Author Archives: Heidi Tolliver-Walker

About Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”

QR Codes: What the Numbers REALLY Say


Lately, there has been a lot of talk that QR Codes are dead, that as a response mechanism they are passé in favor of sexier approaches like augmented reality (AR) and near-field communications (NFC). However, the data don’t support this claim.

This week, I released a complete front-to-back update of “QR Codes: The Data Speaks,” now called “QR Codes by the Numbers: Compiled Data 2015.” This report gathers data from around the industry, both recent and historical, to put the QR Code growth and adoption into perspective.

When we look at the compiled data over time, there are some clear trends that we see:

  • Adoption has been hovering around 30% of cellphone users.
  • Marketers indicate that their use of QR Codes is — not on the decline as so many people would have you believe — but on the rise.
  • While more men are still scanning than women, it’s much a more balanced environment than it has been in the past. The percentages are now much closer to 50/50.
  • The demographic of the typical QR Code scanner is getting older. The majority of scanners are now 35+ years old (as opposed to 18-34 years old, as it has been in the past).
  • Scanning continues to dominate in retailing, where people are scanning for product information and discounts.
  • Growth in mobile payments via QR Codes is significant and rising.

I have been watching the QR Code data for years. I hear what people say about the death of these useful tools, but this is what I see in the numbers . . . and what I see confirmed with my own eyes.

One of the challenges in watching this market is that the research environment has changed. During 2011-2013, a lot of research was being done on adoption of QR Codes. Dedicated studies were being conducted on the percentage of cellphone owners using them, gender and other demographics of those users, what media they were scanning, and how these codes were being used. Places like Marketing Charts, eMarketer, and others kept rolling tabs of user behavior.

As QR Codes have increasingly become part of the overall marketing landscape, however, dedicated QR Code research is much harder to come by. Instead of having entire reports on the subject, that data is now buried in reports on mobile lifestyles, mobile apps, and related topics. It is increasingly rolled into mobile scanning at large (or at the least, barcode scanning), which could also include UPC codes.

Still, there is lots of data out there. You just have to dig a little more to find it.

What does the reduction in dedicated QR-Code-specific research mean? What it doesn’t mean is that QR Codes aren’t important or relevant anymore. On the contrary, what it does mean is that QR Codes have become such an established part of response marketing that they aren’t the sole focus anymore. Companies that regularly update their QR Code data tend to be suppliers of proprietary codes that analyze their own user bases looking to differentiate their companies in a landscape of competitors.

So to address the talk that QR Codes are dead, that they are passé in favor of sexier approaches like augmented reality and near-field communications, I respect people’s opinions. However, I’m a numbers gal. The data don’t line up. Not only do we see QR Code adoption on a consistent upward trend, but we see them more and more places. From direct mail to catalogs, to the doors of rental cards and the fronts of exercise equipment at the gym, to product packaging and even fruit at the grocery store. Every time you turn around, there is a QR Code in a new location.

As far as I’m concerned, QR Codes are alive and well. They just aren’t going to be the end all, be all of mobile response marketing. But then, they were never intended to be.

For more information on the report, click here.



Kudos! Self-Promo that Motivates to Action


Yesterday, I opened a birthday card sent to me by Innovative Business Products. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The card was bright and colorful, and my name was drawn in icing on top of the cake. Thank you, IBP, for not personalizing the number of candles on the cake!

Inside was a standard business card, but also an invitation.

We hope you enjoyed your personalized birthday card. Just for fun, take a quick selfie with your card and post it to for a chance to win a special prize. One winner per month.

What a simple but great idea.

  • People love to take selfies.
  • People love to look at other people’s selfies.
  • By tapping into our narcissistic instinct, it gets people to IBP’s Facebook page.
  • By visiting IBP’s Facebook page, this increases people’s engagement with the company.
  • I get the opportunity to win a prize. I don’t know what it is, but it’s free.

