Digital Fatigue Intensifies in the COVID Era

Even digital natives are turning to direct mail

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09/28/2020

Eve Padula

 

We’ve been living through a global pandemic for about six months now, and it’s fair to say that COVID-19 has affected us all. Back when schools and businesses were originally shut down in mid-March, none of us knew what to expect and many of us were caught by surprise. For better or worse, we’re all a lot wiser now.

 

Even before COVID hit, consumers were already experiencing digital fatigue. Most people are inundated with e-mails; our work and personal accounts are so overloaded with digital communications that we often resort to mass-deleting multiple messages at a time after only glancing at the subject lines. There was a time when e-mails stood out, but now the sheer amount of digital content that we are exposed to in a typical day is resulting in a diminished return. Savvy businesses recognized this, and began supplementing their marketing campaigns with direct mail, postcards, catalogs, and other printed communications. This proved quite effective for a very simple reason—in today’s digital word, printed communications cut through the clutter and get noticed.

 

COVID-19: The Great Accelerator

Although enterprises and brands have worked hard to deepen their connections with consumers, today’s consumers have become hyper-aware because they are used to being bombarded by communications. Some people have called COVID-19 “the Great Accelerator,” and this is certainly true in the world of customer communications. Consumer beliefs or preferences about how they want to be communicated with that were taking shape before the pandemic have only been intensified now. Rather than changing the world of customer communications, COVID-19 has served to accelerate it. Digital fatigue is very real. We are all overloaded and consumers are less trusting of digital communications. Media reports of fraud and identity theft are on the rise, and security concerns surrounding personal data continue to mount. Digital communications are losing their effectiveness as a result, and this puts print in a unique position.

 

More than ever, today’s consumers want empowerment in deciding how their providers communicate with them. According to Keypoint Intelligence’s most recent transactional communications research, over three-quarters of consumers stated that it was important for them to decide which channels their providers used to contact them. This same research also shows that consumers’ preferences for paper-based bills and statements have increased year-over-year.

 

Paper-Only Preferences for Bills & Statements

 

 

Of course, it should be noted that the chart above only specifies the small share of consumers that wanted to receive their communications by paper only, but the stronger preference for paper among most types of communications is clear.

 

Largely thanks to COVID, people are focused on different things than they were in the past. Even as the economy reopens, many people are working from home with much more regularity than they did in the past. Our work lives and home lives have become increasingly interconnected, and this is particularly true for parents of young children who are frequently grappling with remote learning or childcare concerns. At the beginning of 2020, many of us were heading into the office each day and coming home at night, but this separation has become blurred now that our work computers and home computers are frequently one in the same. We are online all the time now, and all of this virtual technology is overwhelming. As a result, the attraction—or maybe re-attraction—to print should come as no surprise. Print is a timeless, tangible, and tactile way of reaching people. And even as consumers become increasingly weary and skeptical of digital communications, print remains trusted. It can truly help brands stand out in today’s digital world.

 

In case anyone needed more evidence of digital fatigue, my 7-year-old daughter recently received something in the mail that really caught my eye. Before she opened the envelope, I thought it was a standard birthday party invitation or maybe a thank you note…but it wasn’t. The letter was actually an invitation to join in a mail-based “sticker club” with the opportunity to receive stickers from other kids in various locations. If this isn’t proof that even today’s youth is struggling with digital fatigue, I don’t know what is.

 

Direct Mail Sticker Club Invitation

 

 

Honestly, I haven’t seen something like this since I was a kid—it reminded me of the “chain letters” that supposedly originated in far-off locations where you were encouraged to keep the communication going, minus the years of bad luck that were associated with “breaking the chain.”

 

The Bottom Line

Although there is no question that print can help brands stand out in today’s digital world, the key to success is actually a combination of print and digital communications. Remember, consumers want a say in how they are communicated with, so there is no “one size fits all” approach. It’s all about supplementing print with digital to have a greater impact and enable the greatest customer experience possible. In a world where consumers have grown increasingly wary of digital communications, direct mail can really stand out in a trusted and meaningful way.