Why Print?

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In this article, I investigate the growing recognition of the role of print in marketing for branding, brand awareness, reach, lead generation, promotions, and multi-channel campaigns.

The role of print marketing in the digital era.

There is no question that the role of print media has significantly changed in the massive wake of digital media and the internet. The question for many of us is whether print media are still relevant to our business marketing strategies. Or has business printing become completely archaic in the face of new media?

As someone who primarily consults, develops and manages websites and digital marketing strategies, I hope I can give an unbiased treatment of this topic. In this post, I will discuss some of the strongest arguments for the current relevance of print marketing within a primarily digital marketing strategy.

By “print marketing media”, I mean printed marketing and sales support materials such as business cards, brochures, flyers, and postcards. I’m also including business print stationery like envelopes, letterhead, and forms. In large format printing, I’m including printed signs, posters, banners, vehicle graphics and labels. I don’t include print advertising in magazines and newspapers, as well as printed books and catalogues, since there is already quite a bit written and easily searchable about these print markets.

Google Search Trends As A Sentiment Indicator

Whether you do SEO, stock market analysis, marketing, or anything else where general sentiment might have some effect on the results, Google Trends is a great place to start your research. Google Trends not only shows an increase in “print” related queries since late 2008, but if we use “marketing” as a baseline for comparison, we see the rising dominance of print (#printrevolution) over marketing in general.

If we look at another pair of closely related comparison terms, we get a slightly different picture. Below we get a comparison of “printing services” and “digital marketing”, both representing clearly different marketing channels. While I’ve been involved in printing and print marketing since 1997, my specializations have gradually evolved to the more in the digital channels, and exclusively digital analytics, marketing, SEO, and website development since 2010. I can relate to the trends below in terms of the relative difficulty of educating and selling businesses on digital marketing (for more information about digital marketing, see my post Unlocking The Marketing Potential of Your Website).

While we may be tempted to compare marketing channels as either/or, a modal approach is probably more fitting. What effective marketing roles do print and digital best fit? And how do they work together to complement one another in a successful multi-channel marketing strategy? Marketing in a digital world is multi-channel, and print marketing plays an essential role.

Within the last few years, there have been remarkable steps taken to further our scientific understanding of marketing. On the statistical side, we have collected uncountable amounts of actionable data through sources like Google and Facebook. On the biological side, the relatively new field of neuromarketing has made some progress in understanding how different marketing media and messages affect our brand retention and inclination to action. Some of this new information is surprising, but much of it confirms what traditional marketers and psychologists previously expected.

The Psychology of Print

One of the earliest arguments for print over new media has been “the (psychological) power of print”. When digital media and the internet first emerged for business marketing, there was a large gap between the quality of print and digital media. Screens were low resolution, not portable, bulky, ugly and not touchable. The internet also had a bad reputation for low quality content. So marketers felt advertising on the internet cheapened one’s brand. Since then, the quality of both the digital devices and content has virtually put it on par with print. And yet arguments remain that print provides a deeper and longer lasting psychological impression than digital media. Is there any merit to this view, or is the psychological impact entirely demographic, based on nostalgia for an archaic medium for communications?

Unfortunately, there has been little hard evidence from scientific studies to verify the psychological impact of print versus digital marketing. Other than taking surveys and polls, it is difficult to imagine how one would measure the engagement and actionable metrics of print. The ability to measure these metrics is one of the significant advantages to digital marketing. But neither the self-reporting of preferences nor the digital metrics tells us much about what is going on in one’s brain when they interact with the different marketing media.

One study I found used techniques in neuromarketing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromarketing). A 2015 experiment was conducted by Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making, commissioned and released by Office of Inspector General United States Postal Service (full PDF – right click and “save as” to download, left click to vew). The experiment selected 2 groups. Group A was random with a demographic spread of age groups based on 2012 US Census. Group B were volunteer students from the university.

The experiments involved fMRI brain scans along with interviews and tests. Their aim was to study:

  • Exposure. The body’s response to an ad;
  • Memory. How quickly and accurately the brain remembers the ad;
  • Action. Value and desire for the advertised products — a predictor of purchase.

The experiment was conducted in two sessions. The first exposed the subject to a series of ads, some on a computer screen and some printed pieces they could touch. While viewed the ads, they were being monitored by fMRI, bodymetrics, and eye tracking. The second session tested their recollection of the ads a week later, along with a questionnaire to discover if there were any actionable effects of the ads on the subjects, particularly related to their purchases during that period between sessions.