IMG_5416Printers’ Facebook pages aren’t known for being stellar examples of engagement, but people will post selfies just to post selfies. This gets people to IBP’s Facebook page. While there, I might “like” the page, increasing the company’s exposure to my Facebook network, and scroll around to see if anyone else posted a selfie, thereby exposing me to all of the marketing content elsewhere on the page.

The combination of personalized card and invitation to post on Facebook connects customers and potential customers with IBP on Facebook and lets IBP know how many people are responding to its personalized cards. It also encourages people to poke around the page, and if they find another selfie they like, they will repost it. That gives IBP extra bang for its buck.

This is a really simple but effective idea for self-promotion using the best of print and social media.

Kudos, IBP. (Now where’s my prize?)


32% of Retailers Acquire Mobile Numbers Via Print


As the world goes mobile, this seems to threaten the security of print. Yet the need to obtain mobile numbers is one of the drivers for print. According to Experian Marketing Services, 32% of retailers use print campaigns to gather mobile numbers. This follows web forms, email, and mobile direct.

Acquiring Mobile Numbers

Mobile marketing isn’t going to replace print marketing. They serve two entirely different roles, but it can support the print market as customers strive to build their mobile databases.

The survey has other good news for printers, as well. More than half (51%) of retailers are more likely to gather mobile numbers via in-store signage in 2014 than they were the year before. If you’ve got a retail customer . . . how many stores do they have?

So don’t be afraid of mobile. Embrace it!

Beware of Inaccurately Presented Data


Yesterday, I was skimming through LinkedIn posts and saw that someone had shared a news story that Millennials “want offers by marketers by mail.” In this industry, we’re always looking for opportunities to promote the value of print, so I clicked through. The actual story, however, indicated that 41% of Internet users are now blocking ads, rising to 63% of Millennials, creating openings for marketers using other channels. It did say that Millennials are open to ads that contain relevant content.

The article then went on to say that ads are not the only way to reach Millennials.

Free content was the most effective way they recommended for companies looking to attract their business, followed by discounts or free trial offers by mail, and appearing high in search results. [1]

I thought back to the title of the discussion: “Millennials want offers by mail.” This is not quite the same thing as “discounts or free trial offers by mail.” The difference is subtle, but significant.

“Marketing offers” spans a wide range of general marketing communications, while discounts and free trial offers are a very specific subset that involves giving recipients free stuff. Just because Millennials want discounts and free trials doesn’t mean that they want all types of direct mail. Maybe they do, but this particular set of data doesn’t say that.

In this industry, we are anxious to promote the value of print, and I’m a big fan. At the same time, we need to be careful to be accurate in our representation of the data. It doesn’t take much to undermine credibility, and if people begin to think that we are inaccurately presenting data to support the value of print, that doesn’t help anyone.

If I had been putting out that story, I probably would have used a teaser that talked about the opportunity presented by discounts and coupons. “Even Millennials like a great deal!” Or the value of making a heavier upfront investment in free trials in order to draw in this customer group. Maybe, “Free Stuff Draws in Millennials!” Or, “It Costs More, But Snagging Millennials Is Worth It.” This places the focus on the specific opportunity (which is legitimate, and it was a great story to share) without making it seem as if this data says more than it actually does.

Can Personalizing by City Be More Effective Than by Name?


The other day, I received a personalized postcard that caught my eye and made me think. It was a beach scene, with brightly colored beach chairs across the front. I live in the heartland, so at first I thought perhaps it was a travel promotion. The headline read, “Just our way of saying thanks, Bellefonte.” At that point, I figured it probably wasn’t.

It was a strange mish-mosh of things, but one thing made me turn it over and read the back: Bellefonte. Beach image or not, the headline told me that this related to our area. Turns out, it was a brand awareness campaign for one of 16 eye care centers in the region. I had been invited to bring the card in to my local office for $50 off sunglasses. (Ah, there’s the connection to the beach chairs!)

