I once had a boss warn me about print publications. This was a few years ago, back when everybody was predicting a fast and fiery death for the medium. Print was “last-century technology,” she said, ominously, and I should stop kidding myself by toiling with it.
Today, after years in both print and digital, I understand: The fact that print is old-school is precisely why we should use it.
It's alive! It's alive! It's changed!
We hear from clients, with surprising regularity, how pleasantly surprised they are by their print marketing. Typically they shrug about it as if it's some kind of happy accident. That makes sense, since they’ve been warned about its obsolescence for years by Very Important Marketers. “Who knew!” they say, with the same amusement as if their cat had just crapped a Skittle.
But … don’t we all know?
"Print goes right to the C-Suite. We do all kinds of creative direct-mail pieces and publications, and they get our clients noticed."
– Lizzie VandeSande, Burns Senior Graphic Designer
Let’s recall that marketers in the analog world survived just fine for decades. We GenXers and Millennials like to think of ourselves as digital revolutionaries, but we didn’t really rescue the older generations. Print works. It’s tactile. It smells lovely. It’s beautiful. It has weight and authority. There is no better way to convey a story-telling photograph, you own it, and you can use it to kill spiders.
Furthermore, today’s deluge of digital nonsense has made print distinctive. It’s no longer the default mode of communicating, and that’s fine, but even my most ardent Millennial friends get a happy tickle when they pick up a catalog printed on some luscious 80 lb. stock with a matte aqueous coating. It’s a treat.
I once worked with an editor who put it this way: “A print piece can arrive as a gift. An email? Not so much.”
"The printed word is still perceived as more credible to many people than anything on the web."
– Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute
How to Use Print Well
For print marketing, it’s easy enough to rattle off a list of cons:
- It’s expensive.
- It takes a long time to produce and publish.
- It’s harder to obtain trackbacks or measure specific ROI.
- It’s expensive.
- Your grandmother likes it.
- But there’s also a compelling list of pros:
- It has a useful shelf life.
- Its battery doesn’t die on the train.
- It’s often not harder to obtain trackbacks and ROI.
- It feels special and conveys authority.
- It can be tailored to countless formats, presentation styles, and levels of formality.
- It can be artful – even beautiful.
- It’s expensive.
Below: Running kiddo + "We don't overlook the overlooked" = heart-tugging print. These pieces helped Burns humanize a life sciences client. Note the strict limits on copy.
“Wait,” you say. “There must be CTRL+V mistake. ‘It’s expensive’ shows up on both the pro and con lists.”
Think about cost as a differentiating opportunity. Print’s relative expense (whether real or perceived – remember that digital marketing has only introduced new fees and complexity and prices for entry, and those things add up) scares people away. So we’ve gained two things right away: We’ve narrowed the field of marketers who are vying for attention in this medium, and we’ve leveraged the sense of scarcity that makes print seem special.
Your marketing brain is now tingling: Print’s exclusivity makes it a differentiator and sign of prestige.
But here’s the big warning: Don’t suck at it. Don’t pinch pennies so much that you print your messages on glossy toilet paper and send to all 7,559,400 of your least-connected audience members. Leave that to the credit card companies. If emails are Sunny D, mindfully produced print is a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Use it when you want to pleasantly surprise people – say, existing customers you’d like to see deepen their relationship with you – and choose the good stuff.
Take it from our clients: People will remember your care and good taste.