Business professionals face an interesting quandary with all the digital marketing and communication choices available to companies today. Should we continue investing in print? They point to the interactive aspects of electronic communications, changing demographics, and lower distribution costs as fundamental reasons for migrating customers away from contacts with customers using flyers, handbills, brochures, and other printed materials.
The perceived initial benefits of using only electronic documents can lead organizations down a wayward path. Studies show that despite popular antidotal belief, people at the end of the day still want something they can hold in their hands. From boomers who reminisce that things were better in their day to millennials stuck on their phones, most consumers prefer receiving essential documents through the mail.
Customers will undoubtedly take advantage of digital delivery, but electronic messaging is not always their first choice every time. Many of them may even resent companies that limit their document delivery choices to only emails, websites, and pdfs. However, a recent survey showed that paper is still here to stay in some form or another. Details of that study include:
- Almost six in 10 consumers say they would consider switching to another provider of the same products and services if they were forced into using paperless communications.
- 90% believe they should have a right to choose their communication channels that makes sense for them.
- 84% object to either paying extra or being disincentivized to be able to receive paper statements.
As enticing as it may seem in the short run, an aggressive print reduction is not the best strategy to retail customer loyalty and satisfaction.
In most industries, customers who currently prefer to receive physical bills and statements outnumber those who like to be paperless at a ratio of four to one. Instead of increasing efforts to dissuade their customers from paper, organizations should seek a new and creative hybrid way to combine the use of both printed and electronic channels to their ultimate advantage. Customers who begin transactions or communications on paper often continue them electronically and vice versa. Offering customers an option to choose from is essential in improving the customer experience.
Monthly statements are an excellent example of an electronic/paper synergy solution. Though 77% of consumers say, they want their bills and official communications printed and delivered, less than a quarter of them ultimately use them when making their payments. The vast majority want access to pay via company customer service pages, set up automatic payments, or use bill-paying services provided by their banks. To improve retention and customer relationships, billers must offer access to electronic bills and payment solutions and traditional paper-based transactional communications. Yet, make the interaction with the customer of value. For example, one furniture retailer always features an incentive for credit card customers at the head of the statement, such as dollars off their purchase or extended financing. Seeing this could be the push that could turn browsers into buyers.
Customer acquisition is another case where physical collateral makes a significant difference. Consumers are much more receptive to marketing material when those messages arrive via the mail. They would rather receive a piece of direct mail to choose when to interact with than be barraged with unsolicited emails, annoying text messages, or robodialed phone calls. One principle for success with direct mail pieces is using them to cut through the clutter while delivering compelling offers that mail recipients can redeem either in person or online. When customers subscribe to receive newsletters and coupons, information through online portals, or other incentives, they then voluntarily open the door to future communication across multiple channels.
Direct mail has consistently outperformed its digital advertising alternatives. For example, 73% of households interact with the advertising mail they receive, whether it’s a quick scan or a detailed reading. And unlike media such as outdoor advertising, radio, TV, newspaper, or magazine ads, direct mail is still highly selective and trackable. As a result, marketers can easily measure campaign performance without technological roadblocks caused by spam filters, ad blockers, corporate firewalls, or abandoned email accounts.
Recipients plain trust the mail more than digital communications. They consider paper documents safe and private. The time and expense used to spam and phish people using direct mail doesn’t exist with direct mail. Research shows that customers are apprehensive of even the best online marketing.
- 71% say that they pay no attention to most online advertisements.
- 59% say they are suspicious of many of the online ads they encounter.
The strategy for organizations coping with a confusing and expanding customer communications landscape is developing a comprehensive communications delivery capability optimized for distribution across all suitable channels. No one is saying to ignore electronic options. This would be counterproductive. Instead, look at the universe of options available and take the best practices from each to design a method that reaches consumers where they are and in the ways they prefer. Popular options include print, email, short message service (SMS), and interactive voice response (IVR). Leverage the strengths of each channel and give each customer options to interact with the company in ways that work best for them.
The complexity of accomplishing integrated multi-channel communications is overwhelming to many organizations, particularly those lacking extensive information technology departments. Gone is the day when a couple of in-house employees could master the emerging technology and add it to the mix. The best solution for most is turning outbound customer communication duties over to knowledgeable multi-channel partners. These companies have already invested in the necessary technology and are focused on helping their clients accomplish their business goals through improved customer communications. They can help design the hybrid approach that delivers the results. They also have available in-house talent who can develop concepts and adapt them to all delivery methods.
Customers want to feel a degree of control over their marketing experience. So wise marketers find ways to make this feeling a fact.