The What, Why and How of Programmatic Print

The best of two channels combined

Digital programmatic advertising created amazing opportunities for advertisers and paved the way for advanced personalization and retargeting strategies. But now, as the noise on digital channels gets even louder and consumers’ attention more fragmented, it is losing some of its power.

So, what’s the solution? You can’t disregard digital programmatic altogether, but you can combine the best of programmatic with a channel that consumers engage with away from the screen and on their own time—print.

If you’re thinking print and programmatic are unlikely bedfellows, you’re not wrong. But advancements over the last few years have ushered in a new era of opportunity for programmatically printed marketing materials, allowing you to take the best aspects of digital advertising away from the screens everyone is so sick of.

So, what exactly is programmatic print, why does it matter to your strategy and how can you make it work for you? Let’s dive in.

What is it?

Programmatic print is just like it sounds—it links marketing automation platforms with a highly automated digital print production workflow. It then draws from the same data you’d use to send a personalized email or trigger a banner ad. But instead, the end product is an emotionally appealing, high-quality print asset that reaches the consumer within 24-hours of their interaction with your brand. The product itself can be anything from a newsletter to a promotional postcard, personalized piece of educational content or booklet of coupons.

For example, say you’re a furniture store and you have a customer interacting with and browsing through color swatches for a new couch. With programmatic printing, this interaction would trigger the creation of a personalized brochure to be delivered the next day that featured the couches and colors the person was browsing. Now this customer is reminded of their couch project and given a new way to see and interact with the product.

It’s the best of both worlds, highly relevant and personalized messaging that arrives at exactly the right time but through a channel that gives it a chance of being noticed and engaged with.

Why programmatic print?

The average person receives 120 emails per day, according to McKinsey analysis. Let that sink in. Whether it’s from their local grocer, the Instagram brand they bought one thing from or a multinational that’s bought their address, it’s very unlikely they will open it. The average click-through rate for email is 3%. And, according to a 2020 report from Compu-Mail, the average lifespan of an email is 17 seconds. That’s not a pretty picture. Now consider what happens with print. Someone opens their mailbox, maybe it’s a daily mid-morning ritual or a signal that the day is over, and grabs their stack of mail. Without tabs open or notifications pinging, they sort through and open items that look relevant or interesting. They are fully immersed and invested, and when they’re done they’ll leave it on the kitchen counter to come back to or for other household members to look through. The average direct mail’s lifespan is 17 days, so pieces in this stack are likely to stay in the consumers’ view for some time.

So, you get it. Print offers a complete, distraction-free and immersive experience. When you take that and combine it with programmatic to make it highly relevant and personalized, magic happens. But programmatic print doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is powerful by itself, but even more so when incorporated as part of an omnichannel strategy. Depending on your goals, print could serve to boost brand awareness at the top of the funnel and be followed by a retargeting campaign on social. Or, work in tandem with a targeted email campaign to encourage someone to revisit an abandoned cart.

How can you get started?

Integrating programmatic print into your programs is not as complicated as you might think. Most marketing automation solutions are set to integrate with a wide variety of tools, including digital print. If that is not the case for you, there are print service providers (PSPs) who specialize in automated print workflows.

Outside of the logistical, getting started with programmatic print comes down to deciding how to integrate it with the rest of your programs and where it will have the most power. Look to areas where are you struggling the most or not getting enough attention. Could print be the solution? One of the most common and effective ways to incorporate programmatic print is as a remedy for cart abandonment. Instead of retargeting someone with an email after they leave an item in their cart, you can send a personalized mailer with a special discount or new context for the product. Consider which products or services most lend themselves to print. Anything you send out needs to be visually engaging so pay careful attention to which products you feature.

As you continue to brainstorm, map out how print will interact with your other channels. Remember, it’s most effective as part of an omnichannel strategy, so having a high-level view of how it fits in will be key.

If you’re getting stuck or hitting roadblocks, talk to a print service provider. They are experts in the space and will be happy to help design a program that fits into your strategy and meets your goals.

Tonya Powers is the director of marketing at Canon Solutions America with a focus on all outbound marketing initiatives and the customer experience for the production print solutions business. She brings a wealth of knowledge on building strategies for b-to-b marketing, with a keen focus on the graphic arts industry.