Danielle Siegle is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she is a member of the Pi Sigma Epsilon (PSE) student organization. She graduates later this month with a degree in Marketing. Her organization has been doing market research to find out what college students and other millennials really think of mail and paper-based communications. Danielle recently presented PSE’s findings at the EMA Fall Meeting, sharing thoughts on how her generation interacts with mail. We are delighted that she has agreed to share this research with SpeakingDIRECT’s readers as well.
What happens when you survey a bunch of millennials about their opinions on paper-based communications and the mail process? You find out that they are not nearly as educated on the topic as they should be. Growing up in the envelope industry, I understand that I have a lot more knowledge on the topic than most, but some of the responses were just shocking to me.
I’m a member of Pi Sigma Epsilon (PSE), a sales, marketing and management student organization on over 60 campuses nationwide. They host regional and national competitions where you can compete in a sales role play, a speaker’s competition or a marketing challenge. The PSE chapter at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire took on the marketing challenge of doing some research for the Envelope Manufacturer’s Association (EMA).
We designed the research by asking people who have worked in the industry for most of their lives what they really wanted to know about millennials’ opinions of mail. We then surveyed millennials on topics relevant to millennial marketing and gathered data on their reactions. My student organization asked questions like these: What changes would you make to the current mail process? What is your definition of “eco-friendly”? How often do you check your mail? Over the course of four months, we received almost 500 responses. The results were eye-opening.
Over 60% of millennials surveyed check their mail daily, and another 20% check it weekly. People may say that print is a dying industry, but our generation is still using it! The next question we asked was about personalization of mail and personalization’s importance to the individual. Over 75% of respondents found it very important or important, with another 16% not having an opinion on it. This was shocking to me since growing up in the industry, I never cared if mail had my name or not: I just cared that I got mail!
Our next question had to do with the mail process and what changes respondents would make to it. About 63% said they wouldn’t make any changes to the mail process. Others voiced opinions that included, “Privatize the USPS; anything government owned doesn’t make money,” “Move it to online, I’d rather check things through my email,” “Have friendlier employees at the Post Office,” and “I don’t want as much advertising, we should be able to opt out of that.”
Some of the most interesting results came when we asked respondents to define “eco-friendly.” One response said, “To me, eco-friendly is anything that’s good for the economy.” Yes, you read that right – the economy. I’m not sure where this person came up with the idea that we were talking about the economy. Other common responses were, “Not wasting much paper,” “Something that reduces the harm of trees or increases my health by reducing emissions into the air,” “Sustainable. Something that can be recycled,” and my personal favorite, “Digital.”
The millennial generation has grown up with technology; we’re addicted to it. So, while this answer wasn’t surprising to me, it was evidence of a common misconception. My generation truly has no idea how the sustainability of digital communication compares to paper. They think that paper is bad because cutting down trees is bad for the environment when in reality, digital is doing more harm. Think burning coal for the electricity to power all those digital devices and server farms. And by the way, cutting down a tree isn’t the end of the cycle – it starts over with the planting of new trees to replace those harvested.
While some aspects of the results were a bit surprising, it also showed us that print is not dead. Yes, the industry is shrinking, but I guarantee it will never be completely dead. Once I spoke to a few of my friends about their misconceptions of the industry and talked to them about the facts, they were shocked to know that print is less harmful to the environment than digital. A lot of them switched back to taking notes by hand, sending more mail and talking to others about it as well. In order to help our industry grow instead of decline, we need to educate the next generation and show them that we’re here to stay!
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