Even in an age of unprecedented digital connectivity, direct mail continues to be effective. Studies find that audiences’ recall of direct mail is 70% better than their recall of digital ads, and direct mail stimulates 20% more activity in the part of the brain that corresponds with motivation to act than its digital counterparts. However, some studies show that just over one-third of adults take the time to read the mail. Digital channels, meanwhile, allow for instant action, including quick and easy payment of bills and invoices. As a result, communications professionals have recognized that physical and digital communication each bring unique strengths, weaknesses, and best practices. The full-service mail operation of the future undoubtedly hybridizes physical and digital communication workflows – but is your mail operation onboard?

For your communications services to survive and thrive, it’s important to understand how centralized, hybridized workflows can benefit you today, and what you can expect in the future as technology continues to improve.

More Capabilities, Without More Headaches
Often, established mailing operations are hesitant to add digital capabilities out of fear that they’ll be doubling their communications management workload without necessarily doubling their revenues or responses. However, thanks to technological advancements, today’s mailhouses can seamlessly manage print and digital channels, often from the same interface, with little added effort.

With the right software, composition and imposition need only be done once. Well-selected transform software can intelligently adjust elements to meet channel-specific needs, such as the ability to increase font size for easier viewing in electronic presentment. Similarly, adding or removing channel-specific design elements – such as a digital-only offer to click to pay a bill – is a snap, without requiring time-intensive, manual upstream changes. Whether you want uniform simplicity or per-channel customization, a robust multi-channel workflow solution puts those tools at your fingertips.

By centralizing monitoring and management, even delivery itself doesn’t have to become any more complicated. With a well-integrated, multi-channel workflow management solution, campaigns across channels can automatically progress in sync with one another, so physical mail is sent (or arrives) at the same time email, text message, push notifications, or other channels do. The same solution that checks addresses for accuracy, households mail for optimized postal discounts, and fully preps mail for delivery can be used to follow that mail piece’s journey via USPS so a follow-up email comes at just the right moment.

Speaking of delivery, people often ask, “How do I know which channel(s) to use for which recipients?” There are many strategic answers to this question, which can depend on many diverse factors, such as demographics and psychological studies of marketing approaches. Outside consultants can help you identify what works best for your business and your audience. But one great way to decide this question is to simply ask recipients to choose their preferred delivery method. Some of today’s most powerful multi-channel workflow management tools allow users to pre-load audience channel preferences, so when the time comes to send communications, the software automatically funnels each piece into the appropriate channel. Strong, centralized monitoring and management of multi-channel strategies can help generate more compelling output that results in stronger response rates through a printed piece, while at the same time addressing the growing demand for electronic delivery. By integrating print and digital, today’s printers can tailor the message to the audience in new and exciting ways.

While channel preference management can help drive stronger engagement, multi-channel workflow management solutions’ tracking helps provide quantitative ROI. While producing and delivering communications is no small feat, tracking response rates without a solid system in place can be difficult, time-consuming, and even inaccurate. This is another area where mailhouses can be wary of adding digital workflows: If I’m already having trouble keeping track of everything in a channel where I’m an expert (physical mail), why would I want to try to do the same thing, at the same time, in a different channel, where I don’t know as much? It’s an understandable concern, but it’s also one that multi-channel workflow management software addresses handily. With some modifications to physical response mail intake, and by routing electronic responses through your monitoring and management software, you can track responses and other data from across channels; suddenly, you have a bird’s-eye view of your entire operation. The top-tier software options even allow you to slice and dice that data however you see fit, potentially helping to uncover actionable insights that can help your next campaign perform even better.

The Future Brings Clarity

As you read this, solutions are being developed and built upon to make multi-channel workflow management and monitoring more comprehensive, more granular, and more accessible. This includes more intensive measurement, visualized in ways that make internal assessment and external presentation equally simple.

For example, if a campaign is enjoying incredibly high response rates, workflow management solutions of the near future could provide a visual dashboard. The dashboard can showcase what was different about this production process, incorporating information from printers, finishers, the workflow management software itself and third-party applications. Beyond that, comprehensive data visualization can show how your campaign’s results stack up against an average campaign. This is extremely useful for business intelligence, allowing communicators to glean key lessons for continued success. But it’s also a great selling and customer confidence tool. By making this dashboard information accessible 24/7 via a web portal, you can show customers you stand by your processes and results, while also providing a ready-made platform for highlighting your customers’ ROI. Customers want to work with communicators they feel they can trust, in addition to delivering results. This open-book, easy-to-understand visualization approach to your data can work wonders in both respects.

I’m Ready to Merge My Physical and Digital Communications; Now What?

If you find the above persuasive, you may be wondering what the most practical next steps are for your business. Well, just like picking a communication channel, there is no one-size-fits-all “right” answer. But there are some frequently crucial right questions to ask. They are:

  • Is there latent demand for digital? Have you already implemented some digital workflows? Do customers ask for them, whether or not you have them? Why or why not? Are your existing digital capabilities underwhelming, undermarketed, or both?
  • What are my goals for adding digital? Do you want to increase response rates? Slash costs? Drive web traffic?
  • How do you measure success? Is it in adoption rate – how many, or what percentage of, customers do you expect to choose digital delivery (and/or digital payment)? Is it in fewer pages printed? Is it in OPEX reduction? Where do you want these metrics to be in six months? 12? 24? 36? It’s important to set these plans out in advance, with incremental milestones, so you can check in on progress and correct course accordingly if you fall short of your performance indicators – or intelligently build on success if you consistently surpass them.
  • How can I make sure this adds value for my customers’ customers? When devising and implementing your multi-channel strategy, the central concern should be how audiences interact with your communications. That determines your success, both in terms of campaign effectiveness and your bottom line going into the future as word of your results spreads. By adding digital, are you making interacting with your/your customers’ brands easier, streamlined, more efficient? Electronic delivery of a static document can be an improvement for some audiences, but why not make the most of the channel, with one-click assistance, simple online payment options, and so on?

If you’re having trouble coming up with these answers on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues or third-party experts to figure out how hybrid workflows can best benefit your business. While adding an entirely new channel – or multiple new channels – can seem daunting at first, when it’s done right, it can drive impressive short-term gains and longevity alike.

Scott Scheidenhelm is Senior Channel Manager, Software and Solutions, Commercial & Industrial Printing Business Group, Ricoh USA, Inc.

This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.