In 1897, American writer Samuel Clemens—better known as Mark Twain—was two years into an around-the-world speaking tour when rumors arose that he was gravely ill or had already died. An American newspaper even printed his obituary. A journalist from the New York Journal finally reached him, prompting Twain’s now-famous response that “Reports of my death have been exaggerated.”
Like the rumors of Mark Twain’s early demise, the death of print marketing has also been wildly exaggerated. The more time we spend online—and enjoy the conveniences of curbside pickup, same-day delivery, and Prime everything—the more we hear, “But print is dead, right?”
Yes, digital marketing is ascendant. It offers options like customizable audiences, niche targeting, instant two-way feedback and engagement, and detailed performance metrics. But for all digital marketing’s promise, there are limits—and print will always have a place in the marketing mix.
Defining print marketing
Print marketing is a huge category, going far beyond flyers and brochures. It incorporates anything that’s printed and can promote a business, brand, or message. Print marketing can include posters, business cards, newsletters, direct mail, signage, trade show materials, stickers, swag and much, much more. And technological leaps forward in printing technology have opened a world of creative possibilities, from branded items to personalization.
In addition, print marketing feels fresh again after our lives went virtual for the last two years. As events and in-person meetings come back, print marketing is rebounding, too. In fact, the global direct mail market is expected to grow by 1.5% this year (not a huge leap, but growth is growth). The global print market is also growing — it will top $821 billion this year, and digital printing will account for nearly 20% of the total thanks to economics, fast turnarounds, and customizability.
Selling print marketing
Research has shown again and again that print marketing belongs in a business’s marketing mix.
Why? For starters, it offers interactive possibilities that digital marketing simply cannot. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key reasons why print marketing still matters.
Print marketing is effective. While many people read mail over the recycling bin, the right print marketing at the right moment can make all the difference. A brochure or mailer from an admired brand can invoke a state of desire that leads to a purchase. A coupon can arrive just in time to prompt the recipient to book a service appointment.
Studies by the Direct Mail Marketing Association have found that direct mail marketing campaigns have, on average, a return on investment of 15% to 17%. Customer response rates can top 9%, compared with 1% or lower for digital marketing campaigns.
Print marketing activates our brains differently. Temple University neuroscientists have found that there’s something about content on paper that engages our brains in different and powerful ways. In a study for the United States Postal Service, scientists had participants view digital and print ads and used a functional MRI machine to measure brain activity and recall. As it turns out, print marketing caused spikes in the areas of the brain associated with value and desire—and these, of course, are important drivers of purchasing.
There’s another factor to consider, too. During the pandemic, screen time jumped by 76% as how we work, learn, and socialize radically changed. Screen fatigue followed, so it’s easy to see how the tactile, interactive nature of print marketing has new appeal.
Print marketing scores high on trust. Multiple studies have shown that customers trust print marketing—and by a wide margin. In fact, one study surveyed U.S. internet users and found that 82% trusted print marketing when making a purchase decision, more than any other medium.
Print marketing has staying power. In our click-and-forget-it digital age, many of us read email with one finger hovering over the “delete” icon. Print has staying power that digital doesn’t. Research has shown 70% higher brand recall for print ads when compared to digital. Perhaps even more importantly, print marketing is effective across generations, even for digital natives like millennials.
What about sustainability? The print industry has made strides in using a greater proportion of post-consumer content and in recycling. Plus, paper is a renewable resource. In addition, there are hidden costs to digital marketing, like the environmental footprint and growing energy consumption of data centers.
Print marketing is still a vibrant, effective marketing channel that can enhance all other marketing, even digital, when deployed effectively.
What is an effective print marketing campaign?
Not all print marketing is created equal. Make sure businesses that want to reap all the advantages of print marketing keep a few things in mind when considering the type of collateral and campaigns they want to create.
Audience targeting. Direct mail campaigns can be costly, so managing the budget for maximum return on investment depends on nailing the target audience. Yes, targeting can be simpler on digital platforms like Facebook, which includes powerful tools to define a campaign audience. But an ability to sort by audience, geography, and mailing data is possible. That makes it simple to really nail a target market and create an offer that compels action.
Content and design. First impressions matter — a lot. Understanding the format and size of a print marketing piece is important, and it shouldn’t try to do too much — it should have a focused message and strong copy that clearly conveys the benefits and key details. It should have a direct call to action — register, join an email list, RSVP to an event, or make a purchase — and the ability to personalize it will make it even more impactful. The design of the piece should be polished and visually impactful.
Many small businesses struggle to find the right expertise to help with their marketing content and design. This is where working with a professional partner can be a worthy investment to ensure the best first impression possible.
Brand consistency. Today there is more choice than ever when it comes to fonts, stock images, and online templates, but a consistent brand look and design can ultimately increase brand value more than anything else. According to research, consistency contributes to trustworthiness as well as the rates at which customers are loyal to a brand or recommend it to others. Customer loyalty and recommendations, of course, can make a huge difference to revenue and profitability.
Coordination. Finally, it’s important to remember that print marketing enhances all other elements in the marketing mix. For this reason, an effective marketing plan considers how to coordinate cross-channel efforts like mailers, email, and social media to drive higher customer engagement and purchasing across the campaign.
Today there are more creative options than ever for print marketing. New printing technology has opened a world of options for printed materials, colors, graphics, and more. Many companies are giving print marketing a new look, seeing its potential for engaging customers, enhancing marketing campaigns, and building enduring brand value.
Knowledge is power. Mark Twain knew it, and you do, too. The next time you hear a colleague or industry professional ask, “But isn’t print marketing dead?” you’ll have industry insights to counter the greatly exaggerated reports of its demise.
Jeff Bittner is the owner and operator of AlphaGraphics Wood Dale in Illinois. He leads a team of print and marketing pros serving businesses of all sizes in the Chicago metro area and beyond.