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XY&Z: Take Your Print Marketing to the Next Dimension

Imagine if you will: open an envelope and a 3D cube pops out at you. Press a paper button on the top of a small paperboard box and an LED-illuminated cardboard city rises up out of the top. Receive a printed paper jukebox that actually plays music. These are just a few of the applications of “dimensional marketing,” a type of “3D printing,” a term we use advisedly these days; this does not refer to the additive manufacturing process that is becoming popular. Once upon a time referred to as “lumpy mail,” dimensional print is analogous to the pop-up book: turn a page and things spring up at you. Pull a tab and things move. Elaborate three-dimensional shapes are constructed entirely from paper and a little glue. Dimensional marketing uses the same basic concept, but goes much much further. It’s not a new concept (I wrote about a session dedicated to dimensional marketing back at Graphics of the Americas 2008), and in fact goes back at least 40 years, but in this day and age of commoditized print and competition from electronic media, dimensional mail is one of those “high-value applications” that can bring a bit of the je ne sais quoi back to print marketing.

On July 10, PaperSpecs hosted a Webinar, sponsored by Kallima Paper, called Dimensional Marketing: How to Stand Out In the Crowd, led by Mary Ann Konishesky and Rob Kelly of Essex, CT’s Structural Graphics. Structural Graphics helps marketers design, produce, and assemble dimensional marketing pieces, and the stuff their paper engineers can come up with are truly mind-blowing. The three examples cited above are actually among the more prosaic dimensional printing applications. For Carestream, a manufacturer of medical imaging equipment, Structural Graphics constructed a scale paper model of a new MRI scanner, which was sent as a promotional piece to radiologists. (No, the model did not actually scan.) For Victoria’s Secret, they designed an “origami gift card holder.” For Mars, a pop-up magazine spread complete with peel-and-sniff strip for the new mint-flavored 3 Musketeers bar. For Westinghouse, a laundry room tableau that had an image change, vertical-blind-transition-like, at the pull of a tab. For Drive Cam, maker of in-vehicle video cameras, 3D pre-crashed vehicles suitable for desktop display—perhaps the perfect gifts for James Spader and Holly Hunter.

The logical first question to ask is: how expensive and difficult would this sort of thing be to create? The logical follow-up would be: is it worth it?

“It seems intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Konishesky during the Webinar. “It’s an easily workable process.”

The process begins with a “discovery meeting,” during which the marketer meets with the designer/engineer and brainstorms ideas. For those on a bit of a budget, there are “standard” templates that companies like Structural Graphics have available—things like the pop-out cube, rolling “Rubik’s Cube”-like objects, small rectangles with a seemingly never-ending series of flaps, long cards that, when you pull a tab, the ends expand and extend, and so on. For those with a bigger budget, paper engineers salivate at the idea of doing some kind of custom project. Sound chips—like those found in greeting cards—lights, and other effects can also be added. Paper engineers are always experimenting, and some new designs play with polarized light screens that allow printed content to “magically” appear.

One catch to these kinds of projects is that, if they are going to be mailed rather than given away somewhere in person, they need to conform to postal regulations, particularly if economy is a concern. “We always design with economy in mind,” said Konishesky.

As for whether they’re worth it, “dimensional marketing has proven to be effective,” Konishesky said, “three times more effective than traditional flat print.” She presented data showing that these types of mailings have much higher than normal response rates and, consequently, returns on investment (ROI). A dimensional mailing project for Experian yielded a 3824 percent return on investment, and other such projects yielded results that were far above flat mail and even e-mail. In one sample (i.e., hypothetical) comparison to a flat mailer, Konishesky said, assume a product or service sells for $1,000. You print 5,000 pieces. The flat mailer costs 90 cents per piece to produce, while the dimensional mailer costs $2.25 (excluding postage). The flat mailer gets a two percent response, while the dimensional mailer gets a six percent—yielding a cost per response of $45 and $37.50, respectively. If 10 percent of those responses result in a sale, the dimensional mailer has yielded $30,000 in revenue vs. $10,000 for the flat mailer.

Your own mileage will vary, of course, but the idea is to create compelling, high-impact print applications that can be integrated with other non-print parts of a campaign. “When dimensional print advertising is paired with digital and social programs, responses skyrocket,” said Konishesky.

Dimensional marketing is certainly not for everyone, but even on a smaller scale it is one way to rise above mailbox clutter and show how print marketing can be both aesthetically exciting and economically effective.