Bills expand advertising options for companies

Bills expand advertising options for companies

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Companies such as banks and credit-card vendors have long included paper ads and offers with their statements or bills. Customers usually have trashed the inserts.

Now, these companies are trying a new tactic to get their customers' attention: placing the ads and promotional offers directly on the bill or statement. Using database software and sophisticated digital printers from Hewlett-Packard Co., Eastman Kodak Co. and Xerox Corp., companies can tailor statements, ads and offers printed on the bills to each customer.

Such "transpromotional marketing" makes it more likely a customer will see promotions because roughly 95 percent of people open and look at their bills and statements, according to research firm InfoTrends Inc. Marketers say that consumers prefer to receive marketing messages that are more personalized and targeted to their needs.

This kind of specialized direct mail, while costly, is becoming more common as digital full-color printing gets less expensive and the speed and quality improve. The cost to print a color page using H-P Indigo printer products dropped to as low as three cents a page in 2006 from almost ten cents a page in 1996, InfoTrends says.

Analysts say transpromotional marketing helps companies not only target customers better, it can offset printing costs by selling ads on statements. Barbara Pellow, an InfoTrends analyst, adds that companies also can track a return on investment better because they can glean a greater understanding of their customers' interests. InfoTrends says the share of transactional documents in the U.S. printed in full digital color rose to 22.9 percent in 2005 from 10.6 percent in 2002. That number is expected to increase to 33 percent by 2010, the firm says.

Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Motor Credit automotive-finance unit is one division using the new marketing tactic. Dennis McClure, Ford Motor Credit's invoice marketing manager in Dearborn, Mich., says the declining cost of color printing and the increasing speed and quality of the printouts influenced his division's switch last year from preprinted, company-branded paper for its customer invoices to full-color invoices designed around what car brand a customer drives. Ford Motor Credit works with DST Systems Inc.'s DST Output subsidiary, a printand electronic-billing provider, which uses Kodak digital printing presses and its own technology to produce invoices.

Using information it collects on its customers, Ford Motor Credit now includes tailored service reminders, bonus cash offers or lower financing, and deals on new cars on the 200,000 invoices it prints a day. Mr. McClure declined to discuss how effective this marketing has been but says the company plans to continue its transpromotional efforts. A company spokeswoman declined to reveal the cost of the specialized marketing but called it "a good investment" even though it is costlier than using pre-printed forms.

Through these digital presses and new invoices, "we're making sure that we protect and value the customer relationship so we are not inundating them with meaningless communication," McClure says.

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