It seems anachronistic to ponder the role of traditional communications in the current marketing environment. What benefit can there be in direct mail, in-store marketing, and outdoor advertising in a world of mobile apps, digital voice assistants, and addressable television? It’s hard for marketers to even mention traditional channels for fear of appearing hopelessly behind. There’s only way to reasonably consider these old standbys. You have to believe in harnessing every tool at your disposal to shape a better experience for customers. For at least the next decade, until the feared robot uprising, those customers are exclusively fellow human beings. And we human beings live in a world that blends the digital and physical environments. So the best marketers will create the best experiences by blending what each brings to that experience. Digital formats provide critical elements like timeliness, motion and interactivity. Physical formats bring texture, dimension and focus. It’s hard to beat the efficiency of email, but it’s hard to beat the response rates of direct mail. The direct mail household response rate is 5.1%, compared to 0.6% for email, and 0.2% for online display. We can deliver a more timely message via mobile, but people are more likely to recall information from a printed page. Some studies say brand recall is as much as 70% higher from a printed message than from a digital message.
But setting physical and digital channels in opposition like that is a trap for marketers. Imagine asking a professional singer, who’s trying to build a fan base, to choose between live concerts and studio releases. Anyone from Tony Bennett to Cardi B would say they need both. The job of good marketing is not to take sides between one channels, but to get on the side of the customer. What combination of channels is going to create the best brand experience for the intended audience? The answer is inevitably a thoughtful connection of traditional and digital communications. Good examples include a website for a resort property that triggers an immersive direct mail piece when visitors show a high level of engagement. Another is a follow-up email to a printed charitable solicitation that reminds recipients of the importance of their mission. These types of cases have shown time and again that the best result comes from bridging channels rather than relying exclusively on one or the other. One of the most respected prognosticators of the future of marketing, Rishad Tobaccowala, once noted that “while we are surrounded by algorithms that are data driven, digital and operated on silicon chips, we should never forget that people are analog, carbon based and feeling driven.” That means we need to be guided by the full spectrum of the human experience if we’re to create an effective consumer experience. It’s deep in our bones to want something right away. That’s why the power of digital will be ever more vital to any marketing program. It’s also deep in us to want something we can run our hands and eyes over. That’s why the persuasive power of traditional media will never go away. You could say it’s imprinted in us.