All the major print engine vendors are touting the idea of putting targeted marketing messages on bills, statements and other transactional documents. Some have software to help make this happen, some offer design support, others have templates you can use, and still others can help with the data processing needed. But it all comes down to the same thing: leveraging the 80/20 rule that says most new sales come from existing customers.
I'm not here to argue that. But having talked at Graph Expo to several owners of direct mail and transactional service bureaus, I have a couple of points to run past you. Feel free to criticize, insult and even discuss.
Hype or Reality?
Some I spoke with said trans-promo is just a bunch of hype. These were primarily direct mailers who produce a prodigious volume on their cut-sheet and roll-fed machines. They may see it as intrusion on their turf, but their comments are important to note. Pick any of the following reasons, they say:
1. customers aren't remotely interested in the concept
2. people in customers IT departments don't know who the people in marketing are
3. people in marketing departments don't know who the IT people are
4. clients' databases are not even approximately prepared to mix transactional and marketing data
5. it's hard for the marketing execs and C-level types to grasp that trans-promo might actually work as advertised (also known as, "Ahhh, let someone else go first.)
6. all of the above
On the other hand, some of the transactional service bureau owners I talked with have already been doing some form of trans-promo. One firm that handles the billing for a number of telcos has been putting informational and marketing messages in statements for some time. Response varies, but his clients keep doing it, so they presumably see value. Other bureaus aren't seeing it happen at all —yet. But several of those see it coming and are doing the research and due diligence so they can be prepared when a key customer says, 'Hey, I want to do some of this trans-promo stuff. You can do that, right?' (As if it were ever that simple!).
It's hard for the marketing execs and C-level types to grasp that trans-promo might actually work as advertised (also known as, "Ahhh, let someone else go first).
But they all note (correctly) that trans-promo in a broad sense is anything but new. Most of their customers, in fact, are still perfectly happy to put buck slips and other stuffers into statement envelopes, despite the abysmal response. One service bureau owner asked his colleagues, "How long have you had promotional offers printed on your American Express bill? Forever! The only difference now is that they can —maybe— be more targeted. It'll be a while before companies see a good return on the investment needed to make that happen."
They note that trans-promo in a general sense is anything but new and are still perfectly happy to put buck slips and other stuffers into statement envelopes.
Do I smell skepticism? You bet, but I still think being able to provide a well-implemented trans-promo program will ultimately prove to be a differentiator for a print provider and a revenue generator for their customers. It's taken time for all the other aspects of digital printing to catch on and this is no exception. A few years ago, this same group of service bureau owners were wondering about digital color. Now they all have it.
It's Not Just Marketing
The pitch from most of the print engine vendors is that companies are going to leap on the trans-promo train because it can generate more revenue and hopefully turn the cost center of statement production into a revenue generator. That can certainly happen but this is not all there is to trans-promo. Pat McGrew, worldwide director of industry marketing for Kodak's Graphic Communications Group told me it's not just about putting advertising into statements.
"This is not only about selling something. For example, take a public utility which sends bills to everyone in a given town. They can put public service information on their bills —things like high school football schedules, information on town events, or important public meetings. This doesn't sell anything, but fosters stronger community relationships," says McGrew.
Such information is publicly available and such use can probably be good for public relations, but no company is going to limit their messaging to public service notices. One still has to follow the money: No one is going to go to the trouble and expense of reworking statements and databases and print workflows if there isn't a payback. And that will take time.
No one is going to go to the trouble and expense of reworking statements and databases and print workflows if there isn't a payback. And that will take time.
Education needed —again
Just as it has taken some years for variable data printing to gain traction as a marketing tool, it will take some time to educate marketers, database wonks, IT-types, and the ever-elusive C-level execs on how to integrate marketing and transactional materials. There is, to be sure, significant opportunity and potential, but it's not going to happen overnight. We need more examples like those rolled out at InfoTrends' Trans-Promo Summit last month. While one example presented had real stats on their efforts, many more are needed. Hopefully, as more companies take the leap, real-world examples of trans-promo will become more common and serve to show the value. These are essential to building the market.
So is support and training from equipment and software vendors, not only in using the technology they sell, but to help show print providers how to do the sales and marketing and training necessary to build trans-promo volume. Some are already doing this, such as Kodak with MarketMover, the individualized support OcÃ© provides its customers, and Xerox with its Can Do program. These are all a good start, and will no doubt be refined as print providers and their customers begin implementing trans-promo programs.
As more companies take the leap, real-world examples of trans-promo will become more common.
And finally, how do you spell trans-promo?
While I'm not exactly a card-carrying member of the grammar police and don't get overly picky about strict rules of style, naming stuff in this business can be a real nuisance. Trans-promo is one of these things. Depending on which company, writer, publication, or company is involved we have at least four variations:
There's something endemic in computer-related businesses that seems to encourage excessive use of the "shift" key. This looks like a brand name or a trademark, and probably could have been if someone had jumped on it soon enough. It also looks annoyingly self-important, like always capitalizing Digital Printing, or Variable Data. Give me a break.
This is even worse, and makes me think of websites that hyphenate a company name because someone else took the one-word version first.
This just looks silly. In this age of rapidly morphing language and usage, making two words into one, especially a noun, means it will, like Google, be turned into a verb. Print providers will be asked, "Can you please transpromo our next statement?" Or some marketing guy will say, "The direct mail campaign was going to be too expensive so I talked to IT and we transpromoed it." Groan.
Alert readers will note this spelling is what I have used in this little epistle, but it's still not much better than the others. But since I'm a fan of consistency and have a modicum of editorial control around here, that's how it will appear on ODJ unless someone has some compelling reasons why it should be different. Or has a better idea: if you do, drop me a line.
Maybe, as some people have suggested in recent weeks, it should be called something entirely different.
Or maybe, as several people have pointed out to me in recent weeks, it should be called something entirely different. After all, trans-promo has to be explained to anyone who doesn't know what it is. Some have suggested "transactional marketing," but that is really too many syllables for general use, and still needs explanation. And it would inevitably be shortened to something like TransMark, Trans-Mark, transmark, or trans-mark, requiring further explanations and educating one's spell checker.
Whatever its called, trans-promo printing is, while not the next big thing, certainly an application that can help keep digital printing a relevant and effective means of communication. The jury will be out for a while, but my take is that we'll see it grow and become business as usual for a wide range of companies. What I'm especially interested in seeing is it being used in conjunction with personalized URLs to drive new business and deepen customer relationships. But that's a story that's a ways from being written.