Print isn't dead, only patience

Digital gives instant results, but print can create consumer relationships that last well-beyond the click, writes the managing partner of Imprint

Click-through rates, opens, impressions, downloads and…dog-eared pages?

Developments in analytic capabilities have allowed marketers to understand the ROI of each initiative, and in an increasingly digital world, these results begin to pour in almost immediately after pressing go. This immediacy is satisfying, and in a race for consumers’ eyeballs (and wallets), it can be irresistible to double down on digital tactics, particularly when headlines tout the perpetual growth of mobile and ever-increasing consumer connectability.

However, online isn’t everything. I recognize that it’s not a popular perspective, but in over 20 years of branded journalism, I’ve seen the power of print rise, fall, and steady. The truth is, print marketing is a valuable medium. It’s tactile, it’s experiential and studies have shown that print methods demand consumer attention, are popular with ever-coveted millennials, and when paired with other methods, can even result in increased spend.

So why is there often a hesitation towards print marketing? Impatience. Measuring the success of print content requires control group testing, which takes a longer time and, admittedly, a bigger investment before knowing the return. However, regardless of the effort involved to ensure its worth, some brands are proving the value of print marketing and are seeing returns on these investments. Full magazines and catalogs, in particular, are enjoying a branded content moment and are proving that they are as much about product as they are about holistic communication.

For many brands, the key to driving sales is more complex than simply offering coupons or special offers. Instead, it’s about going beyond the commercial experience to aligning your brand with an ethos that drives a consumer towards your product.

Rhapsody magazine is one of the strongest examples of print content strengthening and extending a physical experience. Available to United Airlines first- and business-class passengers, the magazine focuses on luxury living, connecting advertisers and featured products with a targeted audience and offering that audience bespoke content. While this symbiotic relationship is valuable in its own right, the real power of Rhapsody is in its ability to extend a customer’s relationship beyond the flight experience.

For Whole Foods, the quarterly Whole Foods Market Magazine is a resource on recipes, farm-grown products and healthy living. With beautiful images and informative text, Whole Foods becomes less of a quick stop at the grocery store and more of a source of education and inspiration while underscoring the brand’s devotion to food and health. 

While catalogs are nothing new, the fervor with which the IKEA catalog is received does offer a lesson for brands looking to make the most of print content. For Ikea, the catalog curates the newest products in a way that encourages personal experimentation, showing how each Ikea product could live in the home (valuable for a company often known for frustrating experiences). By mimicking the in-store showroom, the products aren’t just merchandised, they’re marketed. The catalog goes beyond the what to show the how and why.

For brands that operate either solely or predominantly digitally, forging a strong relationship with a consumer is challenging and often where an experiential, non-digital channel can thrive.

In 2014, e-tailer Net-a-Porter made headlines when it announced a monthly print glossy, Porter. The company already published a shopable online magazine called The Edit so Porter was an entirely new way for Net-a-Porter to connect with "The Net-a-Porter Woman." As is the key with nearly all content marketing, Porter goes beyond fashion to address topics that are tangential to Net-a-Porter’s products but are still core to its philosophy, ultimately strengthening consumer perception of its brand.

Branded print publications are not always the answer. Many brands are highly successful with other methods of branded content, like blogs, newsletters, webcasts, and more. However, for some, print content can offer a tactile and deeply experiential engagement with a brand’s message. As we’ve seen with brands in travel, retail, grocery and more, print content is certainly worth the effort involved—even if ROI isn’t immediately apparent.

--Andy Seibert is the founder and managing partner of Imprint, a Sullivan content lab. 

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