Unless you are truly “off the grid,” you’re living in a tech world with the rest of us. You’ve probably got personal experience with online banking, shopping, ride sharing, social media, and a host of other applications that have changed your expectations about how companies interact with their customers.

We’ve become accustomed to tech improving our lives by automatically paying our bills, getting us to destinations, reminding us about meetings, and re-ordering often-purchased products. Tech has become so ingrained in our daily lives that we get annoyed or even irritated when it doesn’t work perfectly. Technology is consistently successful at changing our behavior.

Mail isn’t as pervasive. Sure, it can sometimes encourage us to act, but does the mail you are producing have the same impact as those experiences fueled by technology? As a consumer, would you react favorably to the mail pieces your company is sending out today?

But Print Isn’t Dead!

I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read the articles and seen all the studies that praise the benefits of printed communications and assure us print is growing in influence. Analysts and experts have been telling us print has value in the tech-driven world. I’ve written many of those pieces myself. But we have to be careful about objectivity.

It’s easy for us in the document business to isolate ourselves. I do it. When I’m not writing, I spend time each day going to print and mail shows and conferences, attending webinars, reading trade publications, and interacting with other print industry people on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Those are all important activities, especially for someone whose business is writing articles and creating content in this industry. I need to keep up on what’s going on. But it means I’m exposed to a lot of viewpoints I’d categorize as “preaching to the choir.” We hear from our peers about the value of mail and we read studies, usually commissioned by print industry stakeholders, that prove the popularity and effectiveness of print.

I’m not disputing any of those findings, predictions, or opinions. I’m just pointing out they aren’t really the voice of the customer. The recipients of the mail are the people that deserve our attention, and if we confine ourselves to document industry news outlets, we’re not hearing from them often enough.

You are a mail consumer too, not unlike the people whose names you print on the documents and mail pieces that exit your facility and travel via the US Postal Service or across the internet. You probably get bank statements, policy update notices, and direct mail marketing pieces in your own postal mailbox. Does any of that material inspire you to take action? Based on your experience as a tech-influenced consumer, how do you think the print and mail business is doing? Is there room for improvement? I think there is.

What’s in Your Mailbox?

I inspect my daily presort standard mail for only a second or two. Ninety percent of it goes directly into the shredder or the recycle bin. I don’t spend my time with such communications because I’ve seen those pieces before, dozens of times. I’ve been getting the same exact pieces from the same mailers for years.

Because of Informed Delivery, I even know in advance about mail I’ll be receiving, and I have a good idea about what’s inside the envelopes, just from the images in my digest email. Perhaps your personal mail is similar. Maybe you treat your mail the same as me — even though we’re naturally more interested in printed communications because we work in the document industry.

If our mail doesn’t inspire us at home, imagine the reaction of someone who makes a living in an industry unconnected to the mailing business! How likely is it the messages emanating from your mail center are affecting the addressees at a level that would thrill the message creators?

Mail need not compete with high-tech applications, but it shouldn’t be stagnant. Use accessible technology to contact people at strategic times, not only on a batch cycle basis. Employ data to make offers more relevant to each individual. Dynamically adjust envelope artwork to inform mail recipients there’s something different in the envelopes, designed just for them. The mail business uses tech, too —but a lot of it happens in the background.

Objectively inspect the materials your organization produces. Show them to friends and acquaintances and ask them what they could receive in the mail that would prompt them to take the action the mail pieces are intended to prompt. Would access to a personalized web page interest them? An indication that the message is based on the recipient’s personal profile? Immediate feedback or a reward? It might be time to start with a blank sheet and try something different as a pilot project. Your clients may be surprised at the result.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at www.printmailconsultants.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.