The essential media channel most successful digital start-ups can’t do without…

Here’s a quick quiz for you digital marketing experts:

Question: What do all these online brands have in common?

Google, Uber, Kogan, Catch of the Day, Deals Direct, The Iconic, Hello Fresh, Helpling, styletread, carnextdoor, suppertime, Charles Tyrwhitt, Naked Wines, Virgin Wines, Marley Spoon and loads of other digital retailers…
(Hint: Direct marketers have an unfair advantage here)

Answer: they all rely on print as their most valuable media channel for acquiring new customers.

That’s right folks – print technology. You know, that ancient old-fashioned relic of a media channel, arrogantly ignored by so many naive digital marketers?

printed inserts are key to new customer acquisition

FYI a quick piece of digital advice – if you are an alleged digital marketing expert who advises clients to only use digital channels, or a digital marketer who only uses digital channels, you may need to rethink what you do. Because if you are not using the proven channels and only using the (often) unproven digital channels, you really should leave the industry. You’re giving it a bad name and costing marketers a sizeable fortune.

I’ve written previously about Google’s use of direct mail. You’ve probably received some of their mailings. So let me share the ParcelPush story with you.

Bjorn Behrendt is a successful German entrepreneur with a background in online direct marketing – also known as digital marketing. He launched styletread, an online shoe store, in Australia. He then sold it for loads of money. Now he’s launched another three digital start-ups in Australia to service digital retailers. And these start-ups are all print-based businesses.

Gotta love it when one of the fastest growing digital start-ups, which exists to service digital start-ups, is providing print services to those digital start-ups!

If you’ve worked in direct marketing, particularly online retail or mail order, you’ll probably already use printed inserts in fulfillment parcels to acquire customers. This channel is at least 50 years old.

But if you don’t have any DM experience this channel might be new to you. Bjorn discovered printed inserts when he owned styletread. Loads of other online retailers asked if they could put their inserts in styletread’s shoe boxes when they were delivered to customers – for a fee of course.

Long story short, Bjorn partnered with Australian Craig Morris and launched ParcelPush – a specialist business owning the rights to access online retailer’s fulfillment boxes/parcels. They pay to insert a branded envelope into them. Then they sell inserts into those envelopes to other online retailers. For example, in the Aussie Farmers Direct fulfillment box, they insert an envelope branded “Aussie Farmers Direct” and it is filled with third party offers and samples.


This has become one of the cheapest channels for online retailers to acquire new customers. After all, they are making offers to people who have already bought a product online, so these prospects don’t need to be educated to shop online. It’s the same process as mail-order companies that used inserts to convert existing mail-order customers to buy other products by mail-order. What’s old is new again – again.

More importantly they are using tactile media – the media that affects all five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Digital media only affect sight, sound and touch, so are relatively limited in their customer engagement ability. (I had to get customer engagement into a marketing blog to demonstrate my digi-credibleness). As I’ve said before the physical nearly always outperforms the virtual.

Most digital marketers struggle to make digital channels profitable for customer acquisition. The digital channels are much better for retention and repeat business.

Here are some samples of the inserts – all shapes and sizes:

Parcel Push 2

Parcel Push

In addition, and as a result of the success of ParcelPush, they’ve also launched two other print-based businesses: – this is a competitor to the Yellow Envelope and other distributors of catalogues and brochures into letterboxes. – this is an online print business. Who’d have thought we needed another printer? But the ParcelPush print volumes have made it possible to offer good value printing – and distribution.

So if you want to succeed with digital marketing, here’s some career advice. Find a grey-haired direct marketer and buy them a drink. Then sit back and listen. They’ve lived through and created more disruption in marketing than anyone else in history. And they continue to do so. You’ll be surprised how fast your career takes off.

But remember, just because digital marketing techniques are new to you, doesn’t mean they’re new to the world. Technology changes, but human’s emotional reasons for buying remain constant…


  1. I agree Malcolm, print has too often been overlooked within the digital channel set but it can multiply responses and up & cross sell many times over – if used in a relevant way to an audience already primed to buy. Tactile media is exciting and print can bring the offer to life within a digital context. As you explain in your article, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

  2. I’ve worked in digital for 16 years and have only heard of 5 or 6 of those companies at the top, but maybe i’m not their target market. Isn’t there an ethical stand-point to consider being a marketer too though? The cost of printing them, the cost and lack of decorum of someone standing on the high street thrusting them into peoples faces, the cost of someone cleaning them up off the floor at the end of the day and the waste of 98% of them ending up in the bin. An email/display ad with the same offer might get similar results but there’s less friction and cost involved.

    It really is industry and product specific but i believe a mix should be considered for sure, which is what you’re saying.

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