The rapid growth of digital marketing has led to speculation that print is no longer relevant. Technology is disrupting marketing communications and soon there will be no need for this older, analog medium. But, if history is a guide, this argument may be flawed.
Ever since products were first introduced, businesses have sought to differentiate from the competition through various means of communication. Print was the first medium to reach a large number of potential customers. As technology progressed, radio, then television offered marketers new communications channels. These media grew exponentially with the introduction of cable and satellite distribution. Yet neither replaced print as a vital marketing communications tool.
Over the past decade, digital technologies have created new marketing techniques and channels. This shift to digital has significantly impacted traditional media, particularly print. In publishing, newspapers and other periodicals have been hard hit as more readers seek their news and information online. Publishers that survived this transition did so by adapting to the new environment; they’ve built hybrid businesses by distributing content online and monetizing this presence through various payment models.
The emergence of digital marketing is just one of the challenges faced by commercial printers over the past decade. In a 2012 report, the NAPL reported the number of printing firms shrank 25% since 1998 as structural changes led to significant industry consolidation 1. Yet, many firms have not only survived, they’ve thrived as weaker competitors stumbled. Updated technology has permitted these firms to offer clients cutting edge services while improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
So, despite structural changes and the shift in spending, rumors of the demise of commercial printing are not only be premature, they’re dead wrong. Here are six reasons why.
- Advances in printing technology have increased the investments required to maintain a current service mix. The recent economic downturn exposed the weakest players, ones that were under-capitalized and could not afford keep up. These firms have gone out of business or merged with stronger ones.
- Unlike electronic and digital communications, printed materials exist in physical space. Print is easy to hold and interact with, it doesn’t require technology to possess and use it.
- Older consumers control the majority of the nation’s wealth today. According to a 2012 Neilsen report, boomers, or those born between 1946-1964, control 70% of the nations disposable income and purchase 49% of all consumer packaged goods 2. This will remain the case well into the next decade and this group is very comfortable with printed materials.
- Modern printing technologies allow for more creative use of the medium. QR Codes and personalized URLs (PURLs) have added interactivity to otherwise static pieces. Further developments will permit experimentation with personalization, substrates and finishing. Children of the boomer generation, while digital natives themselves, will particularly appreciate innovative uses of print.
- Digital printing technology has improved the timeliness and relevance of printed information, increased production efficiency and reduced cost
- The rate of growth of digital marketing will slow as marketers become less channel focused. Recently, Procter and Gamble’s Global Brand Building officer, Marc Pritchard stated “the era of digital marketing is over” 3. This doesn’t signal a return to print but rather, a return to a brand-based marketing focus that is not channel specific. Print remains a viable part of that mix.
Digital will not replace print, just as electronic media didn’t supplant it earlier. Rather, the digital technologies that have remade the printing industry will continue to redefine it, creating exciting new capabilities and economies.
Marketing trends come and go but the cornerstone of branding remains. In the brand-driven marketing, digital and traditional marketing channels are complementary, not mutually exclusive. Marketers focused on building and enhancing brand will utilize the most appropriate channels to maintain a dialog with the consumer.
Publishers and commercial printing firms that thrive in this environment will find new, effective ways to help them do so.