July 22, 2022 By Adam Armstrong
For the past decade, the separation between transactional mailers or billers and direct marketing mailers has been closing. As organizations work to deliver better offerings to customers who want fewer vendors, merging transactional and direct marketing mail into a single provider enables an organization to focus on delivering a better customer experience and enhancing their communication delivery. Hence, many direct marketing mailers have procured composition platforms, as well as the printers and hardware needed to add transactional mail to their portfolio. They are implementing the same technology and workflow required for transactional mailings, including secure processing and piece-level tracking.
Taking on transactional work can be a daunting task for unprepared direct marketing mailers. There are many things to consider before making the transition. One of the biggest is defining the starting point, as there are so many areas of complexity with transactional mail. For one, the added security required to process transactional work can be a deterrent. Jumping straight into PCI and HIPAA work can be risky and intimidating for businesses with limited expertise in this area. However, many marketing mailers have made the transition by taking it slowly and committing to invest in training, people, and workflow software.
Top considerations before taking the leap
Transactional mail is designed to be a completely automated process, so workflow is one of the most important factors that can make or break profitability. For example, when the data files arrive, they are run through an auditing and validation process before becoming print files. In most organizations, this is a touchless workflow. If approvals are required, a good workflow solution will push this responsibility back to the client. This is a slightly different process than direct marketing mail as many marketing mail applications involve a one-off setup that is handled manually. To make a profit and reduce errors, transactional mail requires a touchless workflow that automates data auditing and provides visibility and graphical, real-time reporting to all key stakeholders.
Software is another area where marketing mailers can thrive or fail. Creating the mail piece, correspondence or piece of communication is relatively easy for a good marketing mailer. Direct marketing mailers are experts at personalization and many of them have superior graphics skills and understand one-to-one marketing better than transactional mailers. These skills, combined with a strong knowledge of colour and the manufacturing process, set them up very well to ensure success. However, most transactional data require CASS/PAVE postal data processing that needs to be completed against pre-defined business rules with no human intervention. Many smaller marketing mailers are not set up with the correct software components to automate postal processing.
Another area of consideration is job feedback. Customers expect real-time updates to be delivered via email and most require a web portal where they can see the status of their files 24 hours a day. The software used for transactional mail needs to provide low-code workflow setup, email job alerts, web-based secure job approval and workflow dashboards and reporting.
Next, look at the management and culture changes needed to handle transactional work. This starts with the need for the sales team to have a comprehensive understanding of mail. Transactional mail contracts are often multi-year agreements with weeks or months of set up and testing, so it can be challenging for a customer to move to a new provider. Sales staff that usually sells direct marketing mail will have to be educated on the terms, processes and specific details required of transactional mailers. It is very important to fully understand what customers look for in a transactional mailer.
Inkjet-based production environment
Inkjet has removed many of the differences between transactional statement-style printing and marketing mail. Direct marketing mailers have always been amazing at personalization, but business rules and turnaround times of transactional mail created issues for those trying to make the transition in the past, as they did not have fast enough printers. Inkjet has solved this issue. Most inkjet systems are fast enough to meet even the tightest same-day mailing requirements for any size organization.
For transactional mail, inkjet has simplified the paper stock requirements with the ability to replace pre-printed forms to enable many organizations to remove racks and racks of pre-printed paper and utilize technology, such as personalized layouts and one-to-one images, that marketing mailers have been using for years. Inkjet has not only made it easier to make the transition to transactional business, but it has also given marketing mailers a large advantage: Many of them are experts at dealing with large PDF print files and hundreds or thousands of high-resolution images, whereas transactional mailers traditionally managed rather small data files and all the resources were called from the printer controller as needed. Inkjet presses, combined with PDF-centric workflows, have been a catalyst for enabling the worlds of marketing mail and transactional billing to merge.
Making the move
Direct marketing can be very lucrative. However, volumes and demands change during certain times of the year and can affect a company’s financial stability. When a recession hits, marketing budgets are the first to get cut. Conversely, transactional mail is necessary as part of many industries’ regulatory obligations, requiring an exceptional level of precision manufacturing that can bring risk. On the upside, it is repeatable and contracted and arises on a set schedule every day, week, or month. Traditionally, transactional mail enables mailers to forecast and schedule staff and is terrific for keeping steady volumes, which, for a marketing mailer, can allow them to weather extremely tough times.
Transactional mail contracts can be a challenge to secure and require a high level of accuracy, but if a direct marketing mailer is up to the challenge, it can offer a reliable cushion and enable a business to grow into a long-term, profitable revenue source.
Adam Armstrong is product manager at Crawford Technologies, a provider of document solutions that streamline, improve and manage customer communications. Visit www.crawfordtech.com.
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