Digital or Print? – Revisiting the debate

In an intriguing post last spring, Doug Stern observed that “digital or print” is the new “paper or plastic.” 

It’s hardly news that most companies have moved from delivering print messages via the USPS to going totally online for a variety of economic and philosophical reasons:  to “go green,” to save money on paper and postage, to get to market more quickly, and to tap into the interactivity and direct buying potential that only a link on the Web can supply.  In fact, Stern cited an estimate that 70% of all business communication was being done online.

But is it really an either/or question?  I say, “No.”  While more often than not the answer should be “both” for the reinforcement that a dual approach offers (paper AND plastic; digital AND print), sometimes only print will do.

Holiday cards and follow up thank you notes after making a key presentation or closing an important sale are two situations where opting for the stamp to send via USPS is clearly the best choice.  Sending something tactile that your recipient can hold and touch certainly says a lot more about your investment in the relationship than a digital card or note.

Business development expert Sara Holtz, founder of ClientFocus, is a firm believer in this more personal touch: “Do you really want to leave the recipient with the impression that he or she isn’t worth a few minutes of your time?” So is Jodi Smith of Mannersmith Consulting:

 In these days of instant communication, cell-phones and e-mail, it is a rare pleasure to receive a handwritten note in the mail. A thank you note tucked in with the bills, junk mail and business correspondence is a true treat.

Other reasons to consider snail mail:

1)      We all get too much e-mail, and it’s easy to hit “delete”.  These days, when something arrives in your US mail box you’re more likely to give it a little more consideration.

2)      E-mails have no shelf life.  Something printed does.  (I have a wonderful little note card from a colleague that still sits on my desk because I love the photo on it so much.  So she’s very often on my radar screen.)

3)      If 70% of communications today are electronic, as Stern maintains, that means that the other 30% are paper. Your odds of getting noticed in the smaller pond are far greater.

There’s also scientific evidence to suggest that our brains are better wired for reading, processing, and retaining the information from printed materials.  

According to a 2007 study by the International Communications Association, it was more difficult for people to process information that they obtained from the computer screen compared to the information they read in print sources. They also read online text 25% more slowly.

Does that mean that longer, less personal, mass-mailed messages like those in newsletters or promotional mail may also be better in printed form? 

More on that later.

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