In a time of anxiety, print still has a future

Last updated: 10-18-2020

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In a time of anxiety, print still has a future

The American author Mark Twain famously said: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” after a newspaper mistakenly printed his obituary while he was very much still alive. The same could be said of the print industry itself – its demise as a means of marketing communication has been predicted for years.

Despite this, repeated surveys have shown that print remains one of the most effective ways to communicate brand messages to consumers. 2020 has proven to be an exceptionally challenging year for many industries and businesses, and yet despite all the anxiety, there are reasons to be optimistic about the continued relevance of print. Some of these reasons even have their roots in the changes that have swept the world with the coronavirus pandemic.

No one wants to be online all the time

Lockdown measures have meant people spending more time at home, and while this has highlighted the advantages of digital communications, it has also led people to question their relationship with virtual media. Seemingly endless video conference calls have only accelerated the phenomenon of “digital fatigue”.

During lockdown, more of our lives have been spent online, leading to people bemoaning the reduction of tangible moments in their lives. While this speaks to the emotional connection that people have with printed media, there are also compelling business reasons to continue using print for marketing. These reasons also provide evidence for the argument that print is far from dead. Rather, it continues to have a bright future.

As they spend more time online, consumers are subjected to an ever-greater barrage of digital advertising. This can be counterproductive, as it has been shown to result in reduced brand recall when compared to printed collateral.

Brand loyalty among consumers is increasingly driven by perceptions of authenticity and a desire for personalised experiences. Despite the power of algorithms serving up tailored online content, digital media cannot compete with printed media when it comes to delivering a meaningful, more personal experience.

Whereas online advertising often feels invasive, printed material can be consumed at leisure. Tangibility and this feeling of control help explain why printed marketing communications can be so effective.

Print media has been dismissed as outdated, but this overlooks the key advantage that comes with familiarity: trust. In the era of “fake news”, printed advertising messages rank much more highly for trust than digital communications.

Advances in digital printing technology have also made print more immersive, and enabled innovations such as mass customisation and personalisation. Along with greatly improved colour registration (and hence brand recognition and recall – our brains are hardwired to respond to colour), these developments have increased people’s engagement with printed materials. Even conventional print generates greater levels of connection than digital advertising.

It’s important to remember that print and digital media don’t operate in isolation – the two can be effectively used together. While lockdown may have led to more online shopping, many of these digital purchases are originally inspired by printed marketing messages. In this way, print has actually supported the growth of e-commerce.

More than just paper

Printed marketing messages need not be two-dimensional. Brands and advertising communications can be made to pop in many different 3D applications. Perhaps the most important of these is packaging. No matter what motivates a consumer to make a purchase, their buying journey will inevitably involve an interaction with some form of packaging.

When used well, packaging represents an unparalleled opportunity to communicate with consumers. In fact, the importance of packaging could just be the single biggest reason to continue to have faith in the future of print. Reports of its death may have been exaggerated, but the importance of print in today’s world cannot be overstated.


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