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. Well, the story 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 give you a little hint - the solution lays in the combination of emails and paper folders. It’s all about the right content, at the right time in the right shape. But let’s first start with the numbers.
1. The ecological impact of an advertisement brochure vs email
As marketers, 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 in 2021 not done and a felony.
Let’s start by looking at the numbers, both the impact of an email and a paper brochure. Know that these numbers 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 the article I talk about CO2 equivalents, this is 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 ton product. I know, I also had to google if this was a lot or not.
Let’s make that a little bit more tangible. If you take an average brochure of 40g (I weighted some brochures of my parents’ mailbox and came to this average), then 1 brochure has an impact of 66g CO2 equivalents, which 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 get in your mailbox every year, their impact easily builds up to drive from Antwerp to Brussels. (Note that a couple of folders were up to 175g, which is 285g of CO2 equivalents, a little over 2 km with a petrol-fueled car.)
So what is the alternative? Well, emails could be the alternative. 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 the info 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... I know, in comparison with a folder it’s still quite high. And you cannot put as much info in an email as you do in a folder.
There are a couple more things we need to take into consideration: 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. But this does happen with email. If you don’t open your email, and therefore you don’t download the content, the impact is much less: the 50g CO2 equivalent gets down to 0,3g CO2 equivalent per email.
And 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 are wasted, and thus CO2 that didn’t bring value.
Email is looking better, isn't it? Well, there are 2 more things that we have to take into account to have a totally fair comparison. First of all, data collection: with every email sent, we collect data. And although data is a marketer's best friend, it is an extra addition to the ecological impact. I couldn’t find the exact impact of ecological impact of data capturing, however, if the data is fully text-based I assume it to be no higher than 3g CO2 equivalents per email sent. Secondly, a good marketing email should lead towards an action, most of the time that is opening the webpage with more information. Different sources give different ecological impacts of a pageview, on average it’s 3g CO2 equivalent, but it can go down to 0,01g with green hosting and the right site structure.
Last but not least, I like to weigh in the component of time. If we look more into the future, email and web hosting have 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 do 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.
The solution proposed is therefore a combination of paper brochures and emails, where customers that don’t read the paper brochures are transitioned towards emails.
Oof, are you still there? I know it was a lot, but so important that we have the right information, the solution is on its way!
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, and you cannot win unless you spam your customers.
Well to that I say, the win lays in the right information at the right time, and most importantly in the right form.
Email benchmarks even show that the more non-personalized emails you send a week, the lower the open rate will be, and the higher the change of unsubscribing. On the other hand, if you build personalized email campaigns triggered by an action of a customer, the open rate increases by 29% and clicks by 41%.
We said it before, it is not about quantity, it’s about the 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 just ask them, isn't it? 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. A customer who does read the brochures but is 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 pageviews can have a higher CO2 impact, therefore it is better to keep sending them the brochure. But it can also go the other way: customers may say they like to still receive the brochure, but don’t have time to read it, they can be concerned about knowing when their products are in the 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.
Add some 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 brochures, email, or both, make sure to provide a solution for those without smartphones or computers, like a phone number they can call with an automated menu.
2.2. Know your customers and what they need
In the 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. But as well customers who are more interested in promos versus inspirational content.
The nice thing about Marketing Automation is that you can trigger certain emails if a customer behaves a certain way. A customer bought pet food a couple of times, this could trigger an email about dogs and what is the best pet food. Or a customer always buys big amounts to get a certain discount, this could trigger a monthly promo email.
The key here is to make the same amount of content, but where you once would put everything in 1 big 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, 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 were happy with the email. Tracking customer satisfaction can really open up your email game. It is a must if you like to bring some high valued content.
Testing is where the fun begins. Try a couple of headlines so the email's success does not depend on your copy but really on what’s inside. And the same goes for the content: put it in different orders, different colors, different headings, .. all so you can see if a segment really does not work, or it just did not work with a certain copy or because it was the last part of your email. All of this will eventually lead to the perfect combination of email and folder, for your customer, but also for the planet.
So what do you think? Do you want to build a world where there is no spam and marketing that is kinder for the environment? Let’s have a chat!