Last week, Google sent me some mail. This is not unusual. CPL has an AdWords account, and every week Google emails me a little report on the previous week's activity. I use GoogleMail for private email, and Google Apps for file sharing, and I routinely get emailed tips on how to get more out of both of these services. I also receive regular and resolutely cheery emails urging me to join Google+, and telling me all the great networking opportunities I'm missing by regularly and resolutely refusing to do so.
But this mail was different. It was made of paper, and was brought to CPL's door in the hand of a nice man from Royal Mail. Odd... why would the world's best-known internet brand, a brand which relied on digital channels for every one of the 47.5 thousand million dollars it earned in the last 12 months, and which already communicates with me every few days, send me a message printed on squashed trees?
Not only was this message from Google on paper, it was jolly good paper too, a smart coated 250gsm matt stock that felt smooth and luxurious without being flashy, crafted into a fashionable 7-inch square, 12-page booklet.
The second surprise was that our website address, www.cpl.co.uk, was printed on the front. Aha, a clever little element of personalisation, achieved by using a digital press to over-print the cover of a standard printed piece. Or so I thought, until I opened the booklet (of course I opened it, how could I not do so when Google - Google! - had gone to the trouble of printing our very own URL on the cover) and found that the first six pages were entirely devoted to our AdWords campaign over the past quarter, complete with graphics showing our AdWords spend over the period, which keywords were most successful at sending us traffic, which of our ads performed the best, the trends for both clicks and impressions, and our overall spending and costs-per-click across the last six months. So... not just an overprint job, the whole booklet was a custom creation from start to finish. One of the characteristics of digital presses is that they are cost-efficient for small runs, but very cost-inefficient for long runs - add in the cost of inserting into an envelope and posting, multiply by hundreds of thousands of AdWords account-holders, and you end up with a very large investment in print.
The third (and most telling) surprise was how strongly I was affected by this communication. At some level, I was tickled pink at being sent an old-school direct mail piece by one of the smartest kids on the digital block - and I was impressed by the physical quality of the piece. But it was also incredibly informative, using graphics to show very clearly how our AdWords campaign was going, suggesting (in the mildest of up-sells) how Google might help improve that campaign, and offering various forms of advice and help ranging from instant chat or telephone, to AdWords business user forums and online tutorials.
That little mailing piece ended up being shown to about half the people in our building. A manager who had struggled to understand the AdWords concept ‘got' it for the first time as he pored over the printed graphics. Another asked why our costs-per-click were going down over time, and as I explained about bidding and budget settings, started making some very sensible suggestions about where we should be placing our AdWords spend to achieve maximum impact. Everyone who saw the booklet engaged with it.
From which we can draw not one lesson but two.
The first lesson is about the power of content marketing. I was given a marketing piece where the content was all about my own business, and I found it utterly compelling.
The second lesson is about the power of print. I engaged with this printed communication in ways that the constant stream of emails from the same organisation could never make me do. Google is a smart digital company, so smart that it knows sometimes print has more power to communicate than digital. That doesn't mean print is always better than email and other digital channels, it just means they all have a useful role to play in modern, joined-up marketing communications. And I'm going to keep that booklet in my pocket so that the next time a brainless digital fanboy bleats that "print is dead", I can slap his silly face with it. Now that's something you can't do with an email...
Mark Rosselli is chairman of CPL