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It's a Topsy-Turvy World
By: Elaine Reed
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For years now we’ve watched our lives slowly move from ink and paper to digital archives. It seems inevitable. Digital can be easier to organize. Is faster and often far more reliable than handwriting. But as we move closer and closer to a paper-free world, an interesting thing is happening. People want paper.

And not just any people. The people who don’t remember life before email and text messaging, our teenage counterparts who treat technology like it's second nature, want something they can hold in their hands that is not a computer. As this generation goes off to college they are actually writing letters to their friends and family. And when I say “actually writing letters,” I mean they have an actual pen in their hand — not a stylus — and they jot down their thoughts on a real piece of paper, not a tablet. When they finish writing their letter they put it in an envelope and mail it. With a stamp. Old-school like. Amazing.

Now this doesn’t mean that we’re eventually going to revert back to memos and wax pencils. Far from it. But it is something we need to consider in our marketing efforts. In fact, we can take a cue from the evolution of software packaging. Remember when you would get a huge box that had tons of CDs in it? Eventually it transitioned to a box about the size of a ream of paper with one or maybe two CDs. Today you might get a package the size of a DVD case and often just get a flash drive on a blister card.

We got those huge packages in the '90s because of software’s expense. People wanted to feel like they were getting something big and substantial in a very literal way. As we got used to the advances in technology it became more important for packaging to be cool and modern. Today’s teenagers are falling into that '90s mindset of “I want something tangible for my money/effort,” but they also don’t want the hundreds of jewel cases those of us who came before them have acquired.

How is a marketer supposed to handle this? Take a look at Get Glue. Get Glue is a social network dedicated solely to tracking entertainment. As people do this, they collect stickers. For the most part these stickers are virtual. You get an email announcing your latest achievement with an image of your newest sticker. But they added a twist — you can request actual paper stickers. No, people aren’t running sticker paper through their printers and downloading the images. They are having Get Glue mail them actual stickers. And then they put them everywhere!

The consumer gets the excitement of receiving a piece of mail, full of indicators of their efforts, and then they become brand ambassadors for Get Glue and their partners as they plaster these stickers on back packs, lap tops and so on.

So it seems that our technological world is coming full circle. We want the ease and convenience of our advanced technology, but we also like a tactile sensation to go with our feelings of accomplishment. What remains to be seen is how companies will respond to this while keeping costs low and sticking to their environmental commitments. This will be an especially interesting evolution to watch.

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About the Author
Elaine Reed is a marketing professional with heavy emphasis on e-commerce and Internet marketing. She blogs regularly on her website and tweets often.
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