As I sit in my comfortable bunker wondering what I’ll write about, it still seems pretty obvious. What else has affected our lives to this extent, ever? 2020, which started out with so much promise, has truly turned into the annus horribillis, at least so far. Masked humans everywhere, lockdowns, food, hospitality, entertainment, sports and travel industries in free-fall collapse and still no end in sight. The robust civic and commercial life that we’ve known and taken for granted is still in a state of suspended animation.
Yet, there are hopeful signs with most states reopening at least tentatively, some more than others depending on the severity of the virus spread and the outlook of individual political leaders. Those of us in envelopes, print and mail who’ve been open the entire time based on our connection to vital communication will undoubtedly continue to see more valleys than peaks in our business, for the short-term anyway.
One of the things I’ve observed over the past few months is how much the pandemic and its effects is based on speculation and guesswork. Even some of the basic health guidelines have changed drastically as time goes on and we learn more. Predictions for how fast and how soon the various aspects of our economy will recover are all over the map. Pessimists and optimists both have ample justification for their points of view.
Well, I’ll join the speculation party and go out on a short limb to say I’m cautiously optimistic. (Of course, I’m hedging a bit with the “cautiously” part but cut me some slack here).
I think that as companies reopen, one of the first steps will be to communicate to their customers and prospective customers. In the past three months, most marketers have counseled empathy as the main message. “We’re in this together” and “we’re here for you”, etc. Anything too “salesy” was seen to be crass in the current climate.
However, we’re all in business to serve our customers’ needs and make money in the process, right? We all know that. So now that the worst is over (hopefully!) there’s no shame in shouting out a message that says, “we want your business and here’s why you should buy from us”. Many of these messages will be printed and mailed.
It will take a while for many people to get comfortable going out and especially traveling. Some of the best customers for print and mail are companies in the travel industry. I would expect that there will be a need to coax people back with multiple special offers. The same is probably true for higher education which is also a big consumer of custom printed envelopes and high-end printing. They’ve been hit hard and will be looking to get students enrolled either on campus or remotely. Either way, they’ll need a big marketing push.
Paper has made a comeback during the pandemic. We’re back using paper bags in stores and paper towels in restrooms. One recent development is that restaurants that reopen are now required to use single-use, paper menus instead of the typical book-style menus which get reused and re-touched. As more and more restaurants reopen in the coming weeks, there will be many orders placed for paper menus and paper placemats used as menus.
I believe the recent employment numbers which seem to have put a ceiling on the unemployment rate well below where most economists predicted is a very hopeful sign. And while I have no special insight on the ever-fluctuating stock market, the fact that most of the tremendous losses from earlier in the year have been restored seems to be a vote of confidence from investors.
The fact that a very big, strong economy was basically forced into a coma almost overnight would seem to suggest that the underlying demand once unleashed would come back. This must be weighed against the many companies who won’t come back at all. The crucial question is for the return to a strong economy is, “how long?”. Are we seeing the first signs of the “V-shaped recovery” some have predicted? We’ll just have to see how it plays out.
In the meantime, those of us in the envelope, print and mail business should benefit from the need for companies to promote more than ever.
Photo credits: Foggy Watch Hill Cove Sunrise - Julian Colton - Sailboats rest on a floating dock in Watch Hill Cove, Watch Hill, Rhode Island, as the morning sun burns away the fog.