Sustainability smackdown: Digital messaging vs. direct mail

sustainability smackdown Digital messaging vs. direct mail

Which is better for the environment – direct mail or digital marketing messages?

There’s a common perception that direct mail, which is a paper-based medium, isn’t as sustainable as digital media, which uses electrons to speed your messages via the internet to your target audience. 

Actually, the opposite is true.

Let’s peel back the layers of both media so we can better understand their environmental impacts.

Digital media

It doesn’t take much energy to send or receive a single email. Its environmental impact isn’t on the desktop – it’s caused by the tens of thousands of server farms that run the global internet. These sprawling data centers need a lot of electricity to run countless servers and other IT equipment, as well as provide cooling for all of them. 

Currently, it’s estimated that data storage and transmission in and from data centers use 1% of global electricity. One single, large data center requires more than 100 megawatts (MW) of power capacity—enough to power around 80,000 U.S. households, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. A significant percentage of that electricity is produced using unrenewable fossil fuels.

Consider, too, that the average marketing email gets a fairly small response rate – usually less than 10%. That means that the majority of those messages are never seen. They’re part of a tidal wave of digital communication that’s mind-bogglingly large: As of 2022, approximately 333.2 billion emails are sent per day, which equals over 3.5 million emails per second. That number continues to grow, too. 

The bottom line: Your audience gets so many email messages per day that the majority of them get ignored. Not very sustainable!

Print media

Paper is the ultimate renewable resource. It can easily be recycled. Much of the paper used to print direct mail pieces, collateral and other marketing materials already contains a significant percentage of recycled content.

According to the American Forest and Paper Association, 66.8% of all paper consumed in the U.S. is recovered for recycling. In addition, the majority of the pulp used to make paper comes from green-growth trees that are specifically farmed for paper production. They are also a renewable resource. 

At Heritage Printing, we routinely use recycled paper for the majority of our client print jobs.

How to improve the sustainability of your direct mail

The biggest thing you can do to improve the sustainability of your direct mail campaigns is to send more targeted mailings. Here are some ways you can do so:

  • Prioritize the contacts on your list and only send them to your “A” and “B” prospects.
  • Remove chronic non-responders (three unanswered messages or more) from your lists.
  • Consider geo-targeting your offers – say, within a certain number of miles from a store or campus location.

In general, focus your sends on the people who are most likely to buy, donate or register. “Spray and pray” (sending direct mail to anyone who could potentially benefit from your offer) is not a sustainable strategy.

What about consumer perceptions that direct mail is wasteful? The key to side-stepping this thinking is to go the extra mile to ensure that your mailings are timely, relevant and personal. If you don’t want your audience to perceive them as junk, you need to put compelling, targeted offers in front of the right people at the right time. Strategic targeting is not only sustainable, but it’s also much more cost-effective than the alternative.

Here at Heritage Printing, we work closely with clients to laser-focus their lists on the people who are most likely to buy, donate or register. We also help to craft messages that target the key needs and concerns of their audiences. Our goal is to create direct mail campaigns that make a bigger impact and help our clients maximize their return on investment. 

Another smart strategy is to utilize digital printing whenever possible. It can produce high-quality pieces in smaller volumes than large offset presses require. This makes it possible to do a smaller initial print run and then re-order more pieces as needed. The result is less printed material to store and less waste – ideal if your brochures or mailers tend to become outdated quickly.

Digital printing also enables personalization, so you can tailor your pieces to make them more personal and relevant. Even simple personalization, such as adding someone’s name to a direct mail piece, can increase the response rate by 135 percent. More advanced personalization can include templated postcard layouts that enable you to insert different images, products and calls to action based on what you know about each prospect. Smart retailers use this approach to significantly increase their sales.

Finally, why not double your reach by partnering with an organization that offers products or services that are complementary to yours? By mailing joint offers to your combined lists, you can reduce your costs, collectively send out fewer mailers and also reach a larger universe of new customers.

Contact us today to discuss how we can increase the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of your next print campaign.

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