexity out of versioning — the industry term for tailoring different versions of a catalog to different customer segments. Outdoor and apparel retailer L.L.Bean says it is experimenting with the page count of the catalogs it sends to regular website shoppers.  Steve Fuller, chief marketing officer, explains  that instead of sending every customer his brand’s largest book, he looks for frequent website visitors and asks, “Can I only send her 50 pages, or 20, as a reminder of, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to the website’?”

As in this research by Xerox, Companies that commit to versioning their catalogs see a 3X results on their marketing efforts.

In a test, 300,000 catalogs were personalized on front and back covers with offers based on customer profiles and past purchases. Results included 500% higher response rates from current customers and 400% higher response rates from inactive customers.

Printed marketing collaterals are not going anywhere. They are actually becoming more and more important in creating an impact in a multi-channel marketing strategy. They are the tool a marketer can use to make a tangible impression and add a physical presence to the brand experience.

They make real all your activities in the digital world. They touch the most intimate needs of a customer, improve the perception of the company, and help your client with envisioning the purchase.

Until next time,

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