Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing “print is dead.” OK – everyone have their hands up? Of course you do — as a member of the imaging channel (lowercase) and a reader of The Imaging Channel (uppercase) you hear it all the time — and it’s not entirely unwarranted. However, you also probably know that while office print may be on the decline, production print is having a moment. Why? Several reasons, one of which is its value in marketing.

And here’s some food for thought: Many of the things that make custom mail pieces and other specialized marketing collateral valuable can also apply to traditional print as well. A lot of research has gone into discovering the value of print marketing, and the results go beyond specialty print.

Print makes a lasting impression

This may seem backward, but in all of the digital noise, print has become something of a disruptive force. Print stands out in the age of digital and, perhaps more importantly, creates a lasting impression. How do we know? From the entity with perhaps the most to lose from a decline in print marketing – the post office. Several postal agencies around the globe have commissioned “neuromarketing” studies to really dig into human reactions to advertising.

The UK’s Royal Mail service, for example, enlisted the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University to partner on a study called “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail.” The study used functional Mechanical Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to analyze brain response to both physical and virtual ads. The results indicated that the physical, tangible ads left a deeper imprint in the subjects’ brains, resulted in more emotional processing and produced more brain responses associated with internal feelings.

The U.S. Postal Service, in partnership with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making, followed up that study with “Enhancing the Value of Mail: The Human Response.” The U.S. study used eye tracking and biometrics as well as survey questionnaires in addition to the fMRIs, measuring physiological and neurological responses. The results there showed while the self-reported survey answers demonstrated little difference in preference for digital or print, the other methods showed otherwise. “Participants chose to review physical ads longer than digital ones, but exhibited more focused attention on specific elements of the digital ads,” according to the findings. “Thus, if a busy consumer only has 10-20 seconds to view advertisements, a company is more likely to get its message across quicker through digital, rather than physical, ads.” However, “Physical ads had a longer lasting impact than digital. A week after the initial viewing, the emotional response and concrete memory of the physical ads allowed participants to more quickly and confidently remember the physical ads than digital ads.”

The studies ultimately show there is certainly value in digital marketing, so don’t ditch those campaigns. However, for long-lasting memories of the kind that lead to sales, print had the advantage.

Print offers something to hold on to

Print may create an impression in the brain, but it also creates one in the hand. As the neuroscience studies showed, both print and digital can be effective, but knowing when to use each – and when to use both — is the key to success. Take in-person events, like trade shows, meetings and conferences. They are essential to marketers, particularly in the B2B space, as the Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 “Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends” report shows. Among those surveyed, in-person events ranked in the top three “content types” for building brand awareness and nurturing leads, and No. 1 for securing and converting leads. There is, after all, a lot to be said for meeting potential customers face to face, and even more to be said for giving them something to take away afterward. While it’s great to have a video playing or a demo of your product to show to attendees, it’s even better to have a flyer, leaflet or sample for them to take away. Additionally, what’s a booth with nothing on it? A booth or exhibitor table can’t just go naked — dress it up with marketing collateral, interact face-to-face and make those connections in a way digital alone can’t.

Print and digital isn’t a matter of either/or, and often the perfect marketing campaign is one in which they complement one another, maximizing the power of both mediums. Augmented and virtual reality is an example of the two going hand in hand — direct mail is the perfect way to bring VR and AR into consumers’ hands. According to Research and Markets, the augmented reality and mixed reality market, valued at $2.06 billion in 2018, is expected to reach $18.96 billion by 2024. Now, a campaign incorporating AR is not a low-budget endeavor and not likely something the average SMB will be attempting. But a direct marketing piece with a scannable component is an excellent example of how the two mediums work together, and a bonus for the print piece is that recipients are more likely to hold onto or pass along the hard copy component of the campaign.

Print brings together generations

We’ve all seen those studies about “millennials prefer print to digital.” When you dig down, though, you’ll find statistics like this one: In 2016, 72% of adults age 18-29 had read a print book in the last year. It’s not really a reason to scrap your LinkedIn campaign and run out and print brochures.

However, millennials are undoubtedly worth marketing to — as is the generation behind them, Generation Z, who, depending on whose definition you use, were born between about 1995 and 1997 onward and are now part of the workplace. Combined, says Forbes, Gen Z and millennials are the biggest consumer group in history. And yes, they are digital generations – Gen Z was born digital and millennials, at the very least, have spent their adulthood there. In spite of that fact, Gen Z in particular does not consist of digital-only consumers. MNI Targeted Media commissioned a Media Usage & Attitudes Study of Generation Z and found Gen Z-ers spend more time reading physical newspapers and magazines without interruption than they do on social media, websites and blogs. The key is keeping their attention — the generation that grew up digital has learned to tune out the noise, and so for a message to reach them it must be quick, direct and to the point.

When you consider that the baby boomer generation, raised on print, is still likely to consume that way and Gen Z is looking to print as something fresh and different, you realize that print may truly be the means to leaping the generation gap.

Print isn’t dead

The next time you hear “print is dead” — well, you’ll probably still be annoyed, as you should be. Print may be going through some changes, and those changes certainly include the trend toward digitization, to electronic records and e-books and paperwork that’s completed on a tablet. But an interesting effect of all of that digitization is that print has become more unique — the piles of paper have lessened a bit, and those that remain, if done right, can stand out a little more. It takes a little marketing savvy, some customer research and yes, a complementary digital campaign, but as we enter the 2020s, print remains a viable and effective medium for marketers.

amy weiss

is editorial director of BPO Media’s publications Workflow and The Imaging Channel, and senior analyst for BPO Research. As a professional writer and editor, she has specialized in the office technology industry for the last 20 years. Prior to that she worked in public relations and has a master's degree in communication arts.