A decade ago, “transpromotional” print — digitally printing targeted promotional content onto transactional documents such as bills and statements — promised to be one of those supremely powerful ideas whose time had come. Opportunity beckoned for corporate print departments with digital capabilities.
As it turned out, its time hadn’t quite come, but a decade later the “transpromo” concept is very much alive and kicking, although often re-christened as “relational marketing” and found under the broad banner of “customer communications.” Research by InfoTrends estimates the global customer communications market is worth $62bn in 2015 and will grow to $79bn in 2018, a CAGR of almost 7%.1
The main driver of this growth is marketers’ recognition of the stronger customer relationships achievable by combining the “must-open-and-read” impact of transactional communications with precision-targeted messaging based on the extensive data organisations hold about consumers. When the cost of gaining a new customer is many times greater than that of keeping an existing one, having an effective customer communications strategy is imperative.
But while relational marketing as a whole is growing, fewer transactional documents are being delivered using print as a medium. Instead, organisations are moving to electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP). InfoTrends predicts a 17% decline in print-only bill and statement distribution by 2017, with a corresponding 13% rise in electronic-only distribution.2
This still leaves a lot of the transactional market to print, of course, and it’s not standing still. In particular, the big change is the move from black-and-white to full-colour printing: Interquest anticipates an annual 9% decline in mono between 2014 and 2019, with full-colour growing by 4.2% a year.3 Several factors are driving this, including the higher quality and lower running costs of today’s full-colour digital inkjet production presses. Many of these are found in the so-called “white paper factories” that have appeared, outputting full-colour pages from white paper, eliminating offset pre-printing.
Another key reason for the growth of full-colour transactional print is the fact that it stands out from the electronic crowd. As customers’ email inboxes become overloaded with electronic content, grabbing their attention gets harder, a situation exacerbated by the growing adoption of spam filters and ad blockers.
But who exactly is doing the printing? Unfortunately for many in-house document management and print departments, it isn’t them. In much of Europe, a significant share of transactional print is being outsourced — over 70% in the UK, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, for example, and even a hefty 40% in the more outsourcing-averse France and Belgium.4
Sending the work outside the organisation became a dominant trend soon after transpromotional print became possible. Talking to organisations about the potential of transpromo in 2004, Interquest found that many were already converting bills and statements into full-colour one-to-one marketing communications.5 By 2009, however, it found the bulk of the work was being handled by a few large transactional service bureaus serving a few large customers who had actually embraced the concept.
If outsourcing is a zero-sum game, then it follows that most of the growth for those service bureaus, and other commercial PSPs in the transactional business, will come at the expense of in-house print departments. Which leaves the corporate transactional print department where exactly? Sitting back accepting that a steady stream of data-driven print will exit the building? Or capitalising on the significant advantages that come with being in-house?
To grasp just what these advantages are, look at it from the point of view of the outside bureaus and consider the challenges they face when bidding for outsourcing contracts. These are considerable, ranging from inadequate databases to the “silos” between departments that persist in many organisations.
The latter should not be underestimated. Among the reasons for the failure of transpromo to take off as expected has been the difficulty of establishing communication between the three departments most involved — marketing, IT and production print — each with its own challenges. Marketing needs to understand exactly what customers want, create exactly the right proposition for each and then be able to track, measure and quantify the impact and ROI. It falls to IT to ensure the data quality, first integrating it from sources likely to be scattered across the organization, then scrubbing, enriching and merging it to provide actionable intelligence. Finally, the print department has to consider issues ranging from user-friendly document design, to specialised workflows and intelligent digital presses capable of combining transactional and promotional data with 100% reliability.
These are undoubted challenges, but consider who is best-placed to meet them, an outside PSP or an in-house production print department? Given how precious the organisation’s customer data is, does it really make sense to entrust it to a third party? In theory, no outside contractor should have a better understanding of the organisation than an in-house department and there are enough high-profile cases of data being lost or compromised to make the C-Suite think twice about letting data leave the building.
Yet in practice the logic isn’t followed, often because of those inter-departmental silos — principally between print and marketing. Canon consultants frequently encounter organisations of all sizes where these departments are thinking along the same lines, aware of the value residing in the organisation’s data and asking themselves how they can extract that value, yet are totally ignorant of the fact. Often the situation is compounded by the C-Suite being unaware of what the print department does, or is capable of doing, and by marketing having a higher profile with senior executives.
The solution — better communication between departments — is simple, but someone has to make the first move, and it should be the print department. The strategy shouldn’t be defensive, because high-quality, relevant and targeted transactional print has a very positive case to make. It has a high “open, read and keep” status: recipients open envelopes because they must and spend more time reading the content. Well-designed, easy-to-understand, personalised print communications improve the customer experience. By combining two or more documents in one envelope, it supports sustainable business practices and saves money.
Electronic communication has enjoyed a decade of growth, but now the pendulum is swinging back towards print. It’s time for the in-house print department to recognise this and seize the opportunity to enhance its value to the organisation. If you don’t, someone else will.
1 Customer Engagement Technologies (CET) State of the Market. InfoTrends, 2015
2 Customer Engagement Technologies (CET) State of the Market. InfoTrends, 2015
3 Transactional Printing in Europe: Market Analysis & Forecast. Interquest, 2014
4 Transactional Printing in Europe: Market Analysis & Forecast. Interquest, 2014
5 Transactional Printing in Europe: Market Analysis & Forecast. Interquest, 2014