IMG_5102What made me think was the use of Bellefonte instead of Heidi.  I wondered, Would I have turned the card over if the card had used my name instead? The honest answer is probably not. I get inundated with “personalized” direct mail using my name. Everyone does it, so the use of “Heidi” would have meant nothing to me. But the use of the town did. This was something local.

There were a lot of things that were not so great about this promotion, but I did read it. It made me wonder: How often do we default to the use of someone’s name as the easy form of personalization when there might be another variable that is more effective? Geographic targeting can be highly effective, too.

With name personalization becoming all but ubiquitous, it’s more important than ever to think about other readily available targeting that may be effective, too.

How to Get Double-Digit Sales Increases


I just got off the phone with Cheryl Kahanec, EVP-Digital, for Earth Color. The topic was multichannel marketing, and as usual, Cheryl left me with a lot to think about. In particular, there was one client story that impressed me. Not just because of how the campaign was put together, but because of the work put in beforehand to ensure its success.

The client wanted to streamline its process for follow-ups sent to customers who shopped in its stores. If they made a purchase, the client wanted to say thank you and extend a cross-sell offer. If customers didn’t make a purchase, it wanted to give them an incentive to do so.

Before rolling out the new follow-up strategy, the client spent significant time and effort tracking the behavior of recent customers to determine which customers responded to which channels. It also experimented with the timing. This led to the creation of customer profiles that could be applied to its customer base across the board.

This information determined the strategy going forward. It determined to whom to send email only, to whom to send direct mail only, and to whom to send both. It also determined when to blast the email and when to drop mail for the highest effectiveness.

It was time and effort well spent. EarthColor’s client experienced double-digit increases in its sales and cross-sales. Clearly, the time and energy spent upfront was well worth the effort.

How much energy to your clients spend in understanding channel preferences and timing before deploying their campaigns? How can you help?

Why Are You Still Waiting on Personalized Content?


Are you still personalizing primarily by name and address? If that’s all you are doing, what is preventing you from digging deeper? I suppose “Customers won’t pay for it” might be the answer, and if so, what are you doing to make them want to?

We’ve all seen the data, and it just keeps coming. According to a just-released Direct Marketing News infographic based on data from AutoPilot, for example:

  • 75% of consumers are more likely to respond to an offer if it’s personalized vs. 17% who are more likely to respond if it’s generic.
  • 72% of consumers are frustrated when they receive offers that don’t relate to their interests or past purchases.

AutoPilot InfographicIncreasingly, the data we are seeing comes from sources of digital marketing (including the AutoPilot data), whether email or online. The focus on digital personalization is intense right now, which means that print marketing needs to keep up.

If your competitor down the street reinvented its production and workflow, adding boatloads of new services and doubling its production capacity, you wouldn’t just sit back with a piece of hay in your teeth and say, “Oh, look at that.” You’d do something about it. We’re talking about the same thing here. If you say, “My customers don’t care about personalizing print,” don’t just write it off as irrelevant to you or a mountain that is too high to climb. Make them care!

The good news is, the same demographics and purchase patterns that are used for email can be used for print. The data just need to be matched up with names and physical addresses rather than email addresses. If your clients are investing in personalized email, then they have the data for personalized print, too.


The Importance of A/B Testing Email


Relevancy GroupI just read an interesting statistic. According to an email study from The Relevancy Group, only 30% of marketers conduct A/B testing for their email marketing. Considering that more than 20% of marketers attribute 25% or more of their annual revenues to email, you’d think they’d be more scientific about it, but apparently not.

By encouraging your clients to A/B test not only their print pieces but their emails as well, you can create campaigns that really stand out in their effectiveness. In fact, here is some eye-opening data from Unbounce on the results that can be obtained by A/B testing digital campaigns:

  • By A/B testing its pricing, SafeSoft increased conversions by 100%.
  • By A/B testing the length its trial offer, HubSpot increased conversions by 110%.
  • By A/B testing the placement of its CTA, Inbound Strategy increased conversions by 217%.
  • By A/B testing the style of its graphic imagery, EA Sports saw a significant lift in “performance.”

