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Stewards of the environment

Direct mail companies launch new group to discuss best practices for printing sustainably

October 25, 2021  By Ian Howard

The Sustainable Mail Group was launched to start a discussion and inspire research and action about sustainable business practices in the printing industry. Photo © Enrique Del Barrio/ Adobe Stock

In July 2021, a group of companies specializing in printed mail launched the Sustainable Mail Group (SMG). Their mission is “to be stewards of the environment, working within the direct mail industry to offer continuous thought leadership and sustainable solutions that meet consumer demand for responsible mail.”

SMG has 90 members including Canada Post, Lowe-Martin, Direct Response Media Group (DRMG), Domtar, Marketing Kitchen and other companies involved in the production and distribution of printed mail. Ward Griffin, CEO, Lowe-Martin, is SMG’s board chair. Stéphane Dagenais, region manager, Canada–Printing & Publishing Papers, Domtar is the vice-chair. Jennifer Davey, account director at Marketing Kitchen is the board treasurer/secretary. Jennifer Bradbury, president & COO at DRMG, Eleanor Rafter, director of partnership strategy and relationship at Canada Post, and Richard Kouwenhoven, president and COO of Hemlock Printers, round out the SMG board.

Steve Falk, president of Prime Data, is the chair of SMG’s communications committee. I spoke to him about the goals of the new group as well as the potential of direct mail.

Steve Falk

Pressing issues

SMG was created to start a discussion and inspire research and action to address sustainability questions in the printing industry, as the lasting effects of global warming are becoming increasingly apparent.

“When coming out of the pandemic, we want to at least responsibly look at ways of reporting on how the industry creates greenhouse gas emissions, addresses its environmental impact and offer some creative, responsible and balanced solutions,” said Falk.

Further, the print industry has to deal with the damage caused by pandemic-induced economic shutdowns as well as find ways to stop the steady decline in the commercial printing sector.

“This group is trying to not only recover from a drop in overall print use, which is quite substantial, but also trying to comeback with some best practices for printing sustainably,” explained Falk.

SMG is also seeking to revitalize the industry, and bring talented individuals and companies together in order to reimagine the Canadian printing industry, especially the production of direct mail.

Photo © Enrique Del Barrio/ Adobe Stock

Direct mail

Direct mail is an effective marketing tool. According to statistics by Canada Post, direct mail has a 20 per cent higher motivation response than digital media. Consumers pay 39 per cent more attention to campaigns that integrate direct and digital mail than single-medium campaigns.

“There are people who know that direct mail works. Real estate agents, home service providers, restaurants and fast food chains continue to use it because it’s a great way to get in front of people with regular tear-off coupons that are good for a limited time period. It motivates people to come back,” said Falk.

Direct mail helps create reoccurring customers, as it enables brands to ‘remind’ customers about their services and products.

Nevertheless, direct mail is often overlooked by marketers. As Falk explains, the cost of direct mail, new digital channels and a hard-to-understand ROI are hindering the industry’s growth.

“Advertisers have diverse channels to choose from for their marketing campaigns. Print is one of the more expensive forms. Print campaigns take longer to implement and the results are not always available immediately,” said Falk. “Therefore, it’s been challenging to justify print budgets when marketing to advertisers.”

The printing system

On the bright side, technology is enabling printers to personalize direct mail, which makes it more appealing for targeted advertisement campaigns. In his company, Falk uses the Delphax Elan sheet-fed, colour inkjet press.

“We are able to hyper-personalize neighbourhood mailings. Instead of the whole country getting one flyer, we could alternate offers. It basically transfers the best of digital advertisements onto the print medium,” Falk said.

This flexibility allows for direct mail to be catered to specific individuals. As Falk explained, the inkjet technology has brought flexibility into what was mostly a stagnate medium. “With inkjet technology, you can basically on-the-fly variable print just the right amount of mail for each town,” said Falk.

He revealed that some recent campaigns did find success in markets that printing typically doesn’t touch. “We are seeing success with marketers who aren’t traditional mail users,” said Falk. For instance, e-commerce companies that typically promote directly to customers with digital channels are now adopting direct mail effectively. Also, some B2B marketers find print an effective way to boost e-mail and phone marketing now that e-mail is so overcrowded and universally filtered.

Plans for SMG

SMG’s immediate focus is on expanding membership. “We are looking for an expanded group that would include more mail users, such as bankers and marketing professionals,” said Falk. If you want to join the group, visit, and hit the “Join SMG” link. You can also get more information and regular updates on sustainability issues by joining the Sustainable Mail Group on LinkedIn.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of PrintAction.

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