Print Communication in a Crisis

10/13/20 | Published By Angela Campbell

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of PrintAction magazine. You can find the full digital Magazine here:

Leveraging Direct Mail to Guide your Client’s Message to Market

By: Scott Gray

The pandemic has impacted our print and communication industry unlike anything we have experienced before. Are you acting like the expert your clients need? Let’s face facts: it is crazy to sit back and hope your clients are going to continue doing work with you. Unfortunately, a lot of companies are doing just that.

Many clients are still very cautious about spending marketing dollars when they know that without a doubt, they must. They are looking for creative communication leadership and advice from their best partners, you. We are at least six months into this current crisis and must continue to adapt our business strategies and tactics to suit our clients’ changing needs. Printers need to move beyond social distancing stickers; we need to solve our client’s biggest question: “How do I stay front of mind for my best clients?”

Your response should be an emphatic, “I’m the one who can help you keep your momentum going, adjust your marketing tactics, get personal, and not disappear from your client’s minds!”

Digital First Communication

We have all adapted to a world of digital first communication remarkably well in a short period of time. We’re all attending meetings and conferences by Zoom, our electronic outbound marketing (a whole separate conversation) and social media presence has grown exponentially, websites are more important, we are cooking more, drinking more, writing more. So why aren’t we printing more?

Before you help your clients, let’s make sure your own house is in order:

  • Are your services as relevant today as they were six months ago?
  • Do you provide transactional print, or do you solve your client’s communication problems?
  • How easily can new prospects find your website in today’s SEO-optimized world?
  • What non-traditional communication services have you added to your core competencies: design, websites, storefronts, fulfillment, packaging, promotional items?
  • How do you change your traditional print service model into print communication services that align with a digital first communication strategy?

Digital first communication strategies have exploded and are exceptionally powerful, however, have you noticed the signs of digital fatigue settling in? Print can play an incredibly powerful supporting role to strengthen any digital campaign. Now is the time to have conversations about (re)introducing direct mail into your client’s digital strategy. It’s been proven time and again, the more senses you touch, users experience increased emotional engagement and stronger brand recall. When digital strategies overlap with intelligently planned, well-designed print, impressions stick.

Few people have paid attention to the fact that this recent sharp increase in online advertising is creating huge competition for paid ad word campaigns, causing many common cost-per-click search terms to increase dramatically, which really only benefits Google. All of a sudden, a $2 targeted direct mail unit cost is looking a lot sexier than a $5 per-click digital ad spend.

With this in mind, I’m shocked at how few direct mail pieces have come through my mail slot these past few months, as we now have an audience looking for thoughtful, well designed, tactile stimulation to cut through the digital noise.

Let’s make sure we understand what direct mail is, and better yet, what its potential is.

What is Direct Mail?

Most people, even many printers think of ‘direct mail’ as the realtor’s postcard, pizza flyers, restaurant menus or the latest internet service offer that flops through the mail slot. The belief is that ultimately, direct mail is encouraging the reader to visit a website or store, but direct mail is so much more than that.

Work with your client to define who you are targeting:

Target Geography – cover specific geographic areas using specified postal walks, typically created with Canada Post’s Precision targeting tools drawing a defined radius around a business to create broad reach B-C campaigns. Otherwise known as ‘spray and pray’. This works effectively for your local pizza joint, new local businesses in the area, or the latest internet service provider offer.

Target Demographics – we can refine our market audience using 14 demographic categories based on driving distance from your business, household age and income, as well as the type of residence by house, apartment or business. This is great for real estate, senior living services, and home maintenance services.

Target your clients’ Contact Relationship Management (CRM) data – this is free and readily available information to leverage. In a digital first strategy, it’s likely your client has their list finely tuned and can provide it to you. CRMs contain past, current and prospect clients. This can narrow down the search for Business to Business communication. The challenge is ensuring the information is up to date. This can require a little work on your client’s part but honestly, this is their lifeblood and should be well maintained (so should yours!).

Target purchased lists – partner with your local mail shop or list broker to access refined demographic lists targeting your specific prospects. Be sure that you have an appropriate budget and the lists are valid and up to date; you’ll still need to scrub for accuracy. In today’s pandemic environment, even list brokers are scrambling to ensure their information is accurate with so many jobs paused, moved or lost.

Target influencers – Influencer kits are your laser targeted sales tool. These must be designed to appeal to a small audience that holds great social power within a very specific market segment. Who are influencers in your business? They are thought leaders who act as megaphones, spreading brand messages to potential customers. An influencer endorsement means that prospective buyers are more likely to be receptive to your brand message. This is where you show true power in print customization. Playful, exciting and Instagram-worthy, influencer kits present a product like a gift, rather than an envelope.

Here are a few statistics we know about direct mail (according to Canada Post):

  • 74 per cent of Canadian consumers always or sometimes notice advertising in direct mail.
  • 86 per cent of Canadian consumers open mail that’s personally addressed to them.
  • Integrated direct mail and digital campaigns elicit 39 per cent more attention (time spent) than digital campaigns alone.

No doubt, these are difficult times to navigate a business. It is our job as professional communicators to guide our client’s message to market. Do not be excluded from a digital first conversation. Do not let your clients go quiet and disappear. Use your knowledge and know-how to help your clients keep their momentum going, get personal, shift tactics, and get noisy.


Scott Gray is vice president of sales and marketing at Mitchell Press in Burnaby, BC. At the forefront of print communication technology through his 30+ year career, Scott is an avid lover of communication design and branding. His efforts have been credited with over twenty Benjamin Franklin Awards for offset and digital print. He has fostered the brand stories of two of Canada’s premier commercial printers, resulting in international recognition and growth in new markets. Scott is a community advocate and mentor for marketing students on the power of print and new media.

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