Pushing the envelope

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Illustration by Lee Montgomery
Illustration by Lee Montgomery

Today's media landscape is as complicated as it is vast. As each new channel becomes the shiny marketing object du jour, others get all but cast aside. Nearly lost to some marketers in the mélange of QR codes, online video, social media sites, and mobile apps is print.

Consequently, those marketers who still fully embrace traditional marketing tools such as print catalogs and direct mail have an opportunity to stand out to consumers bombarded by digital pitches. In fact, industry leaders like IKEA and Procter & Gamble (P&G) rely on print advertising, catalogs, and direct mail as key components of their brand management strategy.

But these print channels rarely stand alone. Many of the brands that use print media within their direct marketing efforts weave digital tightly into their campaigns. This approach is becoming a must, according to industry experts.

“You want to integrate your campaigns,” says Eric Stein, EVP of online solutions at Epsilon, adding that the integration of print and digital media is necessary because different media have different strengths and weaknesses. Stein recommends supporting that integration with CRM and data solutions. “Your best opportunity to [integrate print and digital] is to use data as the consistent prism through which you view all of these media channels.”

Chris Loll, managing director of Wunderman New York, says that what's most important is “aligning the strategies agnostic of media channels, first and foremost, and then understanding how consumers are engaging in the most practical ways with those channels.”

In other words: Find the right consumers and then target them through the media mix they use. Print lives in a complex ecosystem of direct marketing channels and strategies, but it's still a vital component, as long as customers continue to want to receive printed catalogs, direct mail, and the like.

“It's about considering the cumulative effect of marketing touchpoints,” Loll says. “That doesn't predispose print to being less effective than digital. It just means that it needs to be taken into account how it works with [digital] forms of communications.”

P&G's Sarah Pasquinucci agrees that brands need to bridge the gap between print and digital. Pasquinucci conducts external relations for fabric care for P&G, including such brands as Tide and Gain.

“Our customers navigate easily between the online and offline world in their daily lives, so we need to provide useful, entertaining messages that can travel across marketing platforms,” she says. “For example, we let our Facebook fans vote on our creative for a recent Mad Men–themed issue of Newsweek.”

Sometimes, she says, the connection is even more direct, especially when it comes to using QR codes. “With the launch of [laundry detergent packs] Tide Pods, we used QR codes in print and [outdoor] advertising to drive people to learn more about the product and even request a sample.”

Pasquinucci declined to say if she thought print marketing at Tide would increase or decrease in the future, and declined to specify how the company measures ROI in digital and print campaigns. “We use print when it makes sense for the campaign we're launching, the consumers we're reaching, and in the way that would be most effective and relevant,” she says.

Catalogs build brand loyalty

Although they're one of the simplest and oldest forms of direct marketing, catalogs still play a key role in targeting existing customers, building brand loyalty, and acquiring new customers. Catalogs, experts say, aren't as ephemeral as digital media. They live on consumers' coffee tables and lure potential customers with enticing creative. A tangible piece of marketing in a heavily-trafficked part of a house can be effective for selling certain products, like housewares or infrequently-purchased, big-ticket items.

Catalogs, which are often sent to specific customers and prospects based on CRM data, usually reach those consumers when they're relaxed. As a result, they're more willing to spend time with a catalog, thus more likely to consider purchasing the advertised products. Additionally, time spent with a catalog in hand can help drive brand engagement.

In effect, one of the core functions of the IKEA catalog is to build loyalty over time, says Christine Scoma Whitehawk, communications manager at the company. The mailing list for the IKEA catalog is developed throughout the year, and includes past and potential customers who have signed up on IKEA.com to receive it. Although IKEA doesn't have e-commerce options, the catalog still draws customers to research IKEA products online and on tablets.

IKEA publishes the catalog annually in August. It has more than 300 pages of product images and information. The catalog is meant to create brand excitement, says Whitehawk. “It's really inspiration for fans and consumers of IKEA,” she adds.

Ultimately, catalogs and print media simply work, says Rick Ragusa, SVP of direct and wholesale at home goods store Serena & Lily.

“[Print media] stands out,” he says. “It's something physically in [customers'] hands. You can't hit ‘delete,' as you might with an email.” Serena & Lily has no brick-and-mortar locations, so all of its catalog sales are conducted through the company's website. Although much of the company's sales happen via e-commerce, about 65 to 70% of the company's total sales can be traced to print catalog marketing, Ragusa says.

