Discussion Point Should Digital Marketers Rethink Print

In the midst of the current digital marketing age continues a debate that seems as old as Gutenberg’s press: Is print dead?

While those who agree with this statement cite the benefits of digital, such as lower distribution costs, longer reach and convenience, among others, the pro-print camp seems to be getting more support these days.

According to CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends - North America, 37 percent of B2B marketers still use print magazines to distribute content, and 52 percent used print or another offline method for paid advertising.

Print has also made marketing prediction listings, including Altura Solution’s What’s in Store for B2B Digital Marketing in 2015?

“Print, especially trade publications, will regain their importance because they have a targeted audience: your end-customers,” reads the article.

And — get ready for it — J.C. Penney has brought back its “Big Book” catalog.

To get the real scoop on the death of print, or find out if it really ever died in the first place, we consulted the experts.

The Question

With news of printed pieces coming back, including J.C. Penney’s "Big Book," is there a need to rethink print? Have we reached digital saturation?

The Answers

Jorge Aguilar, Executive Director, Brand Strategy at Landor Associates

Based in the San Francisco office of Landor Associates, Aguilar’s areas of expertise include brand strategy, innovation, strategic planning and financial analysis. As