The Numbers are In: Print is Thriving in the Digital Age

The death of print has been predicted for decades, yet it continues to live, and some would even say thrive in the digital age. And it’s up to printers and direct marketing firms to remind or educate our clients about the power of print.

October 15, 2018
Alan Sherman IWCO Direct

The death of print has been predicted for decades, yet it continues to live, and some would even say thrive in the digital age. And it’s up to printers and direct marketing firms to remind or educate our clients about the power of print. Ask a dozen people which they trust more—an email that appears to come from their bank or a physical letter from their bank. You’re likely to have 12 people say the physical letter is more trustworthy. As I’ve said many times, when did you last hear of a phishing scam via direct mail?

Far from being dead, or even on life support, print continues to be valued by many, including millennials. According to the USPS Mail Moments Review, 84% of millennials take the time to look through their mail and 64% would rather scan for useful information in printed mail than email.

The continued effectiveness of direct mail for advertisers and marketers may be based in part on how the mind processes paper-based information and digital information. According to research firm True Impact, it takes 21% less cognitive effort to process paper-based direct mail advertising than a similar message using digital media. Post-exposure memory tests validated what the cognitive test revealed about direct mail’s memory encoding capabilities. When asked to cite the brand (company name) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70% higher among participants who were exposed to a direct mail piece (75%) than a digital ad (44%).

Print has also been shown to have higher recall than digital media. In fact, studies show brand recall is 75% higher with print than digital. Print is a more emotional experience than digital, too. Think about your reaction when someone takes the time to send you a handwritten note versus dashing off a text to say, “I’m thinking about you.” Somehow a physical birthday card means more than an e-card because you can touch it—and sometimes even scratch-and-sniff it. 

Print Is Personal and Persuasive
Consider, too, how many more distractions appear when consuming digital media. Remarketing messages, notifications and push alerts, Twitter and Facebook feeds, and other social media advertising are simultaneously competing for your attention. To borrow a phrase from Nate Silver, in many cases, it’s the printed piece that acts as the signal that breaks through the digital noise for marketers. 

Sappi’s great resource, “A Communicator’s Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch,” is filled with examples that prove the power of print (and paper, of course). Neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman shares this compelling example of how consumers respond to high-quality print versus the same information on a screen: “Consumers who read about a fictitious company on heavy, high-quality coated paper had more positive feelings about the company and understood and remembered the content significantly better than those who read the exact same content on either lighter, lower quality uncoated paper or on a computer screen.”

There are many advantages to digital media, but one disadvantage is how easy it is to ignore. It takes no thought to delete a screen full of promotional email messages or Facebook ads. It is much harder to discard a day’s worth of physical mail, in part because paper-based content is more engaging. Studies have shown that 80% of traditional mail is opened while 80% of email is deleted. Simply put, paper has more perceived value than pixels. 

The Data and Marketing Association (DMA) describes print and direct mail as “active.” Customers and prospects may find their way to a marketer’s website on their own, but a direct mail piece in their mailbox is an active tap on the shoulder that online-only activities don’t allow… and it won’t get overlooked in a crowded inbox like email.

According to Forbes, science clearly shows paper can be more impactful and memorable than digital. In particular, print advertising can maximize sensory appeal. Print offers the ability to deliver rich, vivid images along with tactile stimuli. As mentioned earlier, in some cases, scent can be used to further increase print's impact.

In addition to exploiting a consumer’s senses, print may also be more effective for communicating detailed information. While most ads are designed to avoid any hint of information overload, particularly in a B2B sales effort, important documentation may need to be provided to ensure customer needs are met. Providing this information in paper format will likely increase the customer's comprehension and recall.

Print has Crossover Appeal
Digital, on the other hand, offers its own advantages, including instantaneous access, localization, powerful personalization and targeting, audio and video, and more. However, marketers across a wide range of industries have discovered they simply cannot generate the volume of qualified leads they need for continued growth without direct mail. Often, marketers find they can be most effective by using direct mail and digital hand-in-hand.

DMA echoes this advice, with case studies that show the most effective marketing campaigns are those that use print media in conjunction with other channels to create integrated marketing campaigns. Direct mail can be the path that leads consumers to a website by incorporating QR codes, augmented reality, and other forms of interactive devices to provide a more compelling and satisfying customer experience.  

Gutenberg may not have known about customer experience, but his milestone of the second millennium continues to adapt and thrive more than 500 years after it was introduced.

Alan Sherman Bio:

A veteran of the direct marketing industry with more than 20 years of experience, Alan has led consumer and business-to-business marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, global agencies, top retailers, and financial firms. As VP of Marketing Strategy at IWCO Direct, he focuses upon enabling clients to reach optimal omnichannel program performance by leveraging his market insights and direct marketing best practices. He can be reached at [email protected].