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Pushing the envelope online: Print 21 magazine article

Friday, 01 May 2009
By Print21

Letterboxes look set to become even emptier as major companies continue move their essential mail onto the internet – so does that spell the end for the transpromo print market before it even gets going? Mitchell Jordan finds out what the future holds for those involved in this nascent marketing practice.

Nothing sends a shudder down the collective spine of those in the printing industry quite like electronic media. It is an old and ongoing debate with solid arguments coming from both sides, but few can deny the power and influence of online communication, particularly at a time when newspaper and magazine circulations have plummeted to abysmal figures while everyone from Barack Obama to our very own Kevin Rudd has jumped on the Twitter bandwagon.

Another inescapable reality is the rise of online bills. Who wants the burden – and cost – of paper when you can log on and read your statement from the computer screen?

Offline, most consumers would be familiar with receiving personalised, colourful bills spruiking new offers, discounts, and other promotions related to their needs and interests. It’s a long way from the days of bland, black-and-white statements requesting money that read more like death notices, but then that is the strength of transpromo.

Transpromo – short for transpromotional mail – is a direct marketing tool that combines transactional messages with targeted promotional offers, often incorporating colour and personalised messages to appeal directly to consumers. And it has spelt good news for digital printers, opening doors to a new and promising market. In Australia, Fuji Xerox, Ricoh, Kodak and Océ have each honed in on transpromo with their machines boasting special colour capabilities to capture consumer’s eyes.

Now, along with talk of an impending recession, printers have another prospect to fear as transpromo begins to make its inevitable migration online.

Leading the way online
Computershare, the world’s leading provider of investor services and integrated, one-to-one communication solutions, has been involved in transpromo for over a decade, adding the feature to its various communications produced for companies in the telecommunications, insurance, financial and utilities industries.

Peter Milburn, (pictured) managing director of Computershare Communication Services, says that the company first began offering transpromo to clients after seeing it used by Computershare overseas.

“Our research with our global network enabled us to see the trends overseas earlier than most Australians and other domestic companies. We used that insight and brought it back to the Australian consumer,” he says.

It might have seemed like a puzzling offering at first; after all, bills have never been documents associated with excitement, but Milburn was soon able to convince Computershare customers of the benefits.

“Like anything new, it wasn’t relatively understood at the time,” he says. “Australia has been slow to adopt transpromo but we have seen a significant increase in its use and interest lately.”

Milburn believes that it is only natural that we can expect to see more and more transpromo available online as essential mail and direct marketing services opt for electronic alternatives. And this, according to Milburn, is not a bad thing.

“We are embracing and leading the way with electronic communications,” he says. “Of course transpromo still has a place to play in paper-based communications, but there are cases when transpromo can be even more effective online. Channels such as PURLs (personalised URLs) allow greater interaction with people.”

Though Milburn was not prepared to name any of Computershare’s customers specifically, he did say that the majority were more than happy to move into the online sphere after listening to the global trends and realising it was the way of the future.

“Most want to be online,” he admits. “Some of them aren’t quite ready from a technological point-of-view and one or two still believe that their customers aren’t ready and would rather hold back, but I think it will only be a matter of time before they all start to embrace the online channel.”

This isn’t to say that paper will phase out entirely – indeed, it still achieves good results and there is a generation gap evident as not everyone owns a computer or has internet access.

“At the moment, paper is getting a better response rate because the majority of communications go out in paper,” Milburn says. “But it won’t be very long, maybe about 12 months, before there is a dramatic shift in those channels.”

There are a number of reasons for these shifts, though Milburn lists costs and consumer consciousness as two of the most prevalent.

“From a consumer’s point of view, accessing something online is a way that they can assist the environment, while corporations are driven by cost reductions,” he says.

Transpromo is not a new development, though you could be forgiven for thinking so in Australia where the take-up has been slow by comparison with other markets.

Financial institution, ING, is a fan, and uses transpromo on its customer statements while Optus, for example, does not and declined to be a part of this feature to explain why. Milburn believes that transpromo is a practice that has polarised companies, which may explain why some have been keen to take it up while others, like Optus, don’t see it as being so important.

