3 Ways to Make Your Postcards Stand Out

Back in the day (yes, I was a creative back then), prior to cheap 4-Color process printing, you had to find creative, inexpensive ways to get your postcards noticed in the mail. I was the king of using two PMS colors in combination to look as if you had full color, and an expert in paper stocks. Most importantly I learned all I could about printing. Why? Because printing techniques were and are one of the best tools in my creative toolbox.

Back in the day (yes, I was a creative back then), prior to cheap 4-Color process printing, you had to find clever, inexpensive ways to get your postcards noticed in the mail. I was the king of using combinations of two PMS colors to portray full color, and an expert in paper stocks. Most importantly, I learned all I could about printing. Why? Because printing techniques have always been one of the best tools in my creative toolbox.

Today I will discuss three of my favorite printing techniques — when applied to your concept, they can help your postcards stand out.

1. Paper

This is the easiest and one of the most effective ways to make your mail stand out. There are so many paper stocks that will make recipients stop and take a second look at your mail. But in today’s 4-Color world, creatives are not considering paper as much as they should.

Consider an ultra-heavy stock, or even sandwiching two sheets together. Most mail is floppy. If your postcard is the most rigid in a stack of mail, it will receive attention. That few extra seconds your consumers spend investigating will increase your response rate.

moothickpaper
Moo doubled up stock with edge color

You should choose stocks heavier than 16pt — double it up and make it 32pt. Print one side of the sheet, sandwich two sheets together and then trim to size. Printing companies like Moo Cards offer this as a standard option.

Your stock could be particle board on which you can use production techniques like embossing, silk screening or letterpress.

Companies like Ward/Kraft are sandwiching your postcard in plastic. I know, I know: Plastic will increase your postage costs. But not with this product — they’re getting standard postage rates. This card is extremely rigid and has options for punch-out cards and tags.

Ward/Kraft plastic pop-out card
Ward/Kraft plastic covered postcard with pop-out cards

2. Texture

Texture is a wonderful way to make materials stand out. Our fingers are amazingly aware and notice anything that is abnormal. Bumpy, sticky, rubbery surfaces — anything that is not the regular feel of paper.

Use a gloss or matte varnish as a texture for sections of your postcard. Varnishes across the entire piece, like matte or glossy, will not create the unique texture you want. You want gaps for your fingers to distinguish the differences. This will also work for spot UV as well, which can create an even more dramatic effect.

Spot Gloss Varnish
Spot Gloss Varnish from tasteofinkstudios.com

Don’t Get Trashed — Is Recycling Discarded Mail Profitable? — Part II

In our previous post of “Marketing Sustainably,” we introduced an expert discussion on whether or not recycling collection of discarded mail, catalogs, printed communications and paper packaging is profitable, and why this matters is an important business consideration for the direct marketing field. In this post, we continue and conclude the discussion with our two experts, Monica Garvey, director of sustainability, Verso Paper, and Meta Brophy, director of procurement operations, Consumer Reports.

In our previous post of “Marketing Sustainably,we introduced an expert discussion on whether or not recycling collection of discarded mail, catalogs, printed communications and paper packaging is profitable, and why this matters is an important business consideration for the direct marketing field.

In this post, we continue and conclude the discussion with our two experts, Monica Garvey, director of sustainability, Verso Paper, and Meta Brophy, director of procurement operations, Consumer Reports. The conversation is based on a Town Square presentation that took place at the Direct Marketing Association’s recent DMA2012 annual conference.

Chet Dalzell: If much of the recovered fiber goes overseas, what’s the benefit to my company or organization in supporting recycling in North America?

Monica Garvey: The benefit—companies can promote that they support the use of recycled paper because they believe that recovered fiber is a valuable resource that can supplement virgin fiber. Recycling extends the life of a valuable natural resource, and contributes to a company’s socially responsible positioning. While it’s true that the less fiber supply there is locally, the higher the cost for the products made from that recovered fiber domestically, it’s still important to encourage recycling collection. Because recovered fiber is a global commodity, it is subject to demand-and-supply price fluctuations. If demand should drop overseas, and prices moderate, there may be greater supply at more moderate prices here at home, helping North American manufacturers; however, this is very unlikely. RISI, the leading information provider for the global forest products industry, projects that over the next five years, world recovered paper demand will continue to grow aggressively from fiber-poor regions such as China and India. Demand will run up against limited supply of recovered paper in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world and create a growing shortage of recovered paper worldwide.

