Published Articles

Integrating E-Commerce and Paper

There are a lot of people

We’re hearing a lot of talk about e-commerce and dot.com companies, the stock market and how wild it is.  The bloom is off the rose in terms of how dot.com companies are concerned, but many people think that e-commerce is still the wave of the future and will be a driving force.  How much of this is hype? 

Standing back and looking at the big picture, a large percentage of commercially printed matter has a major goal of separating consumers from their discretionary dollars through advertising.  Sometimes this comes in the form of promoting one product over another and sometimes from new product and channel development.  Until recently, we had three primary methods of receiving marketing pitches: direct sales (in-person, telephone), print-based marketing, and airwave marketing (radio, TV, etc).

Plusses and Minuses

There are historical plusses and minuses for each of these media.  Let’s take them one at a time.  The Achilles Heel of both radio and TV is that the pitch gets to the consumer in a on the advertiser’s, not the consumer’s schedule.  This means that a potential customer who can’t remember a phone number from a radio ad will find it inconvenient to purchase the product.  Also, when driving in a car, reaching for a writing instrument can be downright dangerous.  On the positive side, airwave marketing reaches a lot of people for a relatively low price per impression.  The electronic media is a very inconvenient place to shop.  You can listen to the pitch, get a basic idea, but you can’t take any action readily.

Part of the reason why the printed word has stayed so strong for so long is that consumers and target markets in general can choose or not choose to look at that printed word on their own schedule, not the advertisers.  Then, if they choose to take action, they have a reference with them that they can take to the phone, or website, etc.  Print is convenient.  However, some print does come close to airwave media – take billboards for example.  Much of the same problem for billboards exists for airwave media – You have to have pencil and paper to take down information and this isn’t always convenient.

Let’s consider direct mail for a moment.  On the one hand, reply devices can be very convenient, but on the other, they can be inconvenient because they usually require filling out forms, finding a stamp and getting the reply device in the mail stream.

Let’s now turn our attention to the Internet.  As a means of placing orders, the Internet is very convenient to use.  Once you’ve decided what to do, it’s easy to get on and execute a sale.  However, the Internet still has a problem in delivering the pitch.  Using “opt-in” e-mail lists is fine, however, solicitation with non-opt-in lists is not acceptable and exposes you and your company to electronic anger, which can take the form of “flaming” (indiscriminate angry broadcast e-mail) or even “get-even” websites.

In general, the printed page doesn’t have a problem delivering the pitch.  You can go direct to the key business influencer with direct mail, or buy advertising space in magazines or billboards.  Another nice benefit of the printed page is a much wider field of vision.  In the catalog industry, it’s very easy to do comparisons.  From an end user’s perspective, if you’re trying to make a decision, you can gather competing printed information and easily do side by side comparisons.  It’s possible to achieve much of the same ease of side-by-side comparisons on the Internet, but since computer screens are only so big, many people feel that they have more flexibility laying paper on a large flat surface instead of toggling back and forth between windows.  By contrast, TV and radio can only pitch one thing at a time, rendering comparative shopping nearly impossible.

Image reproduction quality is better with print in many cases than from the Internet, or at least it still is as of now.  People can and do buy furniture from catalogs, but the dot.coms (i.e., living.com that just went out of business) that sell furniture experience upwards of a 40% return rate.   As the Living.com experience shows, the Internet isn’t the place to buy high-end furniture, especially when the manufacturer has to guarantee the sale in order to make it in the first place.  In short, the image, regardless of whether it’s print of electronic, has to be an accurate representation of the actual product and be relatively close to what the buyer expects.

We’re already seeing indications that there is going to be a continued reliance on the print to deliver the pitch, especially as people gather information and do comparative shopping.  As Dick Gorelick prophetically stated a while back, one of the fastest growing segments of print is, “print that is trying to do away with print.”  As evidence, Gorelick pointed to computer magazines and dot.coms doing a large percentage of their marketing via direct mail.

As the technology behind the Internet improves, there will still be room for the printed page.  Convergence of media is a good way to market to people.  Shotgun vehicles like airwave media do create awareness of product and direct marketing and other printing do help generate interest and get people to the decision stage.  When it comes time to place the order, websites, call centers and even direct response mailings can be very effective.  In short, we are moving into a multimedia environment where different media compliment each other.  Therefore, it becomes very important to choose the right mecia vehicle for your task at hand.

The Internet is very good at giving very detailed information that needs to be frequently updated.   The cost of supplying very detailed information on the Internet is very cheap in comparison to the printed page, and the printed page is very cheap in comparison to airwaves.  Saving money by referring people to websites for additional information is a good way of reducing costs.

How do should various media options be used?  The Internet delivers a convenience of ordering and this is how the printed page and the Internet are going to get together and be very successful together.  You’re still going to have people ordering by mail and calling in, but more people will be going through the Internet for an ordering vehicle, not so much for browsing.

Printing and the Internet have a lot of strengths together, because Americans, and people all around the world, like to do what we like to do when we want to do it.  In this respect, the Internet and the printed page dovetail very nicely.  One of the most frustrating things that viewers of airwave media is that they interrupt the content for advertising and everyone switches channels.  People don’t like to be told when to listen to pitches.  And airwave media has this problem big time.  Printing is going to be around.  Ordering on the Internet are going to be around.

Convergence is everything.  Here’s a discussion of what we did for ourselves.  We practice what we preach.

An Example at Rickard Bindery

We send out a series of informational tips that is printed on paper. – These tip sheets are only one page long.  Last month …

The print was the lead into the website – where additional content and flexibility is needed.  But it doesn’t have the same first impact.  A junk e-mail is a junk e-mail, and as of now, there isn’t much you can do about it.  Lots of people get a dozen, two dozen, or even 100 junk e-mails a day.  What do they do?  With very little exception, they pitch them.  The printed page does a lot better in terms of getting people to at least know what the message is.

Using print as teaser to get you onto the website is a perfect marriage of the two types of media.  Putting 50 pages of technical information on the web is a, “who cares?”  But putting an extra 50 pages of materials in a printed format will cost money.  This expandability is very valuable.  Take the best of each media and play up the strengths.  Maybe the solution is to do something like the computer manual industry has done.  Most manuals are a whole lot thinner today than they were a half dozen years ago because only the most technical stuff isn’t used that often by that many people and just the basics will suffice in written form.

The synergy between the two as methods of communication is that printing and the Internet operate on the consumer’s schedule – which are inconvenient to the consumer.

Postcard Lead Into Site

Got a PIA mailing for gain.com – received a direct mail piece and I went on the net to learn about it and I did it on my schedule – they don’t depend on time, but the mail is what caught my interest.

Postcard – gocargo.com – picked my interest that I went on.  It got me on the site – I didn’t take action, but

Telemarketers get people mad, especially when they call at dinner time – they get people mad because they violate the it’s on their schedule, not the recipient.  Timing is everything.  I personally will not do business with someone who calls at the dinner hour – I don’t care what they’re selling or promoting.

*     *     *

Turn to history for example – the NY Times predicted in 1939 that the automatic typewriter was going to make the pencil obsolete.  This didn’t happen – The typewriter just

Jack Rickard is the President of Rickard Bindery, and the former President of the Printing Industries of Illinois and Indiana, Binding Industries of America, and Graphic Finishing Industries of Illinois.  Rickard Bindery is a company specializing in discovering solutions to challenging bindery jobs.  He can be reached at (800) 747-1389.