The results of the experiment indicated that, in most of the attributes tested, the print ads were more successful in their branding (source recollection), communication (information store and retrieval), and elicitation of an action (such as a new purchase).

They also found that the time spent on the ad (one engagement metric) was greater for the print advertisement. This might be part of the reason for the better source recall and content retrieval. The results are consistent with marketers who expressed their intuition that there is something to print which demands more attention and engagement. On digital platforms, we are more used to dividing our attention across multiple information streams and devices (multi-tasking).

The fMRI scans found that print and digital stimuli actually trigger different but related areas of the brain. Print ads, when viewing and in recollection, stimulated an area in proximity to those associated with emotion, desirability, and valuation.

The added stimuli of print might be so subtle to the ad recipient that they are not “consciously” aware of them. In the questionnaires, respondents generally self-reported no particular media preferences. And there was no correlation between their actual responses and self-reported preferences.

In the local population, there were no significant differences in self-reported measures of ad familiarity, ad relevancy, ad liking, or purchase intentions as a function of media. In other words, participants in Pilot B did not find an ad to be more familiar, relevant, or likable if it was presented as a digital ad or a physical ad. Likewise, purchase intention for an item did not differ between the same physical or digital ad. Looking at the correlations of the self-reported measures collected, there is a positive relationship between purchase intention and ad relevancy for physical ads. In other words, within the set of physical ads, participants are more likely to buy an advertised item if they found the corresponding advertising content more relevant. This positive relationship between purchase intention and ad relevancy was not found in digital ads.

In digital analytics, we often compare what we call “attribute models”. Attribute models can assign different weights to the sources leading up to a conversion. Sometimes we want to compare the conversion rate of a source between when someone first heard of your company and the final source before making a purchase. Typically, marketers assigned print the role of branding, which generally corresponds to the initial source. But this study suggest that print is effective as both the first and last source.

By organizing your print marketing into branding and promotion categories, and timing them as bookends on a multichannel marketing campaign, you might take advantage of these neurophysiological effects.

While there was no overall stated self-preference for one medium over the other, the neurophysiological data and test results show otherwise. That means that it doesn’t matter what people say they prefer, their brains will generally respond better to print. This is, of course, just one study. And there are a number of issues I have with it. So I wouldn’t take it as anywhere close to the final word on the topic. But it is very interesting in how much it confirms what marketers have been saying for many years about the subconscious effects of physical advertising. I hope there are many more studies of this nature in the near future.

Local Case Study

In Surrey, British Columbia, Canada we have many national and international manufacturers and distributors. One of our decade plus long clients, on Annacis Island in Surrey, is a large pet products distributor to over 300 pet stores across Canada. While they have a strong online presence, including their entire product catalogue, they still feel that it is valuable to print and mail their clients monthly catalogues. Many of the pet store owners prefer to have a printed catalogue they can touch to refer to when making their orders. While they might check online quickly to browse new products, the final purchasing decisions when they are ready to make the order are typically made with the printed catalogue in hand. This distributor feels strongly that without their printed product catalogue, they would not get as many sales. The printed catalogue is also the main marketing resource used by their sales persons across the country to acquire new clients.

The Role of Print in Marketing Today

With many years of business marketing experience, a marketing focussed printer like Allegra is uniquely positioned to add value to your print and digital marketing campaigns. We have been well established in Surrey BC since 1997, and one of the first local Surrey printers to offer both traditional and digital press services. Our in house graphic designers can give your marketing pieces that extra professional flare they need to make big impact. Given all the recent studies and developments in marketing, in what follows, I will explain the different roles print can play in your future local marketing campaigns.

Branding & Brand Awareness

Branding is hard to define and even harder to measure. In the broad sense, your business brand is the overall impression your business communicates to others, along with the ease of remembering your brand when they are ready to make a purchase decision. Their impressions include everything from their initial awareness to their satisfaction level with your product or service and support.

On the front end, print plays the most significant role introducing your business to others. Unless you as heavily invested in social media and SEO as the big companies, it’s most likely that people will first hear about your business through print. That includes print advertisement, direct mailers, signs, banners and trade show events.

