Quickly, which of the piles of mail in the photos at the right would you want to open first? The top photo is machine processed. The lower photo shows mail that required assembly by a human being. If you picked the “human touch” mail, you’ve tapped into an idea that can increase profits and make you a hero to your customers. Allow me to explain.
The natural trend in print finishing manufacturing is to automate by eliminating the human touch wherever possible. It makes for more efficient work. By efficiency we mean, as Merriam-Webster defines it, “an effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with cost in time, energy, and money.” When you get more done with less cost, you are more efficient.
Printing managers and supervisors are always in search of better efficiency. It translates, at least for a time, into more profits and faster turnaround. It gives their businesses a competitive edge.
But is the most efficient way necessarily the most effective way? By effective, we mean that it produces its intended result. Let’s return to our two piles of mail. Of the machine processed mail, about 1% will be opened and nearly all will go direct to the recycle bin. Of the human-touch mail, 100% of these got opened. All of them were saved because they are interesting to me as a marketer.
For mail to be effective it must first be opened. That’s the first and hardest job of any given mail piece. From the viewpoint of the customer who is buying the mail piece, efficiency is meaningless without effectiveness. If it’s not opened, it’s garbage.
Of course I’m using this to illustrate a point and it’s not intended to be a scientific study. The point is that we shouldn’t automatically discard the idea of the human touch in print finishing processes. If we can find a human-touch process that adds value, and we can demonstrate its effectiveness and return on investment to a customer, then it’s good to add the touch.
Here are some hand labor tasks that can increase effectiveness and add value to any given printed piece.
Lumpy mail. As we’ve just discussed and shown in the photo above, you can use handwork to assemble unusual mailing pieces. I’ve received many memorable items in the mail including a prescription bottle with a letter enclosed, a letter with a plastic toy soldier, envelopes with fluorescent stickers attached, and mailings that were marked up by hand. In the postcard at right you can see the address was circled with a pink crayon like the post office uses. It makes you look.
Hand folding. There are countless ways to fold paper and folding machines handle only a fraction of them. A job that must incorporate hand-folding or inserting is an opportunity for added value. If you need ideas and inspiration on this, be sure to check out Trish Witkowski’s foldfactory.com.
Kit assembly. Instead of letting your customer assemble the printed pieces of a promotional kit, offer to do it yourself.
Hand addressed envelopes. This is as labor intense as it gets, but it is also as effective as it gets. Can you resist opening an envelope that is hand addressed to you?
In our early years here at Technifold USA, we began using hand-addressed, hand-stamped envelopes with no return address. Over the course of twelve months we doubled our sales with this technique. New customers who called to order actually mentioned how excited they were when opening our envelope. They anticipated, and got, something special.
Pocket folders. Certain kinds of pocket folders can’t be folded and glued automatically. Capacity pockets or pockets in unusual spots require hand gluing (or taping) and positioning. This requires a little bit of expertise but once you have a technique in place, it goes quickly. We’ll have more on this in a future article.
There is nothing like the unmistakable originality imparted by the human touch. When your customer sees this in the effective printed products you deliver, you’ve got a customer for life.
When you add the right human touch in print finishing operations, you can easily boost your net profit on any given job. Most printers I know already offer a range of hand-work services, usually out of necessity. Hopefully the ideas here will inspire you to find more opportunity in “inefficiency.” Please feel free to share your human touch stories below.