Direct Mail

Print – a personal connection based in the real world

WHEN celebrating all things digital, there’s a common mistake – presuming that the digital world actually exists. Worth bearing in mind when we talk about digital marketing that its purpose is to persuade someone to interact with a very much real and physical entity.

Want an example? You might choose your next settee off the DFS website, but DFS will still deliver it. Your backside is not sat perched on some digital ether. The end of the line is always reality. The physical.

Other than in servers in distant countries, the digital empire doesn’t really exist. Nobody’s ever flown there. No-one’s ever invited the neighbours round to show them the slide show of their two-week break on the holiday island of eBay. Remember when a teacher would invite a recalcitrant pupil to write 2,000 words about the inside of a ping-pong ball? That same teacher, in 2017, might well swap the ping-pong ball for the sphere of the digital world. They are, after all, equally empty.

Truth is, we all live in the real world. Well, maybe not Premiership footballers, but you see what we mean.

People are those we trust and believe in

The touchable, the tangible, is everything. Why’s that? Because we desire interaction. We need people, and they need us.

You only have to look at banks. The commonly held view is that young people wouldn’t recognise a bank if they walked past one, so welded are they to the concept of digital finance. And yet a recent poll by business strategists Egremont International and Stone & River in conjunction with YouGov revealed that young people much prefer face-to-face contact ahead of mobile technology when making major decisions with their personal banking.

Some 62% of 18-24-year-olds with a current account, for example, are unlikely to use mobile banking to apply for financial products, while 54% of 18-24-year-olds would prefer to discuss bank accounts with their bank face-to-face, rising to 55% when seeking guidance on taking out mortgages and loans.

At the same time, while closures have occurred, more than a quarter of high street banks branches have been refurbished in recent years. The physical world wins when making significant personal financial decisions.

“We actually see branches as representing a real opportunity to better connect with our members,” says Graeme Hughes, group distribution director at Nationwide, “using new and traditional means, on a more personal level. It’s about creating a more valuable customer experience in branch without losing the human touch.”

Print delivers the personal touch – communication, warmth, and trust

Fine, you might say, but what’s all this got to do with print vs digital? Well, the principle remains the same. The personal touch, the physical, is all. The real world is one of communication, warmth, and trust. The digital world is burdened by an emotional disconnect.

That’s why, after a flirtation with the digital model, marketers are more and more returning to the old tried and tested methods. They are reconnecting with those who do not wish to have their aims and desires assessed by invisible algorithms, pinging (often grotesquely misplaced) adverts up on every web page. Indeed, we live in a bizarre age where digital marketers no longer make customers feel valued. Instead they make them feel spied upon.

Credibility comes from print

Compare that to a well-formulated direct marketing campaign, aimed at specific consumers, in a well-presented package, designed with them in mind. Easy to understand, pictorially magnificent, and with no nagging feel of distrust or exploitation. Sounds good, doesn’t it? And it feels good too to those wearied by a relationship with the digital world that becomes darker and dingier by the day.

Digital marketers would give their right pixel to have the creditability of print – credibility that comes not only from its content, but from the customer understanding that effort has been taken to write, edit, publish, and distribute the item in question.

Would those with a low quality or untrustworthy product really go to such levels? How the digital world must envy the real world for its lack of fake news, fake everything.

No distractions for customers

Similarly, when it comes to print marketing, there aren’t a multitude of other distractions fighting for customers’ attention. People’s attention time isn’t as limited. They’re not constantly looking for what’s next, changing direction to Facebook, having a look on Pinterest, seeing if the right-back for Birmingham United really has got a groin strain, or who did what on Bake Off. Print has a depth of mental penetration that just isn’t there in a fleeting digital world.

High visibility of print

Remember too, the high visibility rate of print marketing. It cannot, after all, be casually rolled past on a screen, the content of an email not even opened. We know from our own experience that direct marketing often sits for hours, if not days, in our homes. It has eyes on it, not fingers swiping past it. Think of those in the market for purchasing, say, a conservatory. They may well be of a generation that attaches a cache to the more traditional approach – an approach that quickly yields contact with a human being.

Print – the real world solution

Some still dismiss direct marketing as cumbersome. Really? It’s a leaflet, a letter. No more cumbersome than clicking on a link that doesn’t work, racking the brain for passwords, looking under the bed for that forever-vanishing charger.

Perhaps, instead of positioning these two marketing strategies toe to toe, it might be better to gather them for peace talks. The two are not mutually exclusive. The digital and real world need to work together and support one another. Direct marketing can back up a website, just as a digital campaign can work in conjunction with a concerted campaign on the ground.

When it comes to it, though, print marketing will always have a high value, and that’s because it is making a connection in the here and now. None of us wants our senses dulled, to live life through a screen.

We live alongside one another – print never forgets that.