This is part six of a ten-part series of Direct Marketing trends for 2013. To read the original article with all ten trends, click here.

The meaning of “it’s in the mail” has traditionally been very clear. There’s a physical piece of paper, postage paid, in transit by the US Postal system.  While postal mail volume has reduced over time, consumer preference for printed material is still strong.

One of the reasons cited for favoring select traditional mail delivery is that those pieces stand out in the clutter of mass communications. While email inboxes are climbing to dozens or hundreds of messages a day, consumer’s postal mailboxes still generally hover in single digits daily. Another reason is the ability to create archives of bills, statements, and other critical communications. Additionally, a mailed, paper bill left on the counter or refrigerator serves as as an easy reminder until the bill is paid.

While email and electronic reminders can serve these same purposes, it’s not with the same convenience or feel. Emails risk getting caught up in spam filters or get overlooked in the crowded space. And, because desktop email is generally less secure than online web sites, often the email message is merely a notice to log-in to various, disconnected web sites to view bills, statements, and other communication. 

Enter a new generation of service… the electronic mailbox. When this concept was first introduced several years ago, it seemed redundant. Doesn’t everyone already have an electronic mailbox? E-mail… electronic mail?? But after understanding the key differences with these services, it’s clear – there is indeed room for a new solution that serves consumers, providers, and marketers.

At a high level, here’s how it works:

  1. Digital Mail providers work with mailers (or their service providers) to receive a digital version of the mail that would otherwise enter into the mail stream
  2. As consumers sign up for digital mail delivery through one of the providers, mailers receive notification to switch off traditional mail and turn on electronic delivery
  3. Consumers then visit their “electronic mailbox” via desktop, smartphone, or tablet to view the mail piece in digital format.

Still sound like an opt-in for email statement delivery? Well, here’s a few key differences:

  1. Because the digital mailbox is an online, secure site itself, all statements, bills, and other mail are stored together, in their full form – no links to see the full content, no visiting multiple sites. With email, “statement available” notices are generally just links to engage with various, disparate web sites. Once a consumer gets the emails, they links to various web sites, recall various user id’s and passwords – often different because of password requirements, and once viewed, go away until the consumer proactively logs in again.
  2. Bills and statements stored in the digital mailbox are often interactive. Search for transactions, link to previous periods, create reminders and even add notes for later reference. Routing engines allow for a consumer to share select mail, balance information, etc. with others without exposing everything on the mail piece or in the mailbox.
  3. Digital mail is designed for print as well. Consumers who prefer paper-filing systems as backup can easily print copies and not have to deal with web formats that don’t translate to paper well.

Trend 7: Channel Convergence Becomes Real