The success of print catalogs and the fast-growing adoption of tablets are prompting an increasing number of brands to format their catalogs into digital assets. Doing so has several benefits, including constant accessibility, according to Joaquin Ruiz, CEO at Catalog Spree, an iPad app that functions as a mall for catalogs. “You never lose it,” he says. “As long as you have an electronic device, you can always have the experience.” He notes that the average amount of time each customer spends using the Catalog Spree app is 34 minutes, which is a significant amount of time compared to other interaction channels.

While digital catalogs also have a price advantage over print, more important, Ruiz says, are the possibilities around measurability and attribution. Catalog Spree tracks which pages customers view and which products they “favorite,” and monitors the path-to-purchase from the digital catalog to a brand's e-commerce website.

Similarly, digital cataloger Issuu provides metrics that help demonstrate ROI. “We're trying to make [each digital catalog] as beautiful as the printed version, but we can monetize it because we can tell how many people picked it up, which pages are most important, and so on,” says Mik Stroyberg, director of consumer engagement and U.S. sales at Issuu. Like Catalog Spree, catalogs hosted on Issuu's platform include hyperlinks that lead potential customers directly to a company's e-commerce website.

But despite the comparatively low cost of digital catalogs and the ability to chart user activity, it's yet to be determined as to whether these marketing endeavors will drive sales effectively.

In the case of Los Angeles-based women's clothing retailer Flying Tomato, using a digital catalog is still a work in progress. The company works with Issuu to digitally distribute its look book and catalogs each month. David Lee, the company's retail and branding manager, notes that its foray with Issuu is largely experimental: Flying Tomato “was looking for other advertising options, and gave it a try.”

Cost was a significant factor. “Digital media is easier,” Lee says. “It's very cost effective. Catalogs, if you send out 2,000, are a lot of money. For digital, it's not that much, really.” However, Flying Tomato's presence on Issuu has yet to bring in new customers. The print version of the look book and the catalogs are more effective and targetable, he says.

Lee also notes that despite the ease of sharing digital media on social networks, few customers have shared the company's online look book.

Serena & Lily, which distributes about 1 million catalogs each season through spring, summer, and fall (this year, the company plans to add a holiday catalog), has been using Catalog Spree for roughly a year and is still trying to evaluate the success of doing so. When Serena & Lily became part of the digital “mall,” Ragusa says, the company gained a broader reach than through their direct mail strategies. “We're still deciding how to best leverage that,” Ragusa says. “It's driven some traffic, but I don't know that we've seen the kind of revenue that we would hope to drive from those technologies to date. I think these are great solutions, but we're still figuring them out.”

Ultimately, the key considerations brands should make when deciding whether to digitize their catalogs is letting customers choose, notes IKEA's Whitehawk. For IKEA, catalogs in both traditional and digital formats remain a key part of the company's marketing strategy. Every year the company publishes more than 211 million catalogs in both digital and print formats, distributed in 29 languages globally, she says. Whitehawk notes that in recent years demand for digital catalogs delivered on tablets, instead of physical catalogs mailed to homes, has increased and continues to do so, which she identifies as a large marketing opportunity.

This year's IKEA print catalog is the first to contain pages that, when a customer takes a photo of them with a smartphone, unlocks additional digital content. These pages will provide more product information, including colors and potential room layouts; on the back end, the system can gather information on which catalog pages are read and snapped. The interactive pages bring the customer deeper into the brand, and serves up photo galleries and video content, she says. “It's a huge benefit for a product like ours, where people are trying to create their own style. We know that this is going to be a really good way to serve up more information,” Whitehawk says. “The catalog is a huge part of our plan. It's an important communication for us.”

Whether digital or print, catalogs work so well for IKEA because of the company's size and prominence, says Matt Bond, senior director of print production at customer relationship marketing agency Merkle, which doesn't work with IKEA. “It has a built-in model,” he says. “Everyone knows if they want to buy a piece of furniture and not spend a lot of money, go to IKEA.”

For some smaller brands, however, pamphlets or digital-only catalogs might make more sense, Bond says. “For me, print isn't dead; print is evolving,” he says. “It's becoming a powerful tool when paired with the digital world.”

The digital and direct mail divide

If catalogs are designed to promote brand loyalty, then direct mail is often meant to drive customer acquisitions or repurchase.

“What we see from our customers is that direct mail plays a key role in the acquisition of customers,” says Pat Deck, EVP and CMO at direct marketing services provider IWCO Direct. “It's targetable. It's measureable…we think it's here to stay.” A customer might have four email addresses, he says, but the customer likely has only one home address.

Deck echoes a sentiment shared by IKEA's Whitehawk: Once a customer is acquired, it's important to let that customer decide the nature of subsequent interactions, whether it occurs digitally or via print media. Many customers, especially those who are paying bills, like to see a print copy of their mailers, he says. “If they get a paper statement, they see it as a reminder,” he says, whereas emails can get easily lost in the shuffle.

