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Has Print Passed Its Time? My Exchange with Chuck Gehman

By  on December 23rd, 2012 - Courtesy, The Digital Nirvana   Last week, I wrote about how the success of trigger-based email continues to support the value of trigger-based mail. After all, the importance is not in the medium. It’s in the timing and relevance. Chuck Gehman, vice president of product platforms at, disagreed. He commented on my post, saying,
It’s a real stretch to suggest that it would be possible to emulate what is going on in the digital world. It is possible that a few years ago, before digital marketing started to “run over” personalized print, this would have been a good idea. Now, though, why on earth would you want to? I mean, I get letters from my Honda dealer telling me my car is about to need a service. My BMW/Mini Cooper dealer, on the other hand, has an email platform. I honestly don’t have a preference as to which one I prefer… but I do know that the Honda dealer is spending way more money, and I believe I’m paying for it, which makes me a little unhappy.
I had to read this twice. Was Chuck really saying trigger-based print is passe? So I asked, and this is what he said.
Yes, unfortunately. The time has past for “that kind” of transactional/transpromo direct mail. In fact, I went to the Honda dealer yesterday– and I brought the letter with me (it’s a black and white letter in an envelope with two coupons at the bottom). I didn’t need it, because its content was all in their computer. The first thing the service adviser said was, “I have a coupon for you.” One thing I might add is that my car was also telling me I needed service every time I turned it on, and it told me what kind of service it needed with a little code on the display– I looked up the code by typing “Honda Pilot B12″ into Google, and voila, I found out I needed an Oil Change. So, Heidi, what’s the point? There may still be room for the “print as a luxury” crowd, where some super-high end transactional/triggered direct mail piece is a good move, but generally, I think it’s a quickly and dramatically shrinking category. I mean, I love print as much (and probably a lot more) than the next guy, but we can’t keep fooling ourselves. Some applications are just done.
I would agree with Chuck for some target audiences, but not everyone lives in the world that he is describing.
My car doesn’t talk to me. I have a neighbor without Internet access. Both my husband’s parents and mine are highly educated, with disposable incomes, but neither has an iPad or a smartphone. My husband’s parents don’t even watch television. I have a close friend whose husband runs a research lab at Penn State. They don’t have smartphones, and their computer has so many filters on it I’m surprised email gets through. Another set of close friends is still smartphone-free, as well, despite the fact that she’s a teacher and her husband works in the world of computers. My husband has a director-level job at a private school, but he doesn’t have a smartphone, receives no marketing email, and only looks at his home email once a week. I think we forget that there is still a whole world out there that is not plugged into this world of e-everything, and unless we don’t need revenue from their wallets, I think print is still very much worthy of their attention.
Chuck was ready for me. He volleyed back:
That’s a very dramatically shrinking world, though Heidi, you’ve published a lot of the statistics to prove what I’m saying in previous posts you have made here!
[Yes, that's true, I would interject, but I've also posted a lot of data showing the continued effectiveness of direct mail, too.]
People who have Smartphones are the people marketers want to spend money trying to reach… not people who don’t consume any media, which is increasingly the demo for the people you are describing.
Um, I responded, does this mean that people without smartphones don’t spend any money? That’s not the case among non-smartphone owners I know. They just spend money on things other than electronics. (Although one is an avid iPad user.) The other point is that while as an industry, we’ve been watching with great interest as the percentage of smartphone owners has grown, and there was great excitement when smartphone owners hit 50% if the market. But that still leaves the other 50%. Are we going to say they don’t spend money or consume media? Then the irony of what I was writing back to Chuck hit me. I added,
By the way, just for fun, it’s worth noting that I’m posting my defense of the legitimacy of trigger-based print from my iPhone while at the gym…
In the final volley in this exchange (until I continued it here), Chuck posted:
Uh oh! That is fun, Heidi! Hey, check out the statistics embedded in this post I just stumbled upon.
Okay, Chuck. Good stuff. But growth in one medium doesn’t mean a corresponding decline in the effectiveness in the other. When did media become mutually exclusive? I thought multi-channel marketing meant multiple channels, including a mix of media.  That means that print stays relevant, even when other channels are growing in popularity. In fact, according to last year’s USPS Household Survey, eight out of 10 U.S. households still scan or read advertising mail that comes to their homes. That sure beats average click rates. And the percentage of U.S. households that “usually read” advertising mail increases as the volume of mail they receive decreases. This is more evidence that, as U.S. mail volumes decline, advertising mail becomes that much more effective. Plus, we know that personalization increases effectiveness even further. So I agree with Chuck’s comments, but only on a non-exclusive basis. I think that’s where we can easily become myopic. Growth in one medium doesn’t necessarily mean lack of effectiveness of another. Please chime in . . . what is your response to this exchange? Be Sociable, Share!

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