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Commentary & Analysis

If it's in the Journal it Must be Real

WSJ tumbles to trans-

By Noel Ward
Published: November 2, 2007

WSJ tumbles to trans-promo, absent the reality

Did you happen to catch the Wall Street Journal on October 16? A service bureau owner I know pointed me at the article, which sadly, is only available to WSJ subscribers. He got me the text so I could read it for myself.

The article by Christopher Lawton alerted Journal readers to "a new tactic [being employed by banks and credit card companies] to get their customers' attention: placing the ads and promotional offers directly on the bill or statement."

Apparently perusing the press releases of InfoTrends, HP, Kodak, and Xerox, Mr. Lawton notes that such "transpromotional marketing" increases the likelihood that a customer will see and react to a given promotion because nearly every one opens and looks over their bills and statements. Mr. Lawton goes on to cite examples of companies who are partaking of the trans-promo Kool-Aid, such as Ford Motor Company and their service provider, DST Output. DST, arguably the leading pioneer in trans-promo printing, combines its own technology with multiple Kodak Versamarks to churn out service reminders tailored to individual owners and special deals on new cars, such as bonus cash or lower financing.

But does it work? Ahhh, that is the question many in the industry are asking.

But does it work? Ahhh, that is the question many in the industry are asking. Mr. Lawton reports that Dennis McClure, Ford Motor Credit's invoice marketing manager, wouldn't discuss how effective trans-promo statements have been, but that the company plans to continue its efforts. So is it an ongoing test or is it real? Mr. Lawton cites an unidentified company spokeswoman who went so far as to call trans-promo it "a good investment" while noting it is costlier than using pre-printed forms.

The article also noted how Humana, a Kentucky-based health benefits company, had seen its retention rate increase 17% in the past year, since placing specific messages in its health and benefit statements. Those results would seem to speak for themselves, and it's not unreasonable to assume that Ford is seeing some positive results and are keeping the program going so they can measure results over a longer time period. That's all good news.

How much of the noise surrounding trans-promo is real and how much is just, well, hype?

Still, what I and more than a few printers, service bureau owners, and skeptical industry analysts question, is how much of the noise surrounding trans-promo is real and how much is just, well, hype? That's hard to quantify. It's obviously in the best interests of digital print engine vendors to urge the adoption of trans-promo among as many customers as possible. Hey, it can drive a lot of clicks, add value to what is largely a commodity (transactional printing), and can help sell more cool new color printers. I have no problem with that. The same hype and glory strategy has shown to work fairly well for other aspects of digital printing, not to mention most of the other technical stuff we take for granted, like cell phones with cameras, iPods, WiFi networks in our homes, and throw-away inkjet printers that come free with a new computer. Hype can be a good thing. I'm a marketing guy, so I know.

Leading print engine vendors are offering tools to help print providers and their customers take the first steps.

When you peel back the hype a little, you find that leading print engine vendors are offering tools to help print providers and their customers take the first steps. Xerox's Can Do tools look to be a help here, while InfoPrint Solutions, HP-Indigo, Kodak, and Océ also provide support for customers probing new territory. Having the tools --beyond the print engine-- can go a long way toward growing the market for trans-promo.

Under the buzz, though, is the fact that that putting ink or toner on a statement is no big deal. And the last thing that matters (beyond cost per page and possibly workflow) is what kind of machine is used. Already print engines from all the manufacturers are ably producing trans-promo pages, and a rising tide in trans-promo will lift a whole lot of VersIndiGen 9000s. Putting marketing offers in statements is nothing new, either, although the level of personalization is. That's where the difference lies, but it is also the core of the challenge and why I think trans-promo is going to be much slower to grow than its cheerleaders and ardent advocates so eagerly proclaim.

Think about it. Most companies bare grasp the concept of variable data printing for direct marketing purposes.

Think about it. Most companies bare grasp the concept of variable data printing for direct marketing purposes. Even marketers have been slow to get on board with this technology that can actually make them look good by boosting response rates and sales. So now we're supposed to expect the people responsible for managing the datastreams that make up the bills, statements, trade confirms, EOBs, and other documents of our lives to work with the suits in marketing to put targeted messages on statements? I don't think so, even though that's actually the easy part. The hard part is developing and implementing the levels of data mining necessary to make trans-promo really effective. As InfoTrends notes, relevancy of contact, content, channel, and time are critical. This involves some pretty sophisticated crunching of a wide range of customer data, developing a real understanding of it, tailoring messages based on that knowledge, and finally getting them onto various transactional docs. Not simple. And once that's dealt with, statements have to be redesigned to accommodate the new messaging. (If you've ever dealt with a company in the throes of statement redesign, you know that it can be an arduous process.) And never mind the potential privacy issues that are bound to crop up as data is mined ever deeper.

None of this is insurmountable, but for every company like Ford or Humana that sees the value trans-promo has to offer, there are hundreds that will never go past business as usual. If you're a printer or service bureau you almost undoubtedly have customers like that. After all, we're dealing with corporate America here, where the average lifespan of a CMO is under 24 months, where very few people will take any kind of a risk, and the status quo is always the safer path.

We're dealing with corporate America here, where the average lifespan of a CMO is under 24 months, where very few people will take any kind of a risk, and the status quo is always the safer path.

Don't get me wrong. I'm fully behind trans-promo and the potential it offers for equipment and software vendors, print providers and their customers alike. But let's get real. The growth the trans-promo evangelists are claiming only sounds impressive because the base is so small. Meanwhile, the necessary pitch, coming only from individual print providers, simply isn't strong enough or loud enough to be heard. In my opinion, what's needed for faster adoption is a concerted marketing and educational effort --on the part of all the equipment and software vendors-- to get the concept of trans-promo into the heads of CMOs, CFOs, CEOs, and other top executives on a broad scale. Such an effort will take a broad initiative of co-opetition to communicate the benefits and drive business to print providers. And then we can see how that rising tide works.

But in the meantime, let's take a different cut at this--a slice of the real world. Let's see just how fast trans-promo gains traction, regardless of how it is promoted. Every time you get any type of transactional document that has a targeted marketing message, let me know. Tell me the company that sent it, the kind of document it was part of, how relevant it was to you, and whether it got you to act on the offer. I'll keep a tally and report back every quarter or every six months. This won't be any kind quantitative sample but it will provide some idea of just how much trans-promo is taking place --and how fast it's growing. Send your info to transpromo@ondemandpublishing.com.

We'll do our own test and see just how many companies are also drinking the Kool-Aid --and if they are finding it to be an elixir for growing their businesses.

 

 

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