Press Credentials

Written off by many advertisers eager to embrace digital marketing fads, print is regaining its power to inspire consumers to act.

Johannes Guttenberg’s contribution to Western culture withstood a great many challenges over the course of half a millennium, but the explosive onset of digital a quarter-century ago was billed as the obituary for print communications.

But to borrow from one of print’s greatest authors, Mark Twain, it appears that reports on the death of print have been greatly exaggerated. After turning away from print in the age of targeted digital marketing, companies in that space are realizing that they may have over-corrected. They’re finding value in printed products—primarily in direct marketing materials, but also in niche and specialty publications—and using that value to leverage effective marketing strategies that cross platforms with digital and broadcast, executives say.

One factor working to rehabilitate the power of print is limit placed on hours in each day. Despite all efforts, we’re still stuck on 24. Getting the consumer to absorb a 25th hour of digital data in a single day has proven . . . problematic. Call it the Phenomenon of Peak Attention.

Recently, the research firm eMarketer published figures showing that the average time a consumer spends on different sites and devices, after two decades of steady rises, had finally leveled off last year. “We have reached peak attention; there are no more hours or minutes in a day for the average person to spend on the web,” says John Stauffer, director of strategic planning for digital marketing firm DEG. “There literally is no more time in a day, so for us as marketers, whenever doing something for client, if we want people to stop and pay attention to a message, we literally have to steal time from someone else—another brand, a Netflix movie—it literally is a zero-sum game.”

But it’s a game that can be played—and won—even with print as part of the arsenal, say ad execs whose work encompasses both digital and traditional media channels. Much, however, rides on the strategic uses of print.

“The role of print is changing dramatically,” says Julie Robinson, senior vice president and director of client services for Trozzolo Commun-ications Group. “Today, print is a driver, not a channel. And anything that’s a driver has to disrupt, delight and drive activity, online or on the phone or when a consumer is going to a store.”

Typically, she said, print flexes its muscles when used to drive consumers to the Web by piquing their interests. But again, the key to success is getting that print into the right hands with market-segmentation efforts, then delivering on the creative side with a powerful, memorable message that inspires consumers to whip out a phone or jump on their PC for the next step in the purchase chain.

“But that message has to be bold, and it has to be disruptive,” says Lois Brayfield, CEO of the J. Schmid agency, which has mastered the niche space of consumer catalogues for multiple major national brands.

“Many of our competitors, even 10 years ago, are gone because interestingly enough they got into digital catalogs and took their eye off the ball,” she says. “We’re grateful for it, but over the past five years, there has been a huge resurgence in manufacturing brands like Nike, Reebok and Jockey, realizing the power of print.” In some cases, she said, retailers find that print is their No. 1 driver of consumers activity on both the company web site and to the physical retail location.

How, specifically, is that outcome achieved? First, said Brayfield, through what she calls the  “Endowment Effect.”

“When you hold something, there’s a sense of ownership—people feel they have to do something with it,” she said. If that message in hand immediately disrupts and delights, consumers will be promp-ted to act. Therein, she says, is the difference between the printed product and digital marketing today.

“Except for email, digital marketing is not proactive, it’s reactive,” Brayfield says. “You search, you find, you buy. The journey is different for customers. For those who love your brand, print becomes that tap on the shoulder, one that tells consumers ‘Hey, we’re out here.’”

That’s part of a transactional chain that includes unique links to drive consumer action. Among them are the leveraged credibility of print, dubbed the “halo effect” for bestowing on brands the credibility that consumers believe they have found in print products they see frequently. Consumers who can sway other consumers, known as “influentials,” have a track record of being influenced by print, research shows, and print readers have retained attention spans that others have lost in an age where a typical web site must drive a response within a couple of seconds.

Print readers, for example, tend to be more focused by default—it’s tough to work the phone or attempt other multitasking when you’re hands are full. The ability to target space on a printed page, or a specific section within a publication, also helps connect with the right consumers, trade executives say.

In the end, it’s all about driving action. Nielson Global Trust has released a study showing that 65 percent of print readers 

will see a print ad and be prompted to act. Think not? Consider the humble grocery ad. Few of them are prize-winners for design, but they work. And by incorporating QR codes or other interactive elements, print advertisers are able to leverage messaging across platforms.

Another dynamic that has reopened doors for print advertisers is the changing online behavior of consumers.

“We do a lot of work in social media,” said Stauffer, “and one of the trends we’re seeing is that, starting about five years ago, organic research started to plummet.” Advertisers saw a drop in the degree to which a brand in social media could post something without any paid media behind it and in the percentage of fans or followers they could reach, he said.

Much of that is attributed to platforms like Facebook, which have made changes to turn brands in to advertisers, not just community-builders. After years of work to build followings of a million or more individuals, those brands are now usually required to pay to reach them, he said.

Success reaching consumers today, Robinson said, is still about the message.

“Regardless of the technology or the medium, creativity and authenticity still win the day,” she said. “All these things are delivery mechanisms. I have direct marketing background by training, and all the tech helps us be better director marketers using today’s technology. But you still encourage people to favor a product through storytelling, sharing information and engaging in a conversation with them.”

At Trozzolo, she said, “we’re definitely seeing a renewed focus on traditional media, especially print” as the pendulum swings back.  “We see a huge value in adding that kind  of media into your mix, because when it’s done well, it raises consumer awareness.”