If print is dead, why is my recycling bin so full?

Posted on by Greg Cholmondeley | 3 Comments »

As I took out my trash this morning, I noticed that my paper recycling bin was overflowing again. Furthermore, I noticed the couple across the street dragging out two recycling bins of paper. By the way, this is not seasonal … it’s a pretty typical week. I can only imagine what next week’s will be like with all our boxes, packing material, and wrapping paper. So, what is all this printed material and what happens to it between arriving at my house and landing in the recycling bin?

I’m tempted to start keeping track of this for a month to better understand what’s happening, but here’s a quick spot analysis which raised a few of my neighbors’ eyebrows as I sifted through my bin in the driveway.

First what it’s not:

No personal correspondence. I can’t recall the last time I received a personal letter and have received a grand total of 2 personal and 2 professional Christmas cards this week – none of which made it to the box yet.

No bills or statements: Almost all of my bills, statements, EOBs and prospectuses now arrive electronically.

No “personalized” offers: We receive very few items which are obviously personalized to us other than by including personal information. So, yes, I received at least a half-dozen credit card and insurance offers with my name in them this week – but they aren’t even included because they are sitting in my office waiting to be shredded.

No newspapers: We get our news online. I love the feel of reading newspapers, but cancelled our subscription to the local paper years ago when the advertising ratio became absurd. I even remember the day. It was the day when the entire “State and Local News” section contained 7 and a half pages of advertising with only one, half-page article.

So what is in there?

Corrugated shipping boxes: With 2 jobs and 2 kids, we do most of our shopping online. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the shipping boxes for my kids’ gifts won’t be in the yellow box until next week.

Folding cartons: These appear to mostly consist of shoe and cereal boxes. Did I mention that I’m married with children?

Generic coupons: We receive an unbelievable number of magazine-style coupon booklets for chain restaurants we never visit, for items we never buy, and for home furnishings which are truly terrifying in price and appearance.

Catalogs: Yes, we seem to still receive a lot of catalogs. The only one I ever look at is Brookstone but only for entertaiment. My few Brookstone purchases are made in their airport locations out of boredom during long layovers.

Non-personalized Offers: Generic credit card applications, insurance offers, real estate offers, travel offers, investment offers and so forth. An additional annoyance with these is that since we are a couple, we often receive two copies of each.

Charitable Giving & Membership Requests: We receive a few of these every week. The only significant difference at this time of year is that now they tend to include return labels and religious-themed Christmas cards which we never use.

Trial and Free Magazines: We usually receive one or two of these each week. The kids thumb through them if they contain pictures of cute animals.

What’s the message?

Personalization: We tout the power of personalized direct mail at PODi but it saddens me to see virtually none of it in my mailbox. The only recognizable exceptions are the coupons for shoes from a store my wife frequents. I’m not sure that these are really personalized, but at least these offers seem to be driven by her purchases.

Segmentation: Dear credit card company, why are you sending credit card applications to people who are already card holders? Real Estate Agents, why are you wasting money trying to convince me to put the house I just bought 5 months ago on the market? With the exception of a massive and temporary influx of house-related materials that appeared right after we closed, I see no obvious segmentation in my mail. Sending someone with 2 young kids a mailer about 2-seater luxury coupes is a stretch. This family of four is, however, about to purchase a minivan … but, of course, we have never received any mail about vehicles like that.

Messaging: Guys, if any of my mail does contain tailored messages and offers – it isn’t working. Virtually none of this material merited more than a glance before it went into the bin. Think about it, most of my paper recycling is shipping boxes. We clearly buy a lot of things and yet I am appalled that none of these companies understands our interests enough to offer us anything we want.

Being in this industry, I am thrilled that so much is still being printed and that, at least for this household, the volume is increasing. However, with the exception of packaging materials, most of it is still offset-printed and 99.9% was only opened to determine if it contained information needing to be shredded. At some point, companies are going to realize this and decide to try something different.

Our industry needs to double down on educating our clients on how to get people like me to read and respond to direct mail. This is very doable but needs to reach marketing and campaign managers rather print buyers. It needs to include theory, data, innovative ideas, real-life examples and stories that will bring these concepts to life for them and inspire new creativity. The technology is in place and, despite the vast number of stories in our PODi case study library and the great examples discussed at the AppForum conference, the marketing transition clearly hasn’t happened yet on a large scale. This still is a ripe opportunity for those who choose to pursue it.

3 Responses to “If print is dead, why is my recycling bin so full?”

Comment from Laura
Time January 20, 2014 at 6:25 am

You’ve completely hit the nail on the head – we’re still getting a lot of un-targeted direct mail. For example I constantly get direct mail from Virgin Media, yet I can’t have their services at my home! Therefore sending the mail to me is completely useless.

Comment from liz lewis
Time February 28, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Well said! I just gave a tour of my print shop today and i told the young designer…”If you take away only ONE TAKE AWAY today, take away this…PERSONALIZE..USE DATA IN YOUR PRINT. Yes. Design wonderful pieces! But CONNECT with your recipient. Personalize your print to be relevant to what they care about!” Thank you Greg for the article. And i love the breakdown of the recycle bin. clever and informative at the same time!
- liz lewis in st. louis.

Comment from Greg Cholmondeley
Time February 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Great comments Laura and Liz. I really like your comment about relevancy, Liz. Personalization can be an effective way to grab someone’s attention, which is very important, but that’s only half the battle. Using it to make the offer relevant and compelling is where results come from. You’ve captured a key message from my upcoming Relevant Direct Marketing session at AppForum.

Thanks to both of you.

– Greg

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