Here at Indy, we’d be the first to tell you that digital marketing is at the heart of any successful promotional campaign. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to craft an impactful online strategy that makes good use of a strong website, an evolving social media presence, and, of course, great content.

In most cases, if we want to search for a restaurant, a new pair of shoes or even new home, most of us will turn to our PC or smartphone and ask Google, or his worthy messengers, Siri and Alexa. The mistake that some of today’s businesses make, however, is in assuming that their customers only ever make use of digital media when they’re tracking down their next purchase.

It’s true – over the past 30 years or so, digital marketing has emerged from nothing into the hugely influential discipline that it is today. But it has done so alongside – not in place of – printed media. While the importance of online technologies should certainly not be underestimated, printed materials still has its place in the marketing mix. And its influence is stronger than you might think.

The enduring power of printed media

When people attend trade shows or visit a showroom, they still pick up brochures, price lists and catalogues. When they get home, they still pick up printed leaflets and flyers from their doorstep.

All of this collateral could be sent to potential customers electronically – and it often is – but chances are if it’s distributed digitally it will just sit in your inbox or junk folder for weeks on end, soon to be deleted in the bat of an eyelid.

That printed piece of paper, however, will get inside your head. It will sit right there on the coffee table for days on end. Even if you intend to throw it away, you’ll glance at it furtively on the way to the recycling bin, wondering if you should take a look at what’s inside after all, because someone’s gone to the effort of designing it, printing it, and ensuring it makes its way to you. It’s enduring – especially if its message is strong (and this will all be down to your print copywriter).

This is a sentiment that’s backed by Natalie Sullivan, an experienced graphic designer and the founder of Design FX Studio in Colchester.

“There’s been a lot of talk over the years of print being ‘dead’,” she says. “But that’s not true. It’s just evolved.

“Print has taken on a new role of delivering personalised messages to a target audience to greater effect than digital. This is proven by the fact that people still respond more favourably to printed materials than e-shots. What’s more, printed mail is much less vulnerable to security breaches, making it a more attractive choice for safety-conscious businesses. Certainly, in my experience, print continues to be in high demand amongst marketers that value their brand’s prominence and credibility, as well as their return on investment.”

It’s not all about digital

Most people look online to find a solution to their problem – but what about those who don’t? It might be hard to believe, but a surprisingly high percentage of people still have not fully embraced the digital age.

Maybe printed media has half the outreach potential of digital options. Perhaps it has the potential to reach a third, or even a quarter, of your target market. Surely this is a slice of the proverbial pie that no business should choose to ignore?

What are the reasons behind the marketing industry’s somewhat renewed interest in print?

There are some interesting factors that have come into play this year that may have sparked a renewed interest in printed media. One is the introduction of the GDPR earlier back in May 2018. Managing GDPR compliance has been a headache for businesses large and small, but the rules for printed media marketing are far more relaxed than they are for digital, which makes organising a print run a much more attractive option for those who are worried about not meeting their data protection obligations (either accidentally or on purpose).

One of the biggest problems for marketers is consent. Customers need to explicitly opt in to digital marketing materials, either by simply ticking a box on the website or e-shot, or explicitly sending an email to the company that states they are happy for them to continue using their data. According to the ICO website, though, marketers “won’t need consent for postal marketing”. Calls, emails and texts may pose a problem, but print remains untouchable in this sense.

We have to note here that there are still rules relating to printed marketing, and businesses must of course ensure that all of the personal data on their system is stored and managed in accordance with GDPR rules. But on the whole, the requirements for printed media are less onerous than they are for digital variants.

When digital and print collide

The other point to keep in mind is that printed media technology itself has not stood still in this age of digital innovation. Today, a print run is faster and cheaper than it has ever been thanks to more effective printing methods. The quality of the end result is second to none, and there are also vastly more options open to businesses in terms of the styles, typefaces and finishes they can choose from.

Some marketers have even found ways to combine the physical and digital worlds in ways that are truly breathtaking; they have embraced augmented reality in order to leave a lasting impression on their target audience. These examples may inspire you to merge print with your online campaigns to deliver an immersive experience to your customers:

  • Last summer, Nivea ran a printed magazine ad that included a child’s wristband to wear at the beach. Put it on, download an app, and you receive an alert if your child wanders further than a set distance.
  • Motorola’s full-page ad for its Moto X smartphone had printed buttons running along the bottom of the page. Once the user pressed the buttons, the phone in the picture miraculously changed colour.
  • Lexus produced a printed ad for its new ES model that “came to life” when you placed a smartphone beneath the paper, showing the car driving in different environments to a choice of background music.
  • Spanish lighting company Lladró has been using less sophisticated print technology to stunning effect with recent campaigns. Their pop-up ads literally become the product, and they can be used as corner lamp shades.

Modern marketing is all about innovation, not only in the way we use the technology that’s available to us, but also in the thinking that sits behind our actions. After reviewing the current state of the print industry, and listening to feedback from our clients and suppliers, it’s clear to us that printed materials still have an important – albeit often supportive – role to play in pushing marketing practices forward and capturing the imagination of today’s consumers. And we reckon that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.