These aren’t small gains. One-hundred percent, 110%, 217% — those are some incredible numbers.

Some other numbers I’ve seen recently that kind of blew my mind were related to subject lines in emails and what words were most effective and which weren’t. Sidekick, for example, has found that emails with “you” in the subject line are opened 5% less than those without. Emails with “free” in the subject line are opened 10% more than those without. Emails with “quick” in the subject line are opened 17% less than those without.

These are stats that not necessarily intuitive, but that’s where A/B testing comes in. By A/B testing, you can find out what actually works best for your clients, and you. Just as with print, depending on the product and service being sold, even a small lift in open and conversion rates can result in huge revenue gains overall.

A/B testing digital campaigns might be a little new and untried for many clients, but the payoff can be huge. With numbers like these, isn’t it worth getting out their comfort zone (and yours)?

“80% of My Sales People Will Never Get It”


I’m back from Graph Expo, and when I let me brain rest, it’s interesting what rises to the top. One of those things was a comment made by Niels M. Winther in the Executive Outlook on Sunday morning. The auditorium was packed, not just because it was the opening session, but because of who was speaking and why.

Niels has been a powerhouse in this industry for a long time — on the vendor side. He’s been the president or CEO of Heidelberg USA, Baumfolder, and the East Asiatic Company, and he has served on the board of directors for dozens of other companies. But then he did something unexpected. He jumped the fence and became a printer. Today, Niels is co-owner of ThinkPatented in Miamisburg, OH. What on earth was he going to say?

A lot, it turns out, and it’s not what most of the audience wanted to hear. Niels reinforced the trend we’re hearing more and more, which is that for companies to succeed, printing has to be seen as a tool, not as the “end all, be all” of profitability. It is interesting that ThinkPatented doesn’t refer to itself as a “marketing services provider.” It refers to itself as a marketing execution company.

To summarize in my own words, “value-added services” is a misnomer. It’s not about adding value to print because that continues to make print the focus. It’s about viewing the communications process as a whole and understanding where and how to plug in the different components as a means to an end. Often that will include print, but sometimes it won’t. It’s about accomplishing some kind of result, whether it includes print or not.

This is, in essence, the heart of what Niels said, and he was shockingly frank when one of the members of the audience asked what percentage of the salespeople understood and were on board. His answer? “Eighty percent of my salespeople don’t get it, and they never will.”

He went on to explain that while these salespeople are valued members of the ThinkPatented team, over time, they will move on through attrition, and when ThinkPatented hires, it will often be from outside the industry. “Our salespeople don’t need to know how to put dots on dots,” he said. “We can teach them that. They need to know how to sell it.”

This is something I saw repeatedly throughout the show. Printers who truly “get it” bringing in talent from outside the industry or fresh out of college or training programs, where they can learn to think and sell the way the industry is moving. Because like it or not, you can’t always teach an established dog new tricks.

Who’s Making Sense of the Data?


In the early to full adoption years of full-color personalized printing, we talked about how clients didn’t have enough data to produce fully personalized jobs. But as full-color personalized printing has entered a more mature stage, it seems that we haven’t had that discussion in awhile. Perhaps that’s because even smaller companies are drowning in data. They just don’t know what to do with it.

In a recent webinar, Barb Pellow, director of InfoTrends, cited a marketing survey from DOMO in which CMOs were asked to agree, strongly agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: “I am able to handle the volume of marketing data that’s available for analysis without being overwhelmed.” Sixty-six percent (66%) either disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement.

Yet when DOMO asked them to respond to, “I have access to all the marketing data I need,” 51% of CMOs disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement.

CMOs have more data than they know what to do with, but they still don’t have what they need.

Do you know what this sounds like? It sounds like a recipe for someone to come in and offer to help them define their goals, define the data they need to achieve them, and then either help them centralize that data from within their organizations or help them go out and get it.

Anyone want to volunteer?  Anyone . . . ? Anyone . . . ?