Let’s start with a question. What do you think is the most polluting: a paper advertisement brochure or a marketing email? Let me guess, you said the paper brochure. Actually, the answer is not that simple.
In this article, we discuss a more sustainable alternative for paper brochures that will at the same time increase your conversion rate. I will start by telling you this much - the solution lays in the combination of emails and paper folders. It’s all about the right content, on the right time in the right shape. But first let’s look at some data. Are you more interested in the solution, in that case you can directly go to the second part.
1.The ecological impact of an advertisement brochure vs email
As marketeers we value correct information, not only because it’s the ethical thing to do, but also because wrong information can hurt your brand. Greenwashing, the act of using misleading information about the sustainability of your brand in order to sell more, is not done in 2021 and moreover it’s a felony. To have that correct information we will look at the numbers, both of the impact of an email and a paper brochure. The figures used in this article are averages and depend on many variables. If you want to know the impact of your company’s marketing, get in touch with us.
In this article I talk about CO2 equivalents, a metric that summarizes the global warming impact of all different greenhouse gasses into one number, making it easier to compare two products like paper and email.
1.1. The ecological impact of a paper brochure
According to the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland the average greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of a paper brochure is 1630 kg CO2 equivalents per 1000 kg of product. I also had to google if this was a lot or not so let’s make it a little bit more tangible. If you take an average brochure of 40g (I weighed some of the brochures that are dropped in the mailbox and came to this average), then one brochure has an impact of 66g CO2 equivalents. This is the same as driving 500m with an average petrol fueled car. You could argue that that is almost nothing. But if you count the total amount of paper brochures you receive in your mailbox on a yearly basis, the impact easily builds up to a drive from Antwerp to Brussels.
So is there an alternative? Well, emails could be one. The nice thing about emails is that you can personalize them and give your customer the info they need. An average customer does not care about all the promos or new products but is interested in a specific part of that information that affects their daily life. With emails you can easily make that distinction and don’t spam your customer with information they don’t need.
1.2. The ecological impact of an email
Now, let’s look into the impact of an email. The average marketing email (an email with photos) has an impact of 50 g CO2 equivalents... In comparison with a folder it’s still quite high. And you cannot put as much information in an email as you do in a folder. But there is more to this: the impact of an unopened email, the data collection and the impact of a website.
An unopened email has a much lower impact, than an unopened brochure. If a customer doesn’t read the paper brochure, the ecological impact doesn’t fall. However, if you don’t open the email and you don’t download the content, the impact is much less: the 50g CO2 equivalents gets down to 0,3g CO2 equivalents per email. If we assume that the open rate of a paper brochure is the same as the one of an average marketing email, 80% of your customers don’t even read your brochures. That’s 80% of your 66g CO2 equivalent brochures that is wasted, and thus CO2 that didn’t bring any value.
Email is starting to look better but there are two more things that we have to take into account to have a totally fair comparison. First of all, data collection: with every email we send, we collect data. And although data is a marketeer's best friend, it is an extra addition to the ecological impact. My research didn’t provide me with the exact ecological impact of data capturing, but, if the data is fully text based, I assume it won’t higher than 3g CO2 equivalents per email sent. Secondly, a good marketing email should lead towards an action. Mostly that action is to open the webpage with more information. Different sources give a different ecological impact of a pageview but on average it’s 3g CO2 equivalent. However, thanks to green hosting and the right site structure it can be brought down to 0,01g.
Last but not least, I would like to weigh in the component of time. If we look towards the future, email and webhosting has more possibilities to lower its impact through green powered servers. The impact of paper will not decrease drastically with the transition towards green energy, as it is a finite product.
Like we said in the beginning, the story of paper brochures vs emails isn’t that simple. It depends on the size of the brochure and the number of emails you replace it with.
We have to acknowledge that a paper brochure that is read thoroughly by the customer still has a lower impact than an email and a couple of page views.
2. Transitioning towards a hybrid of paper brochures and automated emails
Nowadays lots of companies work with a combination of emails and paper brochures. But let’s be honest, the emails are most of the time sent in mass and most of the companies that send me emails also send me brochures. It feels like there is a war for attention that you cannot win unless you spam your customers. But that’s not true. The win lays in the right information on the right time, and most importantly in the right form.
Email benchmarks show that the more non-personalized emails you send in a week, the lower the open rate will be, and the higher the chances are of unsubscribing. On the other hand, if you build personalized email campaigns triggered by an action of a customer, open rate increases by 29% and clicks by 41%. We said it before, it is not about quantity, it’s about quality.
We suggest a 3-step plan in transitioning your customers from paper brochures to automated personalized emails.
2.1. Know who reads your paper brochures
The easiest way to track if your customers read your brochures, is to ask them, right? Although this is part of the solution, we should take into account that customers do not always know what they want, their behavior tends to differ from what they say they will do. This can go both ways. Customers who do read the brochures but are concerned about the climate might say they don’t want to receive it and go completely towards email. But as we discussed an email with a lot of page views can have a higher CO2 impact, therefore it is better to keep sending them the brochure. On the other hand customers might say they like to keep receiving the brochure, but don’t have time to read it, they can be concerned about knowing when their products are in promo, and therefore say they would still like to receive the brochure. In this case emails about their products would be the better solution.
We therefore combine the claimed data (answers of the customers) with behavioral data. We track what customers do and combine it with what they say they do. How do you do that? By adding ways to track customer behavior in your folder. Do they use the promo codes in the brochure? Do they scan the QR codes?
NOTE - When asking if customers prefer brochure, email or both, make sure to provide a solution for those without smartphone or computer, like a phone number they can call with an automated menu.
2.2. Know your customers and what they need
In a second phase, you want to know what kind of information your customers need. The easiest way is to start with tracking behavior and sending emails accordingly. Make segments of customers that buy certain products and group them together. You could also make segments of customers who prefer promos or inspirational content.
The nice thing about marketing automation is that you can trigger certain emails if a customer behaves a certain way. A customer who buys dog food a couple of times, could lead to a triggered email about dogs and the best dog food. Or a customer who always buys bigger amounts to get a certain discount, could lead to a triggered monthly promo email.
The key here is to make the same amount of content but instead of putting it all in one email, try to send the right content to the right customers.
2.3 Test, test, test
In the last phase it’s all about knowing your analytics and testing. Start small and set up a couple of triggers and a couple of email formats. Make sure you can track everything: open rate, CTR of every part, scroll depth and if customers liked the email. Nowadays you can add a customer satisfaction button under your emails to see if customers where happy with the email. Tracking customer satisfaction can really open up your email game and is a must if you like to bring some high valued content.
Testing is where the fun begins. Try a couple of different headlines so the email’s success does not depend on your copy but really on what’s inside. The same goes for the content of your email: put the different segments in different orders, use different colors and headings, etc. That way you can see if a segment really works, or if nobody clicked on it because it was at the end of the email for example. All of this will eventually lead to the perfect combination of email and paper brochure, for your customer, but also for the planet.
So, what do you think? You want to build a world free of spam and where marketing is kinder for the environment? Let’s have a chat 😊 Maybe with some kombucha?
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