Pleading the case for print

by Patricia Fitzgerald

Seems like so much of marketing these days is focused on digital. Social media, emails, blogs, online content — according to most marketers, that’s where you’ll find your customers. More and more interactions between businesses and their audience are happening through a screen.

Don’t get us wrong; we’re not dissing digital. It’s a large part of what we do, after all. But we do make a case for making sure print doesn’t disappear from your marketing mix. Which brings us to the topic of this week’s post: Is print panting its last breath? We argue that it’s quite the opposite. Print marketing is very much alive and kicking. In fact, we’d say this tangible, tactile medium is experiencing a resurgence. Here’s why.

Print is the new non-traditional

Remember when digital was considered non-traditional marketing? When social media was the “new” media? Not so much, any more. Everyone from Coca-Cola to your cousin Al has a Facebook page. And chances are, your Twitter home page is cluttered with more “promoted” tweets (aka, ads) than you can throw a mouse at. Print? Who does that?

Print has become so un-cool that it’s cool again. Kind of like Stranger Things-style 80s typography. With more businesses spending more time on digital marketing, going with print can actually give you an advantage. While your competitors are busy posting arty photos of their products on Instagram, why not do something they’re not? Something like, say, send your customers a beautifully designed oversized postcard, featuring great photography on wonderful tactile paper. A postcard they can hold, read and re-read, heck, even tape to their fridges or use as a bookmark.

Print works

In all the hoopla about how digital advertising delivers measurable returns, we’ve forgotten that print does as well. Let’s take good old-fashioned direct mail. According to the Direct Mail Association (DMA), direct mail costs no more than pay-per-click advertising, yet averages a response rate between 2 and 6 percent. Compare that to email marketing, which has an average response rate of just 0.12 percent.

So given the higher responses, what is the average return on investment for direct mail? DMA studies found that every $1 spent on direct mail generates around $12.57 in sales. Not too shabby. DMA also reports that nearly two-thirds of recipients made a purchase after receiving a direct mail piece. A HubSpot study goes even further, putting the average response rate for direct mail at an impressive 24 percent. With the average purchase amount at around $68, this pushes the calculated ROI of direct mail to $27 for every one dollar spent. Cha-ching.

And what of direct mail’s reputation for being old school? Yes, direct mail has traditionally been considered more effective with people age 65 and older, largely because they don’t change address very often. But you may be surprised to learn that 18 to 34-year-olds have started responding to direct mail in higher numbers, too. This bump among the younger crowd could be a reaction to the inundation of email, spam and social media content filling their smart phone screens. Getting a physical postcard or other printed piece in the mail? Now that’s refreshing!

People still prefer print

For all the time we spend online, people are still drawn to things they can actually touch, feel, and pick up. Take a gander at these stats. According to a Forbes survey, 46 percent of Internet users say they only read printed books — not ebooks.

OK, but what about marketing? Statistics collected by the MarketingProfs, one of the largest global communities of professional marketers, indicate that 70 percent of Americans find direct mail advertising more personal than online ads. MarketingProfs statisticians also report that 56 percent of consumers trust print marketing more than any other advertising method. In the digital age of annoying pop-up windows, spam, and viruses, consumers simply put more trust in print pieces.

People spend more time on print

There’s something about a printed piece that makes us slow down, take notice, and actually read. Research shows that your typical reader spends up to 20 to 25 minutes with a magazine, versus two minutes with a web-based article. Website visitors, on the other hand, spend as little as 15 seconds skimming content before they move on.

Once viewed, Facebook posts, banner ads, and emails vanish into ether. Tangible print pieces, however, tend to stick around for a lot longer. They also tend to grab attention. A study published by the scientific research website PLOS reveals that people are more likely to remember what they feel and see, more than what they just hear. The “feel” part is what really matters; print materials provide that tangible connection that lingers long past an email in an inbox or a tweet on a phone.

Print validates the purchase

In today’s age of digital marketing, you can send a thousand emails or post your blog on any number of social media platforms. But that doesn’t mean your target customers are going to read or respond to it.

A printed brochure is a whole other matter. If you’re able to convince a customer to walk away with your brochure in hand, you know you’ve crossed a significant hurdle in the sales process. That person is interested enough to at least flip through your piece, maybe even sit down and read it. They’re looking for validation before they make their purchase decision. Your brochure provides them with that.

A beautiful, well designed brochure reinforces the customer’s emotional decision, particularly when they’re making a high-value purchase. They look at the aspirational images, feel the quality paper stock, read the compelling headlines, and say to themselves, “Yes, I want this. I’m making the right decision to buy it.” You won’t get the same level of engagement or commitment from an email or Groupon.

Better branding

We’d argue that print materials are a much more effective medium for building a brand than websites, social media, blogs, and emails. While those digital channels should absolutely be part of your brand strategy, we’re convinced that print delivers a bigger branding punch.

That’s because print allows for much greater opportunity for a visual and emotional connection. From the texture of the paper you select for your brochure or business cards, to the color palette you artfully use, to the photography you showcase, to the font choices, to the words on the page — print is the ultimate branding vehicle. It places your brand directly and literally in the hands of your audience, without the barrier of a computer or cell phone screen.

You can’t have one without the other

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying you should you abandon digital altogether. Rather, we’re suggesting that print and digital both play an important and mutually beneficial role in reaching your audience. And we’re not alone. According to a Pitney Bowes survey, upwards of 76 percent of small businesses employ both digital and print marketing efforts. You should too.

After all, your customers are using both mediums as well. A survey conducted by the Association of Business Information & Media Companies (ABM) found that 96 percent of consumer turn to both websites and print magazines for information about businesses. Survey participants were asked to prioritize the sources of information they use when learning about new products, services and suppliers. While 80 percent said they use websites, printed information was close behind at 73 percent. Coming in third was print magazines, at 69 percent.

The key is to make sure your digital and print marketing efforts work hand in hand, instead of at odds They should be supporting the same brand, sharing similar messages, reinforcing and supplementing each other, and pointing to each other. If you’re interested in adding more print to your marketing mix, give us a shout. We’ll help you determine which print mediums fit your business goals, and how best to integrate them with your digital efforts. For examples of some of our print work, look here, and here, and here.