In the middle, your branding might include your storefront display, product design and labelling, along with your sales staff. Digital marketing contributes heavily to middle branding. Your website is your digital storefront display, communicating your level of professionalism and attention to the details of user experience. Your website, especially when integrated with social media, can function as both sales and support. If you are a small to medium size local business, your print should function to promote your website regularly. By using print to promote your digital media, you can maximize the effectiveness of your digital media marketing investment.

Unless you are selling exclusively digital products or services, ultimately the back end branding will involve some forms of print, even if it is just a receipt or invoice for services rendered, or a branded letterhead and envelope. Sometimes it can be more elaborate with branded packaging, labels, thank-you cards, and promotional gift products. Just as we see some better neurophysiological responses to print in first and last contact, we also see a natural fit for print in first and last contact in your branding communications workflow, along with a good investment in a well crafted website and digital media marketing in the middle.

3 Branding Case Studies

Case One. To find the value of print on the front end of marketing, one needs look no further than our local Surrey professional industry. High end doctors, lawyers, dentists, and financial services use equally high end business stationery, letterhead and businesses cards, to create brand awareness and represent their brand. One of our clients, a throat and nose cosmetic surgeon in White Rock BC, prints his letterhead on a very high quality paper which has both visual impact and a pleasant tactile texture. He uses this letterhead, along with matching envelopes, to describe his services. He mails the letters in matching envelopes to general practitioners and surgeons in Surrey and surrounding areas. He is hoping to elicit referrals to his specialization as need arises. He has found that the quality of his business stationery, including the paper, inspires confidence in the quality of his work and results in more referrals. When the doctor is thinking about making a referral, and who to make it to, his letter stands out in their visual and tactile memory, providing better source recall than those of less quality or just electronic.

Case Two. On the back end, there is probably no one who does as much in-house finishing in Surrey as Allegra. We use full colour invoices and envelopes. All of our boxes, plastic wrap, and tape is clearly branded. We print thank-you cards with clear reorder information. Our marketing goal is to make our brand as easy to remember as possible when it comes times to print again.

Case Three. Another good example of the use of brand and brand awareness is signage and vehicle graphics. One of our clients in Surrey does automotive care and repair. Their shop is in a very busy, congested retail area on Fraser Highway. While being central in a busy area might seem good because it has the potential to generate high traffic, visibility is also more difficult. Allegra recently remade all their outdoor signs and vehicle graphics. We simplified the design so that their essential brand and contact information would be clear and stand out. All their complimentary service vehicles are now mobile branding tools for their business, and when people drive by, they can connect it to their shop because their shop signage is visible.

Reach & Lead Generation

While there is obviously much overlap, print and digital marketing material have different audience reach. That also means that they generate different leads. We often refer to digital marketing as “inbound”, meaning that potential leads through digital media are often actively searching for you, your product or service. In contrast, print is nearly always outbound (with the exception of a printed directory like yellowpages). Through direct mail and sales marketing resources, your business is actively seeking potential leads.

In both cases, the marketing strategy is very different. With inbound marketing, the idea is to make your brand as easy as possible to find for the relevant target audience. That often involves highly targeted digital advertising, along with strong SEO and social media presence. With outbound marketing, the strategy is to get your brand into as many hands and minds of potential leads as possible. In a direct mail campaign, for example, that often includes blanket targeting an entire geographic area, hoping that a segment of that population finds your message relevant. The advantage of inbound marketing is that it is highly targeted, easily measured, and optimizable for continually greater success rates. The advantage of outbound marketing is that it can reach segments which might have not otherwise considered actively searching for your brand, product or service. Depending on your industry, the latter segment might be the larger one.

Even if your ideal demographic is using the internet and actively searching for products or services related to your business, they might not specifically be searching for your business. If they haven’t heard of you, they won’t know to look for you. My own experience with digital analytics and SEO has shown me that the good majority of internet searches for a local business include the business name in the query. That tells me that the majority of search users already know who they are looking for when they are looking for a local business.

Given the data, I think that the valid implication is that outbound marketing makes inbound marketing a lot easier and more effective. It’s not an either/or decision. If you have a website, use it for marketing, integrate it with social media, and invest in some SEO, your inbound strategies can only benefit from outbound reach. By understanding the different strategies involved with digital and print marketing in terms of inbound and outbound marketing, you can better understand and utilize their respective roles in helping each other improve your reach and generate more leads.

