Print Renaissance

Print is not dead, rather it is being re-discovered as a way to disconnect from the noisy online world and find comfort in the traditional enduring value of the printed page.

Since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1440, the printed word has stood the test of time, enduring as a communications medium through the evolution of newspapers, radio, TV, mobile, the web and social media. Of course, today we are more accustomed to reading from screens rather than paper – be it tablets or smartphones – but our affinity for paper is unlikely to ever completely diminish.

The prevalence of digital communications does not mean that printed communications will cease to be important. As with any new form of communication, the new does not necessarily replace the old. Radio did not destroy the newspaper; television did not kill radio and the internet did not eradicate television.

A few years ago, the eBook was expected to spell the demise for the printed book. Yet after a period of explosive growth, indications for 2013 suggest that eBook sales growth has eased with sales up by just 5% in first six months of 2013. According to the Association of American Publishers and Nielsen, with an 86% share of sales in the UK, print still accounts for the lion’s share of book sales. Print and digital therefore co-exist in the publishing industry, with both serving different customer needs.  Similar trends are being seen in the print industry, which is challenged with staying relevant in an age of “online distraction”.

Today, print is often not invited to the party, typically forgotten in the rush to reach consumers through online and social media channels. Many marketing departments may have completely migrated their advertising and marketing efforts to the web because of its cost effectiveness, exposure potential and convenience. But it is a mistake to overlook the traditional methods such as print in the marketing mix. Now is the time to differentiate with print and break through the online and email clutter. Whilst our email inboxes full to overflowing, our letterboxes are relatively empty.

The consequence is that in this noisy online world, we are more likely to open a piece of targeted and relevant direct mail. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) estimate that response rates for direct mail are 3.4% compared to 0.12% for email. Meanwhile, the DMA “From Letterbox to InBox 2013” research study revealed that 56% found printed marketing to be the most trustworthy of media channels. Whilst online communications can offer immediacy, speed and efficiency, direct mail can have the edge when it is optimised with personalisation, particularly when integrated with digital channels.

Businesses should therefore consider a multichannel approach that combines the best of both worlds – print and digital. By leveraging the power and effectiveness of print, businesses can create engaging, relevant, targeted and response driven campaigns. Let’s consider some reasons why print still matters:

  • Tangibility. The tangibility of a printed page engages more senses than an online advertisement or email and carries a sense of prestige with qualities that can’t be replicated on screen. Paper has a sense of permanence, until we decide to throw it away, whilst whereas emails can be deleted with a click and online advertising easily blocked.
  • Trust: Readers often trust the printed page and a high quality piece of targeted and relevant print can have authority and convey importance. Print is less intrusive than online media and is often perceived as more credible.
  • Retention. We are more engaged when reading printed material – it demands the full attention of the reader, avoiding the distractions from the “always-on” digital world. Studies have shown that we absorb and remember more information when reading from paper than from a screen, and we often tend to skim read information on screen.
  • Digital integration.  Personalisation can bridge the gap between print and the online world. For instance augmented reality or placing PURLS (personal URLs) or QR codes, can enable a call to action, directing a consumer to a website or special landing page. This also allows a business to track the effectiveness of direct marketing campaigns.

So how can businesses integrate their print and digital marketing efforts? Many are adopting a cross-media strategy that brings together print, email, web pages and mobile marketing.  This means customising every document, web page, email or mobile message combined with integrated reporting to track results and return on investment.

One approach is to look to external print service providers, to help bridge the gap. Many are venturing into the world of cross-media, leveraging their digital print capabilities and exploiting the use of digital printing, variable data printing (VDP) and customer communications management (CCM) to deliver customised communications across multiple channels. Regardless of the channel, the ability to deliver relevant messages relies on the quality of customer data. So, ultimately, for organisations to truly reap the benefits of cross-media marketing, data quality is absolutely critical.

Print is not dead – it is not even close to extinction. Although our interaction with print may be falling amidst an abundance of digital mediums, if targeted and relevant and integrated as an on-ramp to online channels, print remains an effective revenue-generating tool. In this age of distraction, print now has the opportunity to truly enjoy a creative renaissance.

Read Quocirca’s report on how print rooms can unlock the value of print here.