Print Stages a Comeback as Online Gets Noisy

Dianna Dilworth | Direct Marketing News

Electronics giant Sony turns to print marketing collateral to drive a “wow” factor.  “We have gotten away from single-page or two-page inserts, and have been going for inserts more like mini-catalogs,” says Salvatore Lacorte, a consultant in commercial printing at Sony.  “You want to get somebody’s attention with an insert. When it all falls out of the newspaper, we want ours to stick out.”

Innovative marketers routinely turned to online marketing to showcase their creativity in the last few years, but with the online noise volume reaching a feverish pitch, some have turned their attention back to print. Lucky for them, the production and printing industry has furiously been experimenting with new technologies in order to catch up with their digital-minded peers whom have stolen all the marketing glitz and kudos in recent years.

Sony takes advantage of new innovations in print to personalize and locally target such print campaigns, while also employing digital printing.   “Digital printing is becoming more important as postal prices increase,” says Lacorte. “We want to speak directly to the customer, and variable data and inline printing allow us to do this better and helps increase sales.

While emerging channels such as social media and mobile will continue to garner headlines, multichannel marketers realize that direct response print campaigns remain a frequent, though perhaps less talked about tool. Marketing spending on direct mail actually increased 3.1% in 2010 to $45.2 billion, according to January 2011 figures released by the Winterberry Group, a marketing intelligence consulting firm.  Insert media grew 2.4% to $800 million.

This year those categories will only grow more, says the Winterberry Group. It predicts direct mail to increase by 5.8% to $47.8 billion and insert media to jump 9.1% to $900 million. While direct response print suffered a 3.6% decline in 2010 to $15 billion, it is expected to nudge up 2% this year.
“Even though companies have widespread interest in digital channels, not all of these channels are mature enough and scalable enough for the customer acquisition needs right now,” says Jonathan Margulies, a director at Winterberry Group. “By contrast, direct mail and insert media, for example, are proven, well-established media when it comes to delivering the kind of steerable response that many marketers are looking for,” adds Margulies. “Print is very reliable in a way that the digital channels aren’t yet.”  Lacorte agrees. “I am a firm believer in direct mail, because it is not evasive,” he says. “I get so much e-mail every hour that it is overwhelming, but when I get my mail, I look at it.”
Innovations in print include new approaches to campaign techniques such as quick response (QR) codes on direct mail pieces and free-standing inserts (FSIs) that can be scanned with a mobile phone to interact with digital content, 3-D printed collateral and PURLs (personalized URLs).

At the same time, new printers and printing processes have helped to create printing that is more personalized and efficient.

Bar codes extend print shelf life
QR and other 2-D barcodes, in particular, are more frequently showing up on direct mail pieces, inserts, out-of-home billboards and magazine pages.
Tying a print campaign to digital allows marketers to make their print more dynamic, even after it is printed. For example, marketers can create various QR codes that connect to different landing pages. Incorporating digital elements to a print marketing campaign also allows the marketer to take advantage of the strengths of both channels — impact in print and speed online.

Multichannel ties it all together
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, PA, which manages about 100 churches in Pennsylvania, learned the importance of building an ongoing conversation across channels in a recent campaign.  They created a campaign that put print and PURLs at the core of the retention and fundraising goals. It sent a series of three direct mail postcards to 5,000 lapsed donating members of the diocese. These members had previously given money to the church but not in the last four years.

The postcards asked members, “What does being Catholic mean to me?” with a different response on each side. The first read, “It means I belong.” The second reminded them who their local priest was with the text, “It means I have a caring pastor.” The third connected them to the larger picture with the answer, “It means I am a part of something bigger than myself.”

Each postcard contained a PURL that drove recipients to personalized landing pages with individualized marketing messages based on the patron’s demographics and local parish. For example, the landing page might include the recipient’s name and a photo of their local priest, with information about church events in their community. About 7% of those who received the postcard went online to visit their personalized page.

“What helps people feel more connected with their faith is feeling like they belong to a community,” says Joseph Hoag, director of stewardship and annual appeals at the Diocese of Erie. “By using PURLs to reach out to these lapsed members, we could connect to them in a personal way and remind them what it means to be a Catholic and connect them to the local priests and members of their faith community. Your faith community should tell you that you are important because of who you are, and make you want to connect with your local parish.”

An annual fundraising piece of direct mail followed after the postcard campaign, and the Diocese saw impressive results. It gathered more than 600 contributions from recipients of the PURL campaign, a 14% conversion rate that brought in $125,000.

“As the cost of paper and postage goes up, nonprofits have to be more targeted and use their data more efficiently to make sure they are getting a better return on investment,” notes James Kopp, national director of diocesan accounts at Cathedral Corp.

Cost considerations
Miami University in Ohio found that its cost of production actually went down when it deployed a PURL campaign. The University worked with Xerox on a campaign that included a personalized direct mail postcard for honors students, which drove recipients to a personalized landing page. It sent a more general mail piece to other students.

Variable data rate printing helped to tailor the direct mail pieces to the students’ individual interest in major, gender and whether or not they had visited the campus. Images and text were aligned to these specific categories and each postcard included the name of the recipient. The university reported a 32% increase in student enrollment in 2010 over the prior year and 91% of those who registered were recipients of the PURL campaign. By using such a focused mailer, the university also reduced its overall mail volume for a cost savings in printing of 29%.

With both postal rates and paper prices, expect to see more marketers taking a targeted approach to print pieces to keep their budgets in check. Personalized print campaigns are getting easier, as well as tools like variable data printing, which allow marketers to swap out images in a print piece as easily as they do in an e-mail.   Like Miami University, the Diocese of Erie also used variable data printing in its PURL campaign to personalize the postcards with the recipient’s name. While the personalized postcards cost more to print than the Diocese’s normal offset mailing, they also showed a higher return on investment. According to Hoag, the parish invested $10,000 in the campaign, more than its traditional $6,000 to $7,000 investment. “This is a little bit more expensive, but it drove more conversions,” says Hoag. “In a normal mailing, we probably would have seen 2% to 3% of the people donate, and 14% is a much higher donation rate in terms of ROI.”

As the saturation of online marketing increases and innovations in printing and production make this field, once left for dead, attractive once again, it’s no surprise that direct marketers are once again opting for traditional channels to drive multichannel efforts.