CD: Is there a way to guarantee that recovered fiber stays at home (in the United States, for example)?

Meta Brophy: Yes! Special partnerships and programs exist that collect paper at local facilities and use the fiber domestically, allocating the recovered paper for specific use. ReMag, for example, is a private firm that places kiosks at local collection points—retailers, supermarket chains—where consumers can drop their catalogs, magazines and other papers and receive discounts, coupons and retailer promotions in exchange. These collections ensure a quality supply of recovered fiber for specific manufacturing uses. It’s a win-win for all stakeholders involved.

I recommend mailers use the DMA “Recycle Please” logo and participate in programs such as ReMag to encourage more consumers to recycle, and to increase the convenience and ease of recycling.

CD: What’s the harm of landfilling discarded paper—there’s plenty of landfill space out there, right?

MG: Landfill costs vary significantly around the country—depending on hauling distances, and the costs involved in operating landfills. In addition, there are also environmental costs. By diverting usable fiber from landfills, we not only extend the useful life of a valuable raw material, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions (methane) that result when landfilled paper products degrade over time. There are also greenhouse gases that are released from hauling post-consumer waste. While carbon emissions may not yet be assessed, taxed or regulated in the United States, many national and global brands already participate in strategies to calculate and reduce their carbon emissions, and their corporate owners may participate in carbon trading regimes.

CD: You’ve brought up regulation, Monica. I’ve heard of “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) legislation. Does EPR extend to direct marketers in any way?

MG: EPR refers to policy intended to shift responsibility for the end-of-life of products and/or packaging from the municipality to the manufacturer/brand owner. It can be expressed at a state level via specific product legislation, framework legislation, governor’s directive, or a solid waste management plan. EPR has begun to appear in proposals at the state level in the United States. EPR, for better or worse, recognizes that there are costs associated with waste management on all levels—not just landfilling, but waste-to-energy, recycling collection and even reuse.

These waste management costs currently are paid for in our taxes, but governments are looking to divert such costs so that they are paid for by those who actually make and use scrutinized products. Thus EPR can result in increased costs, were states to enact such regulation on particular products such as paper, packaging and electronic and computer equipment. Greatest pressure to enact EPR most likely focuses on products where end-of-life disposition involves hazardous materials where recycling and return programs may make only a negligible difference. Many will state that the natural fibers in paper along with the extremely high recovery rate of 67 percent makes paper a poor choice for inclusion in any state EPR legislation. That is also why the more we support the efficiency and effectiveness of existing recycling collection programs, the less pressure there may be to enact EPR regulations directly. It will likely vary state to state where specific concerns and challenges may exist.

CD: Does the public really care if this material gets recycled? Do they participate in recycling programs?

MB: Yes, they do. Even a public that’s skeptical of “greenwashing”—environmental claims that are suspect, unsubstantiated or less than credible—participates in recycling collection in greater numbers. Both EPA and American Forest & Paper Association data tell us the amount of paper collected is now well more than half of total paper produced, and still growing—despite the recent recession and continued economic uncertainty. Recycling collection programs at the hometown level are politically popular, too—people like to take actions that they believe can make a difference. And as long as the costs of landfilling exceed the costs or possible revenue gain of recycling, it’s good for the taxpayer, too.

CD: At the end of the day, what’s in recycling for my brand, and the direct marketing business overall?

MB: I see at least three direct benefits—and nearly no downside. First, a brand’s image benefits when it embraces social responsibility as an objective. Second, being a responsible steward of natural resources, and promoting environmental performance in a way that avoids running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission’s new Green Guides environmental claims—positions a brand well in practice and public perception. And, third, and I see this firsthand in my own organization, both the employee base and the supply chain are more deeply engaged and motivated as a result, too. Certainly, in the direct marketing business overall, there are similar gains—and I’m excited that the DMA has embraced this goal for our marketing discipline.