At Pitney Bowes, most well-known as a provider of paper communications, VP of solutions and competitive marketing Chris Giles says that while his company's clients still use direct mail frequently, it's become part of an integrated strategy. “A lot of what we try to do is understand what a customer is doing across multiple channels,” he says.

According to Giles, direct mail can be an effective customer “nurturing” tool, meaning that it can give customers a sense that the company is interested in them. Additionally, he notes, “direct mail has a degree of credibility” that digital media doesn't.

Direct mail is a core part of Kenneth Cole Productions' marketing strategy for this very reason, says Amy Choyne, SVP and CMO at the company. Kenneth Cole uses solutions from Experian to send targeted direct mail to announce new product lines, such as the high-end Kenneth Cole Collection, which launched August 15 as part of Kenneth Cole New York.

Choyne says the company sent out direct mailers about the launch to its most high-end, loyal customers. “We're segmenting our top customers,” she says. “It's a look book piece inviting them to come into the store.”

Having a tangible artifact is integral to Kenneth Cole's marketing efforts, Choyne says: “It's the most effective way to present a new product.” Ultimately, mailers are part of Kenneth Cole's integrated marketing strategy, intended to drive customers online or into stores.

Q&A: Gary Reblin, VP of
domestic products, USPS

Campaigns like the USPS' recent discount on postage for mail that includes a mobile 2D barcode is the future of direct.

Click to read the Q&A.

Tom Foti, manager of direct mail and periodicals at the USPS, says that although direct mail has dipped since 2008—in part due to the recession—it's still relevant in today's direct marketing landscape. Foti says that in 2008 many companies turned away from direct mail for cost reasons, opting instead to focus on less expensive email campaigns.

Traditionally, measurability has been a key draw for direct mail marketers. Measuring ROI is simple, Foti says. Marketers need only look at who they mailed to, and who responded to the mailing. “With QR codes and mobile technologies, it takes it to the next step,” he says. “Not only do you know who you sent it to, but the information that could be garnered from the device enables even more trackability.”

Tracking often occurs through traditional methods, like a business reply code. However, a growing number of companies are experimenting with more cutting-edge methods. Loyola University Chicago is one of those organizations. The school plans to increase its direct mail budget this year, integrating digital elements into its mailers. “QR and mobile response codes bring print to life by directing a user to rich interactive content,” says Nicole O'Connell, director of enrollment marketing and communications at the university. “We've found higher response rates to our mailings with the integration of video along with a response form, making it easier for the reader to respond from their mobile device.”

Direct mail, O'Connell notes, has been among the university's most successful direct marketing channels because its trackability is a reliable predictor of future performance. “I can see which schools and products respond at a greater rate using direct mail; it's among the easiest mediums to track,” O'Connell says, adding that direct mail is particularly successful with Loyola's specialty masters programs and graduate students.

Even with successes like that of Loyola University, there are still plenty of marketers who prefer to not add digital elements to their direct mail pieces. “What we've found and are encouraged in seeing is that people have tried digital—and they'll continue to try–but that they're realizing that direct mail is a valuable channel that they need to use to get new customers,” USPS's Foti says. “Ultimately, they always come back to direct mail because it's ‘old reliable.' It's a primary acquisition strategy.”

Choyne remains skeptical about the efficacy of new technologies around print marketing for her target demographic of fashion-forward individuals. “I love the concept of the QR code, but there's such low usage of it,” she explains, noting that when she was executive director of marketing at Anthropologie, the company used QR codes on direct mailers and didn't see significant returns. She concedes, however, that it may simply be too soon to tell if QR code technology will be effective in the future.

The USPS tries to keep up with digital strategies by incenting businesses to include QR codes and wording on their direct mailers that encourage consumers to visit their websites. According to Foti, the USPS views mobile as the next frontier for print media. “It's a good fit with direct mail,” he says. “It's a logical fit to have people who are looking at their mail [view a QR code] so that they can easily scan it.”

All of this fits right into current trends, says Michael Greene, a senior analyst of interactive marketing at Forrester Research. Channel silos of search marketing, e-commerce, and social media are beginning to break down. It makes sense that direct mail service providers increasingly integrate with other channels, as well.

“Direct mail has to complement a multichannel campaign,” Greene says. “Our strategy is to go out and tout this. You'll be more successful if direct mail is a part of that campaign.”

Giles of Pitney Bowes says that even though there's plenty of talk of print going away—and there has been for more than 13 years—volume for direct mail is slowing, but plateauing. “We think [our] customers are getting more engaged in terms of who they talk to, and why,” he says. “Customers are critically engaged with what they send.”

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