Transpromo: How it benefits advertising

High price is the biggest cause of transpromo’s lack of traction. In spite of which it remains a great marketing tool that could make a big impact, says Sachin Shardul

10 Oct 2012 | By Sachin Shardul

Ranesh Bajaj of Creed Engineers who sold and serviced more than 50 Rotatek intermittent offset presses and Kodak’s Versamark digital presses in India says, “When inkjet digital technology first hit the Indian market 10 years ago, it seemed a new age of digital colour transactional mail was about to dawn. Those vast white spaces on the phone bills or electricity bills could be replaced by colourful messages promoting a company’s brand, gift coupons, vouchers tailored to specific customers’ tastes and adverts cross-selling company’s products.” The technology to print colour on transactional mail had arrived and so utilising this always-opened piece of mailing was surely a must.

But the transpromo revolution has not taken off as Bajaj envisaged. While many brands have gone down this route, many others are still sending bills, statements and letters that look ostensibly the same as they did a decade ago, and are being printed in exactly the same way.
The reasons are mixed. Cost is a big factor, but so is client demand – and nervousness about what messages to put on a bill which is causing reticence. The question for printers is whether this lack of transpromo action is going to continue.

Transpromo: Effective marketing tool
Mail Order Solutions (MOS) has been offering transpromo from since early 2007, but reports that only international clients are using this service. In India, a handful have opted for transpromo.
“We invested a lot of money to enable us to go full colour and it’s been a slow payback,” admits Mehul Desai founder and chairman of MOS. “With regards to uptake, it’s a hard sell so I can see why a black and white mailing house might see making that investment as a bit of a risk at the moment.” 
The cost factor surely plays a role in this but according to Mehul Desai an important factor which would play a huge role in success of transpromo is the data segregation. All the companies who want to use transpromo and get healthy and effective returns must have their client information updated, researched and on the button to know the client preferences. He says, “Only then can you send out transpromo offers which will get the client interested and make them respond. This database update requires resources and costs a lot as this has to be done regularly.  Unfortunately, most depend on the initial information received.”
For example, when someone buys a post-paid mobile connection they fill up the client information sheet. This has a lot of questions and asks the client for lifestyle choices, etc. These are never updated due to which, to make data cuts and ensure offers of interest go is not possible hence a lot of companies shy away. Till data is updated and current with lifestyle choices, a transpromo will not be very effective. There are companies in India who have invested in data research and are very upbeat as they are able to engage their customers effectively but these companies are few but the change is surely taking place and along with this we will see increase in transpromo offers.
Costs, of course, are not going to come down, but some say they shouldn’t have to. They argue that transpromo is an incredibly effective marketing tool with excellent ROI, and that customers must be convinced the costs are justified.
Desai says (with hindsight on his side) that print firms should ensure this argument does not fall on deaf ears. This is because, “the printer’s client contact is not usually the marketing department, but one with a different set of aims”. Desai explains that for transactional mail, the printer deals with the operations departments and they are preoccupied with what they see as their remit – getting accurate information out on time for the best price possible. Bills are a legality, not a bit of DM, after all. And so no matter how compelling the marketing angle printers convey, they are talking to the wrong people. Due to this we always try to meet the marketing team too as they will be more effective in convincing the operations team on the need to upgrade to transpromo and we live in the hope that this effective tool will surely be put to mass and good use.

Route to market
So finding a route to the marketer is going to be essential for transpromo to take off. But engaging directly with a marketer, or ensuring that the operations team informs the marketing team of the opportunity available, is not always easy.
“One of the problems is engaging with marketers at the right time,” says Kiran Business Forms Print’s Karan Mohta. “Obviously, most transactional contracts are for three or five years and when they come up for renewal, you really need the ears of the marketers. But often the people in charge of transactional mail aren’t engaging with this other team.”
Karan Mohta agrees, saying companies tend to work in ‘silos’ with little communication between them.
That said, Kiran Business Forms and others are finally making a breakthrough and getting those conversations started – be it through wily skills or sheer persistence. But even though the marketer may now be listening, it is not just cost that will be a consideration and has been a turn off. Transpromo is a complicated beast and reluctance also comes from the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of the messages.
Mohta, of course, gives a compelling argument: transactional documents have much higher open and read rates than any other form of communication, so if a brand wants a customer to read something there is a better than fare chance that customer will see it.
The question then is: what do you want the client to see? Well, there are number of options. A popular one at the birth of the concept was for businesses to make money, covering the cost of the printing with perhaps a little extra, selling the transactional mail space to third parties. That, however, has not come to fruition.
“Third-party advertising is a no-brainer to me, as a printer, because if you can send out bills and get someone else to pay for this then that’s a huge cost saving,” says Mohta. “But people have big reservations about brand integrity, so companies are a bit conservative about third-party advertising with us yet. It’s a stage too far for India at the moment.”
“I’m seeing no appetite for third-party,” agrees Desai of MOS. “I tend to find customers view their transactional mail white space almost as their real estate, and they don’t want to give that away frivolously. What they’re more interested in is protecting their brand and building a relationship with the customer.”
Potential issues
It’s easy to see why a brand would be nervous about selling ad space to a third party, as doing so would essentially be a recommendation from the company for that advertiser. That creates huge potential issues in terms of PR and associations, and so presents real danger for both brand value and customer relationships.
A more clear-cut use of the space would be self-promotion, yet there are issues here too. Preserving white space to keep the financial information in documents clear and easy to understand is of utmost importance to many companies. There are also strict regulations regarding the use of any form of messaging on transactional documents to be taken into consideration.
“With the recent occurences in the telecom segment; some regulators are saying they don’t want to see advertising messages. They don’t want to distract from the purpose of the statement– to inform,” says Ranesh Bajaj. “You can’t argue with that.”
While these drawbacks of the ‘what’ in transpromo may seem a negative against the sector, it could actually represent an opportunity for printers to lend a hand. Added value in the modern print industry relies as much on customer service as it does products. Turning yourself into an indispensable guide through the world of transpromo could prove a real customer winner.
Mehul Desai certainly thinks so. “Businesses can be confused about what is and what isn’t allowed, with the result that they just veto any kind of transpromo messaging,” he explains. “But we can help customers get round that problem by clarifying the rules for them.”
Printers can also take a lead role in demonstrating not just what, but how, to seize the opportunity, clarifying what the opportunity actually is and what the printer is capable of. This would involve highlighting how a sophisticated document composition software package that can work with variables (such as the number of pages within a document and the spending habits of a customer) to incorporate messages into the printed page in an eye-catching yet unobtrusive way.
Desai says printers can also show that messages don’t have to aggressively promote another service – the relationship with the customer can be improved by helpful hints relevant to the transactional document.
“We’re seeing interest in relevant social messages to improve customer service – messages like how to reduce water or green theme,” says Purnendu Mohanty managing director of GMC Software Technology India , explaining that more and more customers are also coming round to the idea of using lots of different colours on bills to break them down clearly. “It’s about brand enhancement, better engagement with customers, and clarity of the documentation and any call to actions. And then it’s about using any white space areas for information and service enhancement.”

