These Documents Get Read 90% of the Time!

More than nine of 10 transactional documents are read by recipients, according to market research firm InfoTrends. Impressive open rates make them an ideal medium for delivering marketing messages. Savvy marketers are searching for ways to leverage detailed customer and transaction data and add value by delivering highly targeted offers and information to the right people at the right time. The key is relevance—and the right document composition software. Preprinted bill inserts that go into every envelope aren’t the answer.

“No one who lives in a big-city, high-rise condominium wants to receive buck slips [inserts] for farm tractor offers,” points out industry consultant Pat McGrew as she shakes a shameful finger at lazy and sloppy brand managers. Even in the perceived age of autopay, “private research conducted by banks, insurance companies, healthcare firms and marketing agencies can confirm that only about one in three people want eDelivery exclusively,” she reports. Transactional documents delivered on paper continue to command customers’ attention.

Pat McGrew is the managing director of McGrewGroup, Inc. and has served as an HP “inkjet evangelist” as well as a transpromo expert for Kodak.

A Captive Audience

Still, with eyes squinting, McGrew questions the jaw-dropping statistics about open rates. “This is well-trodden ground,” she says, “yet nobody really knows for sure.” McGrew, who once covered production software/workflow for InfoTrends, does acknowledge bill payers as a captive audience. “We’ve been telling this story for 20 years,” she notes, “since the early 2000s, and I’m still amazed at how many bills I get in the mail that are still black and white with no marketing messages.”

Despite the rise of digital statement delivery over the past few years, fully 66% of U.S. consumers prefer either paper billing only or a combination of paper statements and electronic billing. Many travelers and “snowbirds” opt for electronic documents for part of the year and revert to paper preferences upon returning to their primary residences. Additionally, the go paperless, “greenwashing” campaigns mounted by many financial institutions, public utilities, and others have been frowned upon as politically incorrect. Consumers recognized the pleas to switch off paper were less about the environment and more about saving money on paper, envelopes, and postage.

Transpromo Trends

Trans-promotional (or transpromo) printing is a blend of transactional and promotional output. With their extremely high open rates, bills and statements represent a valuable channel for related or co-branded products and services. For example, a mortgage payment statement can also contain advertisements for home improvement, home security, or pest-removal services.

“HP socialized the term ‘transpromo’ to sell color inkjet presses,” McGrew recalls. “There was a move away from pre-printed shells to the ‘white paper factory,’ where every page could be different.” That was the vision, she says, but the reality is more difficult than it sounds.

“Acquiring the necessary data becomes a staff issue and, essentially, a cost issue,” McGrew explains. “During the mini-recession in 2009, print production workflows were cleaner but output was still mostly static because people couldn’t afford the staff [for it]. We are seeing the same thing now.” It is not a “cheap” proposition, she continues. “People are still needed to write the rules.”

Software Makes Transpromo Possible

Document composition software makes embedding promotional messages in transactional documents possible, cushioning the cost. User-friendly interfaces allow business users to write the rules that control which promotional messages are inserted into the documents. Automated solutions from Eclipse allow companies to place promotional or informational messages in otherwise unused portions of transactional documents. The messages can be data driven, appearing only when certain words or phrases are found in detail lines. Or the software can include promotional messages only when space allows, such as when transaction details don’t fill up the page.

Marketers use different methods to achieve the desired results, of course. Seasonal messaging is a common strategy. Another strategy targets buying behaviors to interweave line-item offers: You purchased such-and-such item. Next month, receive 40% off! The text-centric discount offer “needs to appear ‘like magic’ in a set space every month,” says McGrew, who lends her design expertise. “The goal is to train people where to look.”

Making Room for Marketing Messages

Eclipse’s software allows organizations to choose where marketing messages are inserted into the documents. Business users specify fixed areas reserved for messaging or variable sized blank areas in the detail section of the documents. The software can even insert data-driven ads within the body of the document, connecting an offer or informational message directly to the line item to which it refers.

For more details about how Eclipse products enable companies to leverage the power of otherwise unused areas of transactional documents, see the article: Reclaim That White Space!

Typically, the top two-thirds of printed statements are reserved for transactional information, with the bottom third serving as a remittance slip (complete with micro-perforation). But even this layout is changing. “Fewer people are paying with checks, so this space is being used more and more for marketing purposes,” McGrew observes.

Note that business rules can control whether a remittance stub is printed on any bill. Extra space for messaging is available on bills sent to customers who enroll in autopay, for example. They don’t need a remittance stub.

In the transactional document realm, paper still rules. Many consumers went back to favoring paper after the lockdowns. The tactile, haptic experience of receiving paper mail can have a comforting effect for human beings. They also favor the physical documents as reminders to pay the bills over notifications sent by email or text.

The bottom line is this: If your organization isn’t taking advantage of the incredible viewership of items such as printed bills and statements, your brand ambassadors are missing out on a powerful opportunity!