- Today’s consumers want the power to decide which channels their providers use to communicate with them.
- The share of transactional communications that are accessed digitally has declined over the past three years, suggesting that the once-predicted spike in the acceptance of electronic communications has flattened.
- Today’s consumers are clamoring for relevant, targeted communications, and these demands were reflected in the wide array of embellishments, CMYK+ capabilities, print engines, and software enabling these effects at PRINT 19.
By Marc Mascara and Eve Padula
Since the beginning of time, human beings have always striven to communicate with one another. The ways in which we communicate have changed with each new discovery or innovation, and the need to share information has only increased throughout history. As we progress through Industry 4.0 and make our way toward Industry 5.0, we are witnessing a time when the sheer number of communication channels has more than tripled. Citing recent research from Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends and news from PRINT 19, this article explores the ongoing shifts in customer communications.
The Consumer is in Control!
When a new communication channel emerges, we have historically been told which media type it fits. In some cases, these new methods actually constrain our communication practices rather than expand them. For a modern-day example, just look at our utility or credit card statements. Today’s consumers are bombarded with online pop-ups and marketing messages on our printed bills that urge us to “go paperless.” Some organizations have begun steering us away from e-mail communication in favor of app-based notifications. This assumes that all of us have smartphones, even though data from Statista suggests that just under 30% of us do not! It also assumes that we want to use these smartphones to handle our personal financial communications. Assumptions aside, InfoTrends’ most recent research on transactional communications reveals that consumers are demanding something different.
According to InfoTrends’ Annual State of Transactional Communications research, an overwhelming share of consumers want the power to decide which channels their providers use to communicate with them. In this age of consumer empowerment, attempting to steer customers in a particular direction simply isn’t going to cut it. As shown in the Figure below, consumers of all ages are demanding a say in how their providers communicate with them. Although older consumers were particularly likely to agree that they wanted to decide how their providers communicated with them, the power to choose communication channels is essential to all consumers.
Figure 1. Communication Channel Preferences
Base: Total Consumers in the US and Canada
Source: Annual State of Transactional Communications Survey; Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends 2019
This research data confirms that today’s consumers will no longer accept an either/or scenario—they have come to expect that the information they seek will be made available on the media and channel of their choosing when they want it. They also want the ability to move back and forth seamlessly among platforms. It is worth noting that this preference encompasses transactional as well as direct marketing channels and persists regardless of media type.
In the era of personalization, today’s consumers have come to expect a high level of relevance in their communications. “One size fits all” communications are no longer acceptable; consumers are demanding meaningful, relevant communications that reflect their individual needs and purchasing habits. Whether it’s an online loyalty statement or a direct mail promotion, a high level of personalization is a must.
Electronic vs. Printed Communications
When we dig a little deeper into the trends concerning electronic vs. print channels, InfoTrends’ research uncovers an interesting pattern over the past three years. The share of transactional communications that are accessed digitally has declined, suggesting that the once-predicted spike in the acceptance of electronic communications has flattened. Interestingly, the decline in electronic access was particularly sharp among consumers between the ages of 18 and 34.
Figure 2. Share of Transactional Communications Accessed Electronically
N = Varies; Base: Total Consumers in the US and Canada
Source: Annual State of Transactional Communications Surveys; Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends 2017 – 2019
These same respondents also expected their preference for paper-based communications to increase, validating the notion that direct mail is not experiencing the steep decline that had once been predicted.
Trends from PRINT 19
Although some expected the PRINT 19 event to signal the end of an era for trade shows, the buzz on the show floor told and entirely different story. The print, post-print, and software vendors in attendance provided a direct line to the evolving communication channels that are bombarding print service providers (PSPs) and brand owners on a daily basis. Today’s consumers are clamoring for relevant, targeted communications, and these demands were reflected in the wide array of embellishments, CMYK+ capabilities, print engines, and software enabling these effects on the show floor.
Xerox stepped up its CMYK+ offerings during PRINT 19, shifting beyond its typical production equipment and office devices. Specifically, Xerox’s new PrimeLink brings targeted CMYK+ and high-quality printing to the masses. Today’s print vendors have evolved beyond supplying solutions for a single media and communication channel, branching out to better address the hyper-channel world that is evolving. The exhibitors at PRINT 19 were clearly aware of the trends we see in the market, showcasing omni-channel solutions that enable PSPs to broaden their offerings and expand their digital printing options. For example, Solimar showcased its Chemistry platform featuring post-composition document re-engineering, which facilitates the transition from print-only to the multi-channel delivery that today’s consumers are demanding. This ultimately ties into bringing PSPs the software and know-how to address their clients’ marketing requirements. Meanwhile, Crawford Technologies highlighted its AccessibilityNow platform, which answers the call for accessible formats that are now often mandated by regulators to accommodate delivery across multiple communication channels. Crawford’s businesses and organizations can also be the delivery provider for the accessible communication channels, addressing customer expectations at an unprecedented level.
XMPie, which has developed a reputation for addressing multiple communication channels, announced its enhanced personalized video offering at PRINT 19. The company captured the aspect of meaningful, relevant communication and further stepped up its game within the video channel. This solution enables each recipient to access a video via a personalized link from an e-mail message or even a digitally-led printed piece, driving the value proposition for PSPs to address multiple outbound communications from one provider.
The United States Postal Service leveraged its presence at PRINT 19 to promote its services, demonstrating how they tie into multiple communication channels. The USPS runs several promotions each year, and a notable one for 2019 is the Emerging & Advanced Technology Promotion. The USPS understands that direct mail has the potential to bring advantages when it is delivered via an integrated print and digital channel. By incorporating technologies like near-field communication (NFC) tags, augmented reality (AR), video in print, and a host of other innovations into a marketing campaign, marketers and advertisers can create campaigns that drive interest in direct mail as part of an omni-channel component. As an added incentive, firms that incorporate these technologies can realize an up-front 2% postage discount. The USPS notes that blending a physical mail piece with a trigger (e.g., an AR-based app or Quick Response code) can generate a Shoppable Video via a mobile device. Using vertical video maximizes the viewing space and creates opportunities for increased advertising messaging.
XMPie also showcased a beta version of its upcoming 3D preview capability. The company believes that this offering will be a game-changer for the user experience on a web store, and InfoTrends believes it will enable brands to use the B2C promotional space to augment their communication channels with personalized products or promotions.
XMPie’s 3D Preview capability
The Bottom Line
Many of the innovations from PRINT 19 show us that vendors are acknowledging the shifts in consumer preferences and the need to provide solutions for multiple communication channels. Consumers want control over their communication experiences, and many of these solutions deliver extreme personalization and customization while also increasing engagement with a stellar customer experience.
Marc Mascara is the Director of Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ Customer Communications Advisory Service. In this role, he supports customers with strategic go-to-market advice related to customer communications. His responsibilities include conducting market research and analysis, consulting engagements, forecasting market growth, client care, and providing coverage of industry events.
Eve Padula is a Senior Editor/Writer for Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ Production Services with a focus on Business Development Strategies, Customer Communications, and Wide Format. She is responsible for creating and distributing many types of InfoTrends content, including forecasts, industry analysis, and research/multi-client studies. She also manages the editing cycle for many types of deliverables.