Is Print Marketing Obsolete in the Digital Age?

Before shifting to an all-digital marketing campaign, consider that traditional print pieces still have their uses.
Chief Ideation Officer, CODA Concepts, LLC
March 28, 2012

Mobile technology makes it easier for sales representatives to carry a vast array of sales collateral. And many small businesses are shying away from print materials as a way to cut costs and lessen their impact on the carbon footprint.

Glossy, detailed marketing pieces have given way to digital presentations on tablets and laptops. Consumer brochures are bowing to company blogs and YouTube how-to videos. Is there still a place in small business for print marketing?

The resounding answer seems to be yes, but it’s limited. And it's shifting in response to digital mediums.

“There are certain industries, serving a specific demographic, that will always appreciate and need a tangible representation of a product, service or company," says Jennifer Fuhrman, marketing executive with Chicago agency Marketcity.

"Staples in print materials include spec sheets, annual reports and business cards, but their design capabilities have shifted and improved drastically.”

Many traditional communication channels, such as newsletters, are dependent on the Internet now. Fuhrman says that all of Marketcity’s clients who send newsletters have digital versions.

“Our clients use e-mail newsletters," she said. "They’re able to direct their newsletter efforts to people who have provided their contact information, as opposed to the shotgun snail-mail approach.”

The cost of sending an e-newsletter is significantly less than the expense of printing and mailing hard copies.

However, Lin Grensing-Prophal, author of Direct Mail in a Digital Age, believes the shift to digital marketing has given print an unintentional advantage.

“Mailboxes aren’t as cluttered, thanks to digital marketing," she said. "But, the Web is getting more cluttered.”

With many small businesses reallocating their marketing dollars to digital campaigns, those using more traditional, print marketing methods may have a greater chance of reaching their target audiences.

Yet, analyzing how effective traditional media is versus digital is difficult. Even the most novice marketers can find metrics for nearly every type of digital campaign. Small businesses can easily monitor their ROI and break it down by categories and channels.

It’s more difficult to assess these variables with traditional print media. You can measure response rates, but it’s impossible to tell how many prospects open or read print media.

Grensing-Prophal believes that digital media is a good way to augment a direct-mail campaign, but it can’t replace it and in many cases, it shouldn’t.

“Digital and traditional now mix well together," said Grensing-Prophal. "QR Codes can help print ads and improve analytics. Small companies used to send large catalogs, which were costly. Now, they can send a simple mailer with a QR Code sending customers to an online catalog.”

Many industries still benefit from direct-mail campaigns, according to Grensing-Prophal. Especially when its information is usually shared between family members and friends. Healthcare is one example. It’s easy to pass on a print newsletter to a friend, but it’s also easy to forward an e-mail. Still, many people still rely on printed reminders for appointments and medication instructions.

Not every small business should shift to digital, according to Grensing-Prophal. Each business must analyze its target audience before reallocating the entire marketing budget.

“You have to know your audience. Evaluate your clients and their specific needs to determine what will work best,” she said. “Don’t jump on the bandwagon just because it’s the latest big thing.”

Photo credit: iStock

Angela Stringfellow is a PR and marcomm consultant and social media strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs for Contently.