August 16, 2006

Four Questions with Paul Stuit

Paul Stuit was kind enough to tackle the "Four Questions" challenge at MineThatData! Paul is Vice President of Sales for the Northwest Region of Strategic Paper Group.

Prior to his work at Strategic Paper, Paul spent twelve years with RR Donnelley as an Account Executive for Northwest catalogers and publishers. During the past thirteen years, Paul has worked closely with Marketing, Creative, Publishing and Production departments in the Northwest to find creative solutions for increasing the cost effectiveness of mailing campaigns. Paul has an MBA from the University of Washington, and a BA in Business and Finance from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

Paul can be reached at 1-800-633-9894, 425-557-0114, or at

Question #1: What impact has multi-channel marketing, and the internet in particular, had on the printing industry, and how has the printing industry evolved to deal with these changes?

Paul: During the initial dot com boom, the expectation that the printing industry was due a rapid decline turned out to be premature. In fact, the printing, paper and other direct mail product/service suppliers found the new internet channel growth to be something of a boon. As online marketers have sought to get their message to the consumer, they have found ever increasing competition for consumer attention, a growing need (or perhaps awareness) for relevance of the message to the individual, and the cold, hard truth that no matter how sophisticated the site the internet has been built as a retail destination or portal with a rather small marketing reach for those who are not otherwise drawn to it.

Since the quiet of this boom (and bust for some) era, the internet has continued to grow more steadily. As this has happened over the last ten years, technology and acceptance of the internet have matured together. To the credit of those who foretold of the replacement of the printed marketing page with electronic media, there has been clear evidence of the replacement of snail mail with electronic mail in marketing. Though much of my feeling on this is based on anecdotal research, I believe that there has been a weeding out of marketing commerce that has resulted in the shift of impetus for a purchase from a traditional marketing call to action to loyal and internet-aware/savvy customers simply going to their favorite retailer’s site to browse and buy, or simply to a favorite search engine to do a quick scan of the market to find out what the more efficient market has now determined that the actual price of an item should be.

So now, in addition to ever increasing raw material costs for print and regular increases in postal rates, we have more informed consumers, a more efficient market and a third, very convenient channel that serves as an opportunity to browse, purchase and/or research for purchase decisions. So, direct mail marketing activities that were formerly effective by the fact that there was no other means to reach target-able customers may have become less effective, and may have found themselves replaced by more efficient and targeted print/mail campaigns or more cost-effective email campaigns.

As a result, service bureaus have had to develop more integrated mail/e-commerce offerings printers have had to address more complexity in the bindery and versioning in the press room, while fighting for their share of a relatively shrinking pie. For printers, these moves can be costly, and for many smaller, regional printers, the opportunity cost of continuing investment in the business has ballooned to an unacceptable level, bringing about industry consolidation. As in the stabilizing and mature stages of any industry life cycle, the strongest will survive and seek to manage the supply end of the balance of print utility.

Question #2: In what innovative ways might a small company, selling merchandise only through the online channel, use print to drive customers to their website?

Paul: Print is certainly effective. While e-mail is arguably the most cost-efficient way to reach a modern audience, it may not be the most cost-effective (assuming the latter definition carries a stronger focus on conversion to sales/profit). The ease with which one can delete or filter incoming e-mail messages and the continuing political pressure to provide consumers with privacy have created an environment hostile to spam or even to more welcome email invitations that have not been specifically authorized by the receiver. In recent years, the same emphasis has been placed on telemarketing.

To date, no one has successfully found a filter for direct mail, save the ever increasing cost of postage. In addition to relatively unencumbered access to the consumers’ mailbox, it is arguable that there is no better targeted medium for the quality representation of brand, images and message to the consumer. So, while a simple postcard may end up costing the mailer over $.30 each to mail (compared to a fraction of a cent for email), the customer has little choice to at least scan the card for relevance to their current interest before deciding to take the piece to the recycling bin. At the least, the consumer is exposed to your piece for a few seconds and must make a relatively conscious decision about its value. In the course of a day, the effort to sort mail and make a trip to the waste bin seems insignificant, but relative to the ease of clicking delete, the impact of an email header or the invisibility of messages screened by filters, the value is significant.

However, as alluded in the previous question, targeting is more important than ever for marketers to bring about cost effective results. Simply throwing a stamp on a piece and sending it “out there” will provide minimal effectiveness. It is recommended that careful thought be given to coordinating the design, layout and message with known customer attributes before finalizing your mailing strategy. This is a process that will improve as the mailer learns more about how they specifically fit into the commercial lives of their target market(s), but there is help available via consultative experts to ensure the proverbial wheel is not being reinvented on the first mailing.

Question #3: What companies do you think do a great job of balancing selling merchandise, and brand marketing, via direct mail?

Paul: This question is tougher to answer as the true results to brand marketing come over a longer period of time and are less measurable than response rate, and because many companies keep the metrics for these results private or buried within the larger sales numbers. In my own experience, I believe the mailers who are most effective in this area are those that provide consistency of brand across all channels. Within “brand” are perceptions of service, quality, value, etc. that must be consistent as well.

To deliver on service in the mail is difficult, but not impossible. Providing an easily found toll free number and web site address, are helpful to showing the consumer that you are there to help. Delivering on price is not so difficult here, but very important. Communicating different prices on a mailer than are available in the store can create confusion or frustration that ultimately runs counter to your goals. Delivering on quality in the mail can be done in many ways. From the grade and finish of the paper you use to the layout and design of the piece and the photography used, you make statements that create impressions in an instant. Companies that are careful to merge these aspects with an understanding of their customer (suggesting some care went into the selection of names as well) can use the direct mail channel to advance their relationship with the customer and reaffirm their position in the customers’ buying/shopping preference set, logically increasing or at least maintaining share of the customers’ wallets as well.

Question #4: If you were an executive at an online, catalog, or multichannel retailer, what are the big issues that need to be dealt with over the next three years, and what advice would you offer to deal with these issues?

Paul: Aside from any specific issues that every company faces daily, here are some general marketing issues that nearly all multichannel retailers will face in the next three years:

  • How to increase relevancy to the target audience in the face of growing numbers of competitors (globalization, internet, etc.).
  • How to manage spending mix between brand development/maintenance and selling; between mail, e-mail, web ads and mass audience marketing.
  • How to address/embrace globalization of supply, competition and consumer markets.


  1. Anonymous1:21 AM

    Yeah - University of Washington! Go Huskies! :) Great interview. I'm from Washington...sorry. ;) Thanks for joining in the Carnival of Business.

  2. Anonymous8:27 AM

    Way to go Pablo.....Give me a buzz sometime, buddy!!


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