Serious traction
“Indeed, it is a subtle re-engineering of documents that is beginning to gain traction with Indian businesses,” says Avijit Mukherjee, COO, production printing SBU of Ricoh India, the company behind Infoprint transpromo systems.
“Transpromo applications of the type predicted in the early stages of the market’s development are still in existence,” he says. “But soon after the early stages of adoption, the application very quickly evolved into something else. Beyond filling white space with a marketing message, it became more about wholesale re-engineering of transactional documents in line with improving customer experience, add value to the marketer as well as end-user and shows actual value of direct marketing.”
It may be that transpromo-aware marketers still believe it to be stuck in the old guise and it is the printer’s role here to highlight this new, more subtle version of the medium. The argument from those in the market already goes that as more printers make headway in getting at the marketers, dispelling cost myths and highlighting benefits through close account management, transpromo work will become a more commonplace sight. A landslide effect, it is hoped, will be created.
If a printer can demonstrate good returns using transpromo, this bolsters the case for the printed medium and makes any investment more secure.

Ashwani Arya, managing director of Perfact Color Digital Prints’, says, “That by offering transpromo mailing, printers might also insulate themselves from the threat of falling mail volumes overall by gaining more types of business from the same client.” Arya knows what he is talking about. What with the headway the firm has ensured in 19 universities which Perfact has rendered with 14 security features.
“If they prove themselves capable of marketing a company subtly but effectively through transactional mail, it may well be that a printer acquires some of the marketing side of the business where traditionally they’ve only done the transactional side,” says Arya.
This is a very real opportunity for transactional printers, he says, because of the skills that these printers possess. “The thing with a direct mail print run is it has more in common with transactional applications than marketing applications – because what you’re doing is a smart, targeted and focused print run,” he says. “So while it might be powering a campaign that is – in its true sense – a marketing concept, it is implemented like a transactional job.”
A great opportunity
Suddenly, then, transpromo becomes a great opportunity not just for the client, but also for the transactional mail printer. With more and more bills switching to online, a route into other markets seems a sensible way of complementing the stable areas of the transactional market.
But all of this is theoretical at present. For every printer who tells you the transpromo revolution is finally just around the corner, another will tell you that there is little proof of that headway being made – certainly not enough to justify an investment on the scale needed to do transpromo properly.
In many ways, then, there is a stalemate. There are not enough people wanting transpromo to make investments viable, but there is also a lack of printers who have invested, who are pushing transpromo to create and force the demand.
As ever with print, a ‘wait and see’ approach is dominating among the majority in this sector. And until more take the plunge, it will no doubt be impossible to make a real judgement as to whether transpromo is a pipedream, or the potential saviour of transactional mail.

Aadhar at Manipal technologies

Manipal Technologies, one of the print firms involved in printing of UIDAI Aadhar cards. The print firm has produced  4.17 crore cards in three months.  According to Gautham Pai of Manipal Technologies, the Aadhaar project demands superior IT capabilities since there is a lot of variable data in multiple languages. It also calls for tremendous degree of IT innovation at the process level to ensure that the output is error-free. The logistics of dispatch and tracking is intricate as well. Manipal’s in-house R&D did a commendable job in modifying the machines to integrate them with automation to be able to scale up the volumes. The firm committed to the Aadhaar team that per-day volumes will be delivered. 
Besides, Aadhar project, Manipal Technologies is catering to The National Rural Development project which is another complex print job with personalised photographs.
According to Pai, this is a prestigious project of the Andhra Pradesh government. The candidate’s photographs has been incorporated to reduce fraudulent practices. There are many critical projects these days wherein capabilities in IT, fulfillment etc which are well beyond core printing come into play. Governments have turned a lot more progressive and on many occasions they articulate their needs and invite print firms to recommend solutions. The government engage in elaborate discussions and consultations to arrive at a solution is a welcome trend for the print industry. For instance, for the Aadhaar project, different formats were planned and they transitioned from black and white printing to a card.


This article was published on 9 October 2012 and received 216 views