Catalogers & Publishers Get ‘Lucky’ as Their Mail Gets a Valuable Second Life

I recently took a trip to Sonoma County, Calif. While I was there, I learned of an innovation with a firm called REMAG that would have consumers return their used, mailed catalogs and magazines to REMAG-administered kiosks and recycling collection bins in test store locations. By scanning a barcode on the label of a returned catalog or magazine at the kiosk location, the consumer can receive multiple coupons of their choice for a future purchase from a publisher or catalog, a wide variety of store items, or other kiosk marketing sponsor-partner.

I recently took a trip to Sonoma County, Calif., and while the trip involved some sight-seeing among my business goings-on, it also had its share of personal visits to the local grocer, a nearby store called Lucky.

Lucky is part of a store chain owned by a firm called SaveMart, another California-based food retailer. SaveMart operates both Lucky and SaveMart in 243 store locations throughout California.

While I was there, I learned of an innovation with a firm called REMAG that would have consumers return their used, mailed catalogs and magazines to REMAG-administered kiosks and recycling collection bins in test store locations. By scanning a barcode on the label of a returned catalog or magazine at the kiosk location, the consumer can receive multiple coupons of their choice for a future purchase from a publisher or catalog, a wide variety of store items, or other kiosk marketing sponsor-partner. It’s not that much different from returning cans and bottles to a kiosk, except catalogs and magazines don’t come with deposits to be redeemed—consumers instead are rewarded with coupons for recycling.

It struck me how much of a win/win/win this is for everyone, and made me curious as to whether or not REMAG, which is a two-year-old company, is set to take off.

Think about all the benefits that are accrued here among stakeholders:

The consumer gets a handily located recycling kiosk just as they are entering a food retail location for this highly desired grade of recovered paper—old catalogs and magazines (OMG). OMG is highly valued since its fibers are usually long, dense and strong, making it a valuable component of subsequent manufactured recycled paper products. For their efforts, the customers are awarded a discount, coupon or other incentive to purchase from the very companies and brands they frequent.

For the retailer, REMAG kiosks are a great way to attract new customers and reward customer loyalty. The retailer also generates revenue for the valuable OMG that is recovered at the kiosk, alongside the customer purchases made during the store visit. In addition, with five cents of every coupon going to a local charity, the store gets customer “good will” for siting the kiosk and is assisting the local community—always popular for retailers. Lastly, as another recycling station—in this case for OMG paper—the REMAG kiosk is easily integrated into a store’s already-existing recycling collection center (where bottles and cans are collected, and deposits redeemed).

The catalog retailer and magazine publisher also gain from good will, while extending future purchase opportunities to the consumer who is performing the recycling collection task. (Most likely these consumers are already a catalog prospect or customer, or subscriber or casual reader of the magazine.) In turn, by way of incentives, these marketers may receive a new merchandise purchase by way of the coupon, or a new, renewed or gift subscription that otherwise may have gone untapped, or pushed off to another unspecified time. As magazine newsstand sales wane, this innovation could be an important method to attract new customers and remind readers to renew, or to perhaps extend a gift subscription to another.

REMAG gains, too. Whether or not the kiosks carry the REMAG branding, or that of the host store or other marketing partner (publishers, catalogers, recyclers, paper companies, etc.), the company gets to share a percentage of the coupon redemption revenue for every new product order or subscription it generates for its partners, as well as revenue for category sponsorships.

Local recyclers or paper companies with which REMAG does business get to put the collected papers to subsequent productive use—ensuring another life for a valuable fiber and an affordable source for that fiber. Despite the uncertain economy, there is a critical shortage of recovered paper—and all indications are that this commodity will continue to grow in demand globally. Magazine publishers and catalogers have an easy way to show that they are part of the solution.

Think global, act local. I suspect most California consumers, like most Americans, love to recycle, or at least support recycling collection activity as a matter of habit. The key is to make recycling collection easy and convenient. With a financial reward for recycling, both REMAG and SaveMart are excited about the prospects for a successful trial.