3 Reach & Lead Generation Case Studies

Case One. Disposal services have become quite competitive in Surrey in the last decade or so. It’s really difficult to decide which to use just based on the services of one disposal collection company and another. One of our clients is leading the pack, partly because they use print marketing to continually expand their reach. In particular, they print large heavy laminated labels which are clearly visible with their contact information. These labels are installed on every bin they supply for collection. And they make sure to install them so they are facing the largest viewable traffic area. If the labels are damaged in the least, they are quickly replaced. Their brand is repeatedly reinforced and representative of their services. The branding here functions to both expand their reach and generate new leads. It’s easy for someone to get the details of their services from their website. But they have to at least remember the name of the company to search for their website.

Case Two. Bulk mailers are another good example of how businesses can use print to expand their reach. One of our clients who does some of the biggest mailers is a large car dealership for Toyota in Surrey. What they have found is that regular visibility and sales promotions for auto sales are best achieved by distributing their print marketing pieces in the largest number of hands as possible, and that’s achieved by bulk mailing. When people are getting ready to buy a new car, they often already have their preferences set, and they are just waiting for the right deal to fit those preferences. They typically don’t need to go online to do research. And if they do, it’s not going to be the direct lead to their sales. The direct lead is that printed piece which lands on their doorstep during that window when they are ready to make a purchase. The trigger switching the brain from want to buy is that right deal at that right time.

Case Three. Restaurants, pizza places, and sushi houses are good examples of the same effect. You might be craving that pizza tonight, but decide against it for whatever reason. But if that flyer with just the sort of pizza your were craving is sitting on your doorstep when you get home, it’s all the more difficult to resist. It’s almost like it was fated to be your pizza night!

Promotions & Multi-Channel Campaigns

Print still seems to be the number one media used to introduce promotions and lead people to digital content. Using special landing pages or QR Codes, print promotions are tracked with digital analytics along with the digital content leading to completion of the promotion. The promotional gift might also contain a print branded product to go along with the product or service offered.

Promotional campaigns increase their effectiveness when they include multiple channels because multiple channels both increase their reach and reinforce the brand across different channels. Along with a printed direct mailer, you can use email, your blog, and social media to communicate your message. With so many options, we don’t need to think in either/or terms or linear marketing workflows. Each medium reinforces the others, adding to them the reach, relevance and communication advantages inherent in them. Print adds to the reach, recollection, and trustworthiness of the brand, making it an essential part of your multi-channel campaign.

Allegra Multi-Channel Marketing Campaign Services

Marketers talk a lot about multi-channel campaigns, but in reality, very few businesses actually do them or do them effectively. Part of the reason might be that they take some planning, and often the marketing is the last thing the small business owner considers after their daily business and preparation for heading into a business season with some promotion. Multi-Channel marketing might be new and seem complicated. While interested, the small business might feel that they just don’t have the time to spend on the learning curve. And it might feel a little experimental to risk during such an important business season.

At Allegra, we have been doing multi-channel marketing campaigns for 10+ years, both for our own marketing and for our Surrey clients. We have found that they are particularly effective for specific promotions like sales offers and events. We are equipped to handle all the design, print, mailing, plus QR-Codes, website landing pages, signup forms, bulk email, social media posts, and pay per click digital advertising. We can track the flow of traffic right from your initial sources through to your conversion points so you get the post-promotion results data, helping you optimize and plan your future campaigns. Our experience reduces the complexity and learning curve for you. And you can be confident that our expertise will give you more than just an experiment. With an Allegra managed multi-channel campaign, you will simultaneous expand your reach and more effectively target your market.


By partnering with a trustworthy multi-channel marketing company like Allegra, you can be confident that none of your marketing channels will be lacking and that they will all be effectively integrated to measurably meet or exceed your marketing goals.

Contact us to make a free marketing consultation appointment today! Learn how Allegra can make a difference to your bottom line!

Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

Is there anything I’ve left out which you would like me to cover in this or a future post? Do you have any interesting case studies of your own you want to share? Do you completely disagree? If you haven’t yet initiated a multi-channel marketing campaign, what are your current barriers to getting started?

I’d love to know!

Tags: digital marketing, neuromarketing, print marketing, print psychology, printing, why print


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