Confessions From the Digital New World

This week, I had the pleasure of keynoting the Printing Industries of America Converge Conference. Converge attendees are those in the print business that realize things are changing, and want to integrate digital channels into their businesses. Like Columbus, they are steering their ships into uncharted waters.

I saw my role as that of an emissary from the “Digital New World.” My goal was to “open communications” with the “Old World” of print. I sought to identify the issues that created the great ocean between our two worlds, as well as draw a bright circle around those places where we had natural affinities.

The experience of researching and then delivering the presentation was, at times, surreal. I found myself having to admit some things about the “new” media we’ve embraced and our sputtering use of it.

We’re Following in Direct Mail Footsteps

As part of my presentation, I ridiculed the long-form sales letter so often used in direct mail marketing, promising to reveal the ultimate online sales page to the audience. You’ve seen these direct mail letters. They are four to 12 pages long – often double sided – written in a typewriter-like font. The copy is full of highlighted, underlined, and bolded type. They contain heart-wrenching stories, testimonials, and escalating offers.

Well, it turns out that a sales letter format landing page is one of the highest converting pages on the Internet for infopreneurs and affiliate marketers. The irony is clear. These pages have all of the components of their direct mail brethren, right down to the postscripts.

It was the direct mail marketers who pioneered and profited from behavioral databases’ strategies. Take Publishers Clearing House, who has for decades used sweepstakes and contests to sell magazine subscriptions through the mail. I remember when I was young, searching through a sheet of magazine stickers, looking for the two halves of a Jaguar XJ6 to paste in my no-obligation form, cementing my chance to win.

I never ordered a magazine, which is probably why I haven’t received a mailing from them in many years. Apparently, Publishers Clearing House is still going strong. It maintains a highly scientific approach to direct mail, with highly profiled mailing lists and constant testing.

Despite the amazing measurement and tracking capabilities we have in the digital world, we are really just getting our feet wet on scientific marketing.

Businesses Don’t Take Full Advantage of Online Media

The printed word has a rich history of beautiful writings, crafted publications, and very effective advertising. It was with humility that I revealed to the print-oriented audience that most of our businesses have modeled their websites on the lowly brochure.

The print brochure was designed to create awareness in almost any situation. As such, it needed only to provide general information and a way to contact the company for more.

On the Web, the brochure doesn’t take advantage of interactivity, the ability to collect information, or the fact that we know something about each of our visitors. No, your rotating flash banner doesn’t count as interactivity.

Google has, for very self-serving reasons, done more to educate our businesses on the use of targeted, data-driven advertising. Things are certainly looking up.

On the other hand, we are doing quite well with the catalog format, pioneered most notably by the Sears and Roebuck Company in the early 1900s.

We Don’t Consider Print Often Enough

The truth is that print advertising begins as digital content, much like anything you’ll find on the Web. The print industry has developed the digital printers capable of doing high-volume printing with highly customized content.

There are entire swaths of our databases for which we don’t have an e-mail address. Yes, we have the capability to append this information, and this practice is not as frowned upon as it once was.

But what about the e-mail that doesn’t get read? We could increase our response rates with an incremental investment in direct mail to these untouched prospects. The technology exists to do such things.

XMPie, technology now owned by Xerox, has the power to create cross-media campaigns. It makes print media personal. With marketing automation programs like Tecra Systems AccuConnect sitting on top of XMPie, one interface is used to send mail, launch customized direct mail, and create personalized landing pages.

MarketingSherpa recently published a case study of Huntington College, in which prospective students created a customized print brochure based on the areas of study they are considering. The magic of this campaign wasn’t just the well-targeted brochure. The campaign brought these students’ parents into the mix in a way that no digital communication could. When the brochure landed on the kitchen table, the parents couldn’t miss it. Guess who’s often footing the bill for college.

Don’t Burn the Boats Just Yet

Marc Andreessen famously called for print publishers to “burn the boats” and embrace digital content completely. In the case of printers, I say hold on. Printers are servicing businesses that are spending billions on print communications. We in the digital new world bemoan the fact that so little is spent in online advertising relative to the amount of time that people spend with digital media.

Let’s work with these printers’ customers to add digital channels to their communication strategies. Let’s experiment with combinations of direct mail, e-mail, landing pages, and social media instead of just waiting for them to see the light. We can grab a larger share of the advertising pie and increase our print channels at the same time.

The print market is huge, but it is shrinking quickly as advertisers move their communications to the Web and mobile Internet. The attendees to the Converge conference have distinguished themselves by having the audacity to step out of the way of this oncoming train. It is in our interest to show them their next steps by helping them combine the best of print and online communications.

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