Once upon a time, there were thousands of newspapers and magazines. Now, most of those periodicals have vanished. Digital news has taken over.
Likewise, marketers have shifted ad dollars from print to digital channels, including social media. Paid search (Google AdWords) is the leading form of digital advertising.
Does this mean print is dead? Not at all.
It means there is a lot of misinformation and confusion when it comes to using different marketing channels. Digital is not the best option for all clients and situations. And small clients simply cannot afford television, no matter how great the benefits.
Let's look at how print marketing stacks up against other traditional channels and digital.
Digital ads win for accountability
Today's marketers are expected to tie spending to ROI. This is difficult to do with print advertising but easy to do with most digital channels. Internet users can be tracked across a website. Cookies can be used to re-market to them with search ads. We can measure when a user clicks on an ad and, most of the time, we can determine whether that click results in a sale.
But data can be overwhelming
The problem with accountability is that many marketers fail to implement it. Tracking can be complex and the amount of data can be staggering, rendering it useless.
Further, multiple channels can interact with the same customer, making it impossible to isolate responsibility for a sale. Marketers have not figured out how to move beyond a linear silo, which depends upon a direct relationship between a search ad and a sale. In reality, customers are exposed to multiple messages, all of which influence the outcome.
A study for IBM by Econsultancy found the majority of digital marketers rate their ability to use customer analytics as "poor" or "very poor;" only 3% said the insights provided were "excellent." B2B research for the Content Marketing Institute found that while 86% of large organizations use content marketing, only 21% are successful at tracking its ROI.
The challenge is that while new technologies and the data that underpins them have the potential to create a truly omni-channel customer experience, marketers’ methodologies are still forcing everything through the same outdated, siloed processes.Marketing Week
Social media wins for affordability
Recent statistics show that less than two-thirds of small businesses have a website, but 96% use social media. In other words, many small businesses find it easier and more affordable to have a free Facebook page than a website.
Other forms of free social media include Yelp listings, Google My Business, and directory listings.
Digital ads (Google AdWords) can be difficult to manage and require a strong website. Many small businesses do not have the needed expertise to run a successful digital advertising campaign.
Traditional media wins for branding
According to an analysis on spending by Samuel Scott, television and print advertising remain the strongest brand-building tools.
Television far outstrips any other medium used for branding. Largest brands continue to spend the lion's share of their budgets on television.
My personal opinion is that digital is not necessarily good at getting mass reach and frequency fast. Television still performs very well. For all the stories about TV being dead a good television campaign can get you lot of awareness. What it can’t get you is any sort of engagement.Darren Woolley
Luxury brands rely on print
Although luxury travel is increasing its digital ad spending, other luxury categories – fashion, jewelry, cars – continue to rely mainly on print advertising. High-end global brands spend about 72% of their budgets on print and only 16% on digital.
Why? Because luxury consumers continue to read print. Tess MacLeod Smith of Porter states:
Eighty-five percent of them said print was the No. 1 influence in helping them decide what to buy, and we realized we need to give our readers their fashion fix in print as well as in digital.Tess MacLeod Smith
The many virtues of print
One reason prints ads are such a powerful branding tool is their contextual content is of much higher quality and relevance than free digital content. In fact, traditional publishers have been able to double the cost of subscriptions without losing subscribers.
Condé Nast has also had success with price hikes on some of its magazines, including—notably—The New Yorker. The cost of a print subscription to the magazine has increased from $59.99 in 2015 to $109.99 this year (after an introductory offer of $12). The increases have apparently not slowed subscriptions, which have grown at double-digit rates every year for the past five years.Folio
Print provides deeper reader engagement
Ziming Liu is one of many researchers who has concluded that while digital provides a better search experience, print is superior for the actual consumption of information.
People spend more time reading print content. The average person spends 40 minutes reading a magazine, according to the 2014 Media Factbook. In contrast, the average person leaves a website in less than a minute.
Likewise, print is written to be read, but digital content is formatted to be scanned. People go to print to relax. They go to digital sources for news and information. The differences in intent show up in the way users read web pages; 80% scan instead of read digital content.
A study by Millward Brown conducted by the UK Royal Mail shows that greater emotional processing occurs with print media, making print information more memorable.
Although technological advances keep improving the functionality of digital media, that format still lacks the physical intimacy of paper—a shortcoming that explains, in part, why print is still a major player in the communications field.Mamu Media LLC
Print cuts through the clutter
Print ads are especially useful for startups and local small businesses because (a) the cost is much lower than television, and (b) print publications can target niche markets.
Print direct mail can be targeted and effective. In highly competitive local industries (such as hurricane windows in South Florida), a print mailing to zip code sorted neighborhoods might be a better and faster option than the slow burn of SEO.
The average response rate for standard direct mail is 3.4% vs 0.12% for email.... and email is the strongest converter in the digital funnel. Many digital marketers fail to realize the role print can play in driving traffic to a website.
Printed materials are also useful in B2B. Brandon Ortiz of Salesforce has said:
The ubiquity of digital media has given print media a strange new power. Think of how special it is to get a written letter as opposed to an email. If you're trying to target a C-level audience, forget email -- their assistant will just hit delete. But if you take your e-book, print it as a nice brochure and mail it to the exec's office, it might get to their desk and leave a lasting impression.Brandon Ortiz
Print revenues are rising
Commercial printers produce brochures, direct mail pieces, etc. Some printers offer related services, like mail fulfillment and list management, but 75% focus only on printing services.
The printing industry has been hard hit, but revenues are beginning to climb.
Print enters 2018 with sales of approximately $84.0 billion, 9.1% above the 2011 low, but still 14.6% below the 2007 pre-Great Recession level.Printing Impressions
Of course, the printing industry covers a lot of ground, from labels and packaging to signage. So it's not always clear how fast digital printing, web offset, thermal printing, or other technologies are growing or slowing relative to each other.
Nonetheless, Smithers Pira, the largest publisher of printing industry studies, has released a report predicting digital printing will grow by 20% in 2018, while offset printing will continue to fall.
Digital printing is used mostly for short runs (the kind of printing done by local businesses) and the quality has improved dramatically over the last decade, making it the technology of choice for most commercial printing.
Integrated channels work best
It really isn't an either-or world. Print and digital work best when they work together. The user insights gained from a website can be used to develop the branded voice and approach for print materials.
Newer technologies also allow the seamless insertion of customized messages into print pages (sort of like dynamic web pages served up based on a visitor's interests).
The problem is that many digital marketers do not understand the strengths of traditional media or when to employ them.
In the marketing industry, there is a lot of unintentional misinformation because many people – especially those in the digital space – do not have a traditional marketing education and rarely look at total media spends to see what is truly going on in the proper context.Samuel Scott
So when marketers sit down to figure out a strategy, they need to think about what works best as a whole – not what works better than something else.