Transpromotional Documents: The Good and the Bad

Marketers are always looking for that next killer lead generation tactic— something that will be irresistible to a prospect.

That means using data to send the right messages to the right target.

But can we go too far?

But when do we – or should we – ask ourselves: “Am I pushing the limits of appropriateness with this marketing promotion that uses my client’s data?”

Take that hot new marketing strategy known as transpromotional documents. Some analyst firms are calling this the “future of direct mail.”

Well, maybe.

A transpromotional document is a type of personalized document that combines transactional information (such as somebody’s bank statement) with relevant marketing information.

U.S.-based companies are already beginning to use them. One is a major bank and credit card provider that includes coupons on customer statements.

But one of the best examples I’ve seen is in Osaka, Japan. That is where one of the country’s largest Visa bank card provider’s, Muitsui Sumitomo Card Co., recently purchased 24 Xerox iGen3 digital printers and began placing targeted marketing messages on 4.5 million customer statements.

In short, Muitsui Sumitomo is charging marketers for placed advertisements on its customers’ credit card statements.

It no longer thinks of statement printing as “cost per page.” Rather, the firm views each billing statement page as an opportunity to generate revenue.

And while some marketer’s might say this is a dream come true, it does raise some thorny privacy issues.

For one, consumers could argue that documents like credit card or bank statements are one of the few remaining bastions of privacy.

Many people believe that financial documents should remain untouched: Shouldn’t the customer have every assurance that their data is private and safe?

With all the transactions taking place, it is within the realm of possibility that there could be a breach and that customer data could be leaked.

For example, the massive data leak of millions of credit card holders’ information at a major Massachusetts-based retailer is still fresh in the public mind. While the episode did not involve a marketing campaign, the firm’s experience is a good lesson in just how critical it is to ensure the safety of customer data.

These concerns are absolutely legitimate. Fortunately, the technology is readily available to prevent data breach problems.

Security concerns aside, there are some major benefits of Transpromotional documents, such as:

  • When correctly executed, this more efficient type of mail is less expensive than traditional transactional mail due to the attached revenue from the marketing portion.
  • Color on statements can add speed to payment cycles or draw special attention to other important parts of the document – so Transpromotional documents help bring color to statements at a reasonable cost.
  • Less clutters in mailboxes since these pieces tend to be more targeted – something consumers will love.

Perhaps some people might find it handy to see an offer from one of their favorite brands on their monthly statement. And why not? After all, we are a generation of people who think it’s quite normal to be bombarded with Viagra- or Ambien-type advertisements on TV and in our email inbox or have new Nestle products hocked in shows like The Apprentice. Clearly times have changed and people are very accustomed to guerilla marketing tactics.

It remains to be seen just how transpromotional campaigns will be implemented in the U.S. in the future, or if there will be substantial consumer pushback.

My prediction: U.S. marketers will be watching the technology in action in Asia and Europe over the next 18-24 months, and without any major privacy battles, don’t be surprised when you see full blown ads on your credit card or bank statement sometime soon.

Ted Kulpinski is vice president and general manager of database and fulfillment services at direct marketing consultancy W.A. Wilde in Holliston, MA.

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