Green Direct Mail Is No Longer an Oxymoron
Assigning green attributes to what is popularly known as "junk mail" may arouse skepticism, but some processes and materials used in direct mail truly do promote greater environmental sustainability. And some of today's marketers pursue greener approaches for business reasons that include positioning as a concerned and responsible citizen, marketplace differentiation and lower costs.
The issue remains pertinent because, unlike many traditional media, direct mail continues to grow in the midst of ever-continuing digital transformation. U.S. annual direct mail spending is expected to grow by 2.4 percent in 2012, the third consecutive year of growth, according to the Winterberry Group. Direct Marketing Association figures available on the Print in the Mix website show that direct mail now accounts for more than 30 percent of the annual U.S. spend on advertising.
Still, electronic media are usually less expensive to deploy and more conducive to the consumer interactions that drive today's cutting-edge marketing. So the best returns on marketing investments consistently come from campaigns that blend print and electronic media. These campaigns also are usually more sustainable than traditional direct mail, making many performance-driven marketers accidental champions of the environment.
These marketers can bring even greater benefit to their organizations and the environment by actively pursuing additional sustainability initiatives.
Cross-Media = Green Media
Cross-media campaigns deliver sustainability advantages, in part, because print volumes don't need to be as large. Sharing the sales mission across multiple media can result in lower print volumes, lowering postage costs as well as environmental impact.
Other reasons have to do with the nature of digital printing. Variable data printing (VDP) enables each printed piece to be personalized for enhanced relevance to the recipient, boosting response rates and enabling smaller mailings to match the results of larger, less targeted campaigns. In addition, the short print runs and abbreviated set-up requirements mean offers can be tested endlessly to small groups, helping marketers hone messaging to optimize results and further control print volumes.
More rigorous list scrubbing also can contribute by reducing duplicate and erroneous addresses, cutting the size and number of wasteful returns.
Communications services provider Digital Color International (DCI) of Akron, Ohio has applied approaches such as these to become an environmental advocate to its customers. By creating personalized, multichannel communications spanning Web, email and print—and by offering paper that is recycled or certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) for a sustainable chain of custody—DCI benefits both Mother Nature's and its clients' bottom lines.
"We have started to see the cross-media light bulb go off with many of our clients," said Dave Welner, senior vice president of Corporate Development, DCI. "They are thrilled with the idea that we can help them take a greener approach to business, while increasing their campaign response rates and profit margins."
Green Ordering and Fulfillment
The marketing team's interactions with print providers can also be shaped for enhanced sustainability—and productivity. Electronic job ordering and submission and soft proofing reduce energy and paper usage and associated costs, while boosting efficiency.
Fulfillment systems offer additional opportunities to go green with personalized, just-in-time catalogs and fulfillment pieces that include only the information the target needs. The result can be smaller, more relevant pieces that use less paper to reduce both environmental impact and postage fees. Because these pieces are produced on a just-in-time basis as orders are received, they reduce inventory management and warehousing and its associated costs, obsolescence waste and energy expenditures.
The same basic technology enables development of self-service direct marketing Web portals for organizations with networks of retailers, agents or dealers. These portals provide direct marketing materials that enable local personalization while retaining organizational branding, offering the promise of better response rates, along with better control of corporate branding, print volume and waste.
As an environmental advocate, DCI has developed a Web-to-print solution based upon XMPie's uStore to provide these services. The system enables the 200-plus U.S. dealers of long-time DCI client Norandex, a division of building material leader Saint-Gobain, to invite contractors to local training seminars on proper installation of its products.
Before uStore, DCI printed generic corporate shells for the seminar invitations. The shells were shipped and stored for eventual laser printing with seminar-specific information and then mailed to each recipient. With uStore, DCI provides an online site for Norandex branch managers to upload customer mailing lists, customize seminar mailers, print exactly the amount needed, and mail to recipients. This solution reduced printing, shipping and storage resources and expenses. The program has been a huge success, eliminating significant waste while increasing branch participation from 15 to 100 percent.
What's Behind the Curtain
True champions of sustainability also pay attention to their vendors' production processes and business practices, selecting the greenest providers as their preferred partners. And in printing, where traditional processes have long relied upon hazardous materials, non-toxic alternatives are available today for many production processes.
For example, many offset presses and most digital presses use volatile organic compound (VOC) solvents that require an eyewash station nearby and management of solvent waste drums. However, some digital presses use toners and containers that generate no hazardous waste.
Another consideration: some print providers optimize sustainability throughout their plants. For example, Parsippany, N.J.-based EarthColor, a full-service print provider, has an especially strong commitment to environmental sustainability. EarthColor participates in the Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Leaders Program, runs its facilities on 100 percent renewable wind power, and offers one of the only papers that uses carbon-neutral manufacturing and distribution processes, its own Earth Aware branded paper.
Direct marketing programs need to be performance-driven, but that does not necessarily contradict a commitment to an eco-friendly approach. Many green initiatives fit that requirement, and no doubt that's why more direct marketers are adopting them.