According to REMAG’s sustainability consultant David Refkin, the Lucky/SaveMart kiosk placement agreement initially will involve up to 8 stores in the Bay Area and the Central Valley of California for an initial test. If all goes well, it will likely roll out to other Lucky/SaveMart locations, too. One of the pilot location stores will be in San Bruno, very close to San Francisco Airport should you happen to be in the neighborhood.

For REMAG to be successful, many moving parts will have to come together successfully. There will need to be promotion of the participating store drop-off locations, as well as accessibility and awareness to the consumer. The collected material will need to be picked up, transported or distributed to a local or regional recovered fiber user.

The host store locations will hope to see local residents participating cleanly—as they potentially grow business by attracting new customers who happen to learn of the recovery drop-off sites, and choose to use them. And catalog retailers and magazine publishers will need to participate as well, to make sure they are leveraging this new and environmentally friendly “channel” in a smart business way that engages their prospects and customers.

Let’s see what happens in California and REMAG’s test there. We all might stand to get a little bit lucky.

Death by Whitepaper

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

According to Wikipedia, a whitepaper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. They are typically used to educate readers and help them make a decision.

In the early 1990’s, marketers started to leverage whitepapers as a way to present information about a particular topic that was of interest to a marketer’s target audience, but written in a voice that sounded like a third-party, subject matter authority. It may or may not have even mentioned the marketer’s product or service. Instead, it provided in-depth, useful information that helped readers solve a problem or expand their understanding of an issue.

In 2012, whitepapers have often been used as the lazy marketer’s brochure-ware: A forum where the product/service attributes are extolled, at length.

Sometimes they are poorly designed, or not designed at all—just pages upon pages of text (“because,” as one client informed me, “they’re supposed to be white papers”). She wasn’t kidding.

I particularly hate it when a marketer designs a whitepaper with a full-color, full-bleed, front cover (thanks for soaking up all my printer toner!). As a result, I carefully print beginning on page 2, which often means the contact information for the company which was on the front cover (website, sales contact, phone number and email address) are not included with my whitepaper when printed.

It seems that whitepapers are a lost art. So here are a few tips on whitepaper best practices that every good B-to-B marketer should follow:

  1. Start planning a whitepaper topic by identifying your target’s pain point, or determine a timely issue that would interest your target. It should NOT be focused on your company’s product/service benefits, however those could be woven into your story as a support to your point-of-view, or to demonstrate a solution to an issue.
  2. Make sure it’s well researched, with footnoted facts and figures that support the point you’re making. Include the most current data to keep your topic timely.
  3. Your writer should be an experienced whitepaper writer, not necessarily a copy writer or the named author. It’s most important that the paper is well written, well presented and interesting. It should NOT include sensational headlines, exclamation points or product demos.
  4. Include an Executive Summary: A pithy, 100-word-or-less overview that allows readers to scan and determine if they’re interested in reading more.
  5. Break up reader monotony by including well-crafted subheads, large call-outs (interesting statistics or quotes), visuals (that support the copy), charts/graphs or even icons. Eyes need a resting place when they read a long document and visuals help retain interest.
  6. Number your pages please (so much easier when the reader forwards it up the food chain and includes a note that says to the CEO, “some interesting insights on page 4, 2nd paragraph”). After all, isn’t that your ideal scenario?
  7. At the end of the paper, include an “About the Author” to provide credibility. Your author credentials don’t need to include the name of a high school or favorite pet, but they should include years of experience, where/how they gained their knowledge, the names of articles/books they’ve written, etc.
  8. Include a short paragraph about your company, positioning it in the most relevant light as it relates to the topic. Include a link to a relevant page on your website to learn more (i.e., www.xyzcompany/resources), and an 800 number and email address. You’d be surprised how many people actually want to learn more after reading a helpful whitepaper.
  9. Make sure it’s easily navigable when viewed digitally, but can also be easily printed. And, please don’t bleed my toner dry by including lots of black or lots of bleeds.

Are Your B-to-B Social Media Strategies Socially Appropriate?

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships. Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships.

Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

It’s true that Facebook is the most popular social networking site. But it’s also true that it’s a place where I reveal some personal facts (my birthday, for one) and my latest family vacation photos. While I can’t control any of the comments written on my wall, I also don’t worry because I know the only people who can see them are those who are part of my personal tribe.