“I put it down to personalities within organisations,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s the individual – whether that is a CEO or marketing manager – who has the responsibility and makes the decision. Not everyone shares the same vision, or has time to investigate and find out about transpromo.”

At the moment, electronic-based documents using transpromo still have a way to go and must learn to adapt to the medium rather than trying to replicate their print counterpart. It’s a bit like when newspapers started to move online and soon found that what makes front-page news doesn’t always sit so well at the top of a computer screen. Milburn shares these beliefs.

“What exists online at the moment is mainly a direct copy of what’s on the paper,” he says. “Early adopters are still using the same image and not building a real interaction with the consumer. Instead, they have just taken advantage of the technology to swap channels.”

Computershare still relies upon its printing machines, which include equipment from Xerox, IBM and Océ’, but Milburn admits the company has changed the way that it manages its technology.

“Globally, Computershare has a very comprehensive fleet of technology,” he says. “From our understanding of the trends overseas and the conversion from paper to electronic, we have to make sure that we don’t end up with a fleet of obsolete technologies, so we are managing that process accordingly.”

Not all bad news
So if essential mail is making its way online faster than you can log on and check your Facebook, what does this mean for printers?

Speaking to some printing suppliers around Australia revealed that the situation is not as dire as we might be led to believe; they are by no means ignorant of this development, and instead see the two mediums as being complementary to one another.

Herbert Kieleithner, (pictured) Océ’s business marketing manager, production printing, has seen strong interest in Océ’s ColorStream product family, along with the JetStream product family, and expects that this will only continue to grow.

“We believe that online media will assist the growth of transpromo as it opens new channels for data collection and events like trigger mailing,” he says. “It will go hand-in-hand in terms of campaigns and the delivery of the right information to the right client pushing higher success rates and better returns.”

Simon Lane, national manager of productions services business at Fuji Xerox, is also well aware of recent developments and accepts that the move towards online is happening.

“There is a perceived view that electronic media is a cheaper way of getting information out to the masses than traditional media. It is possible that essential mail documents could start moving online, but you have to be realistic and accept that there will be some print volume bleeding onto online,” he says.

“I think that the challenge for us as an industry is to make sure that what we provide to our customers is valuable, and one of the ways we try to do that is by showing the value of a printed document in conjunction with online.”

Like most print enthusiasts, Lane believes that the medium will always be stronger and more effective. He points to the popularity of Xerox iGen, which has been one of the machines of choice for mailing houses.

“When you get a piece of mail in the letter box, it is something that you will read,” Lane notes.

“The fact is, essential mail documents get through the filter. People open them. People don’t necessarily open their emails or respond to pop-ups on websites, and that is the strength of the envelope.”

Giving something back

Customer communications group, Salmat, which has also been heavily involved in transpromo, feels it is important for the company to keep its fingers tucked firmly in both the online and print pies so that it can reach as many customers as possible. Peter Hartley, CEO of Salmat BusinessForce, believes that the beauty of transpromo lies in its ability to give clients the opportunity to individually market their entire customer base. This is something that can be achieved effectively in many mediums.

“All the intelligence Salmat has developed around the inclusion of targeted marketing in addressed, printed documents is applied immediately, automatically, to documents delivered through the internet,” he says.

From that basis, Salmat adds features to electronic documents such as mouse rollovers, which provide pop-up text not visible in the document itself, and hyperlinks to allow users to click straight through to web-based promotional campaigns. Hartley has found that the take-up of electronic delivery varies from client to client and, perhaps ironically, Salmat’s print volumes have also increased.

“The fact that clients can utilise a single integrated production facility with intelligent marketing capabilities common to both print and electronic worlds offers some explanation for this,” he says.

Whether it is online or in print, Peter Milburn believes that the trick to making transpromo work is its relevance. The practice works best with those who are “time-poor”.

“For these people, the incentives that transpromo offers are just the trigger to make them take it up,” he says. “People like it when they are getting something in return and not just a discount.

“The key to transpromo is making it relevant to the recipient,” he adds. “You have to understand your data and the way you communicate, whether that is text or a graphic.”

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