The missed opportunity of digital printing

Before Amazon’s mail catalog arrived at our house, I’d already seen the social posts: “isn’t it so great that a company nearly synonymous with buying things online embracing the mail!?”  And it is — it’s a reminder that channels ebb and flow in popularity, but popularity and effectiveness rarely run together.  (At least that’s what I told myself in high school.)

That warm glow lasted until I saw the reverse.  It was addressed to Current Occupant.

A word on my relationship with Amazon.  It’s been over two decades of patronage.  I have written four books on Amazon’s author platform (at least 1.5 of which are decent).  Because of my kids’ tendency to break Kindles, I have had a service technician say he’s never seen an account with that many registered.  My wife was once such a prolific reviewer, people would send her free stuff for reviewing.  I know when we get new delivery people because we don’t know each other’s name.  Yet.  If Washington or New York don’t work out for HQ2, they could save a lot of effort by building next door here.

To summarize: Amazon knows my name.

But, as many a math teacher has told me, it doesn’t count if you don’t show your work. 



We all know what happened here.  It’s happened to us too.  The data from the online database didn’t talk to the mailing database.  Or, if it did, they weren’t confident enough in the match to put a name on the catalog.  Or they didn’t think it was worth it.

They have the same problem we struggle with every day: identity resolution.  Is the person we think is at this address really there?  Are we going to get it wrong?  And is it worth it?  It’s why when we launched SimioAudience, the next generation co-op, we invested heavily in billions of data points that can determine this very thing with certainty.

In a way, it’s heartening.  The company that has, in a conservative estimate, all of the data plus some stuff they just made up for fun, sent the same catalog to everyone.

It’s understandable.  It’s heartening.  It’s also no excuse.

Amazon, along with very few others like Netflix, lead the world in “if you like this, you’ll like that.”  Their catalog could be a deeply personal document or, if that seems a little creepy, a moderately personal one, with personalized items sprinkled throughout.  Instead, they used the same strategy that Sears Roebuck used back when their catalog was the sanitary paper of choice pre-indoor-plumbing.

This need not be.  Paper is now a digital canvas, ready to be as customized as the recommendations on Amazon.  For Amazon, that means more sales and more satisfied customers; for you, it means more donations and more satisfied donors.

You’ve worked not only for your donors’ donations, but for their data and for their relationship.  It’s important to use the former to reinforce the latter.

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