So how can you leverage social media for your business?

I think it’s time to go back to basics. And, not to be insulting, but if you can get these basics right—which so many B-to-B marketers do not—you can graduate to a more sophisticated use of social media.

Smart B-to-B marketers have already discovered that their websites need to be well organized and segmented by target audience—whether by vertical segments, company size or some other segmentation strategy that’s appropriate for your business/industry. The goal is to help your site visitors navigate your site quickly and easily in order to find information most relevant to them.

Savvy marketers take their websites one step further and create pages directed at each targeted “segment” and include useful content beyond just product/service descriptions or purchase options. Whether it’s a series of case studies that clearly lay out the problem and how their brand/product provided a solution, a topical white paper, or the results of a current research study, the goal is to stimulate engagement such that the visitor thinks, “I can clearly see how these guys understand my business needs and how their products/services can help a company like mine.”

The next step should be to refresh the content on a regular basis. By doing so, it gives you the right to invite your site visitors to register for updates with the promise of emailing them when new content is available.

There are two ways to leverage that email message: You can craft a short, pithy email with a focus on and a link to the content itself, or create an email with a link to the page that contains the content. If you’ve updated your site with lots of new content, I’d choose the latter strategy, but if you’ve only added one or two new items, just provide links to that content directly (the less work you make for your target, the better).

Now that you have an easily navigable site, good core content and regular updates, the next goal should be to drive new prospects to your site so they can begin to engage with your brand. As I mentioned before, I am a firm believer that Facebook is simply not the place to be trolling for B-to-B prospects. So instead, here are a few tried and true strategies for starting socially appropriate relationships online:

  • Guaranteed Lead Program: Using a third-party media provider, place one of your most current white papers in an online media property where you know your target seeks information. It costs nothing to post and you’ll only pay for those leads that download your white paper. Chances are that these information seekers have some sort of problem they’re trying to solve and they’re in the right mood to be gathering intelligence on potential solutions. To make sure your white paper gets noticed, have a professional copywriter craft the headline and word-limited description in order to “sell” the white paper without a big sales pitch about your company. Remember the goal at this stage of the game is to start trying to make a connection with a potential customer; it’s not the time to offer discounts, freebies or other “offers.” Once they’ve downloaded and you’ve acquired their contact information, it’s appropriate to send them follow-up email and invite them to view additional content on your site, or offer an additional white paper or case study related to their particular industry. This is a productive example of how to get social with your prospects.
  • Expand your reach: Contact the editor of your industry trade publication(s) and, using a current white paper topic as a hook, outline an article you can offer as content. It’s important that your white paper NOT be self-serving (i.e. a blatant attempt to simply push your brand or one of your products), but rather an article written from a third-party perspective about the industry or a trend. Your business/product can be mentioned, but so should other products from other companies, otherwise an editor is not prone to accept the article as it’s more of an advertorial and should be part of paid content. This places your company in the right “social” setting and lays the foundation for the credibility of your brand.
  • Seek out speaking engagements: A knowledgeable expert is always a draw at an industry conference. Identify those in your organization who have the ability to speak intelligently about a current trend—perhaps they were quoted in or authored your white paper. If they don’t have great speaking skills, get them enrolled to gain superior presentation skills, and then leverage them across many industry events throughout the year. During and after the conference, there are plenty of ways for your speaker to participate in social events and swapping business cards over a meal is certainly a better way to be building future relationships than pithy notations on Facebook.
  • Leverage the company blog: Reach out to the company blogger and provide a truncated version/extract of the white paper and then link to it from within the blog. Tweet about the blog topic and provide a link, then link that tweet to your LinkedIn update. If your blog allows outsiders to post comments about the topic, that’s a great way to start engaging with a potential customer.
  • Increase LinkedIn connections: Once sales start a dialogue with a prospect, it’s appropriate for them to reach out and invite that prospect to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t use the default copy on LinkedIn to connect! Instead craft an appropriate message that’s meaningful to the target to make it feel like a worthwhile connection. I’m always surprised when someone I don’t know invites me to connect on LinkedIn without identifying a reason within an appropriate context. My first reaction is to reject the invitation because I think it may be spam—and, is a good example of how NOT to be socially appropriate.
  • Video on YouTube: If your company provides products that require instruction manuals, consider developing a series of “how to” videos. Host them on your website, but also on YouTube. These types of videos can help increase the post-purchase engagement factor and, are often one reason I make a purchase in the first place. It’s gratifying to know that if I get “stuck,” there’s an easy-to-view solution at my fingertips vs. the dreaded customer service support line. You’ll also find many viewers will post supportive comments about the video—again, a great way to use this social media to build support from customers and prospects.

