Although the printing industry—indeed, the world—has yet to see the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will come a day when it is behind us. Even as we ponder how to react to the changes to our businesses today, we might also begin to ponder how it will impact our industry—positively or negatively—months or years from now.
The thought came to me today when the mail was, once again, extremely light. The state of Maryland, where I live, was one of the first states to close all non-essential businesses, so unless companies are brand-building or driving sales online, there isn’t much going into the mail stream right now.
When I opened the mailbox and saw a single, solitary piece of mail (again), what struck me was how lonely it felt. I’ve always loved getting mail. Most people do. But it was an odd experience feeling the loneliness of not having it. I wondered, are other people feeling the same way?
It reminded me of an interview I’d watched with Carmen Twillie Ambar, president of Oberlin College, the day before. With students being sent home for the remainder of the year, the news anchor asked Ambar if she were concerned that this would result in broader changes in how students and their families view higher education. With so many students, both at Oberlin and elsewhere, being moved to online classes, will they become accustomed to it? Will it break the stigma of online education? Already, the cost of private colleges and universities is out of reach for the average family. Will this mass movement to online learning signal the beginning of the end of the small and mid-sized college as students and their families rethink the value of a physical classroom?
Ambar had a surprising answer. She pointed out that, while some students were certainly finding that they could learn just fine without a physical classroom, other students were learning something else—what they were missing. They were missing the value of in-person interaction. They were missing the value of hands-on learning. They were missing the value of school camaraderie and community. They may already have understood the value of those things intellectually, but they were now experiencing their loss in real life. What is that old expression...sometimes you don't realize what you have until it’s gone? So it may be with in-person education.
We might ask the same question of mail. As the mail diminishes in the mailboxes, will consumers miss it? Even those who thrive on digital interaction, will they sense the loss more than perhaps they thought they would? The same goes for marketers. For decades, individual marketers have seen the negative impact on their bottom lines when they move away from direct mail. Now, due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are seeing that reduction on an industrywide basis. However, if that reduction continues as “the new normal” even after the crisis ends, will marketers feel the pinch? Will they come to understand and appreciate the value of physical mail even more than they do now?
It’s something to ponder. Whether it will prove to be true, only time will tell. In the meantime, what are your predictions?