New Paper Recovery Data Shows Impact of Recession, Digital Media

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

The good news is that the paper business has continued to increase recovery rates for all types of paper, achieving a record 66.8-percent recovery for the nation [see the first image in the media player at right].

For printing and writing grades, recovery rates slipped from its 2009 recovery percentage peak of 61.0 percent, now registering a 56.8-percent recovery rate, but still ahead of the pre-recession recovery rate [see the second image in the media player at right].

In both the overall market for all grades combined, and the printing & writing grades market, the peak year for paper consumption (the bars on both of the preceding graphs) was pre-recession 2007, a high point we have yet to re-attain in both categories as our economy has returned to tepid growth.

However, by looking at just printing & writing grades consumption, the falloff from the 2007 peak, and the lack of recovery, is far more pronounced than in the paper market overall—fully a 23.7-percent drop from 2007 to 2011. This is certainly a sign that while the recession prompted a pullback, digital media has brought on a migration from print communications, and most certainly in postal mail. That data is supported by declining U.S. Postal Service First-Class Mail volume data, and near-minimal growth in Standard Mail.

Thus, the generally higher recovery rates are generated by higher recycling collection activity or perhaps a more expansive recovery infrastructure, but also by source reduction—there’s just less printing and writing papers being generated.

Certainly, the role of direct mail is changing in an increasingly mobile, digital age—and thankfully, we’re getting a good percentage of what we do consume recycled. We need to do better.

Helpful Links:

Inside the Recycling Tub: Catalogs & Direct Mail, Post-Consumer

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

During the early 1990s, millions of consumers wrote their request to the then-Mail Preference Service (MPS, now DMAchoice) to remove themselves from national mailing lists, partially as a result of the media hype around that publication and its recommendation to consumers to sign up for MPS. Even some cities and towns urged their citizens (with taxpayer money) to get off mailing lists. I don’t think the Direct Marketing Association released publicly its MPS consumer registration figures, but it swelled to the point where some saturation mailers nearly considered not using the file for fear it would disqualify them for the lowest postage within certain ZIP Codes where new MPS registrants were concentrated. (DMA developed a saturation mailer format at the time to preserve MPS utility.)

Removing names from a mailing list is what solid waste management professionals call “source reduction”—an act that prevents the production of mail (and later waste) in the first place.

One of the reasons “junk mail” met with some consumer hostility then was simply because once you were done with a catalog or mail piece, wanted or not, there was no place to put it except in the trash. It seemed to many, “All this waste!” (that actually amounted to about 2.3 percent of the municipal solid waste stream back then).

Thankfully, there were other marketplace and public policy dynamics tied to support of the green movement, circa 1990. In a word, “recycling” (like source reduction) was seen as a part of responsible solid waste management. At the time, North American paper mills were scrambling to get recovered fiber to manufacture paper products and packaging with recycled content. Some states (and the federal government) set minimum recycled-content and “post-consumer” recycled-content percentage requirements for the paper they procured, while California mandated diversion goals for solid waste from its landfills. Increasingly, foreign trading partners were clamoring for America’s discarded paper to meet their ravenous demands for fiber. The cumulative results were an aggressive increase in the amount of paper collected for recycling and the number of collection points across the United States.

All this boded well for catalogs and direct mail, as far as their collection rates. Catalogs and magazines are considered equivalent when it comes to their fiber makeup. They do tend to have more hardwood (short, thinner fibers) versus softwood (long, strong fibers) since the hardwood gives a nice, smooth printing surface. When they are collected for recycling, recovered catalogs and magazines are suitable for lower quality paper/packaging grades, as well as for tissue. Some of the fiber does wind up getting used as post-consumer waste in new magazines and catalogs, but producers of such papers much prefer having recovered office paper (ideally not mixed with other lower-quality post-consumer papers) as their source of post-consumer content, as the quality is better for making higher quality magazine/catalog papers. (See link below from Verso Paper.)

Most direct mail when recovered is classified as mixed papers, and is suitable for tissue, packaging and other recovered-fiber products. (Today, a lot of paper recovery mixes it all together, and with positive reuse.) By 2007, DMA had received permission from the Federal Trade Commission to begin allowing mailers to place “recyclable” messages and seals on catalogs and mail pieces (roughly 60 percent of U.S. households must have access to local recycling options before “recyclable” labels can be used). Upon this FTC opinion, DMA promptly launched its “Recycle Please” logo program. By 2010, in addition, thousands of U.S. post offices were placing “Read-Respond-Recycle” collection bins for mixed paper in their lobbies.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began tracking “Standard Mail” in its biennial Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Report in 1990, the recovery rate (through recycling collection) was near 5 percent. By 2009 (the most current year reported), the recovery rate had increased more than 10-fold to 63 percent—but I cite this figure with a big asterisk. There will be a discussion in a future post on why the EPA MSW recycling data may not be as accurate (and as optimistic) as these findings seem to present. In fact, the EPA itself has asked for public comment on how its current MSW study methodology can be improved—again, more on that in another post.

While I’m not an expert on solid waste reporting, I certainly can see the positive direction underway here, no matter what the actual recovery rate may be. The more catalogs and direct mail that are recovered for their fiber, chances are that there will be more efficient use of that fiber in the supply chain, rather than ending up in a landfill. That helps relieve pressure on paper and packaging pricing, which is good for our bottom lines.

It might also, just a little bit, make a consumer think to herself “I love my junk mail”—as she takes the no-longer-needed mail at week’s or season’s end and places it into a recycling tub. Recycling makes us feel good. It is simple to do. Recycling may not truly save the Earth, but it certainly does extend the life of an importantly renewable natural resource, wood fiber.

Helpful links:

Sending Emails From Magazine Pages?

I came upon something very cool in my web travels last week. AdAge.com was showing a video of Jim Marggraff, chairman and CEO of a company called LiveScribe. He was discussing his company’s Pulse Smartpen, a real pen that contains a computer and a high-speed infrared camera that can access the internet. When used with LiveScribe’s dot paper — plain paper printed with microdots — the Smartpen enables a wide range of paper-based applications.

I came upon something very cool in my web travels last week. AdAge.com was showing a video of Jim Marggraff, chairman and CEO of a company called LiveScribe. He was discussing his company’s Pulse Smartpen, a real pen that contains a computer and a high-speed infrared camera that can access the internet. When used with LiveScribe’s dot paper — plain paper printed with microdots — the Smartpen enables a wide range of paper-based applications.

What types of applications, you ask? Marggraff describes a few in the video.

If he gives someone his business card (which has been created with dot paper), for example, and that person writes a note on the back of it with a Smartpen, he’ll get the note in his email inbox right away.

“We call it self-addressing paper,” Marggraff says.

Wow.

Another example involved a magazine — printed on the special dot paper, of course.

“You can take a page in a magazine and encourage readers to write to the editor,” Marggraff says. “[While they’re reading the editor’s article] They [can] write a note to the editor, and it [automatically] goes to the editor’s inbox.”

Or, he says, you could read an article that may mention the book “Outliers.” You may want to remember to buy it. Instead of writing down the name of the book on a piece of paper and forgetting about it, “you’ll be able to take your [paper and] pen and write the words ‘buy’ and ‘Outliers.’ Your pen may say, ‘Searching, $19.95, Amazon.com. To purchase, sign.’ So [you’ll] be able to sign the paper, and [you’ve] bought it.”

“This is all about aligning the paper and digital worlds,” Marggraff says.

Indeed.

Do you think this is cool? A fad? The future? Let me know by leaving a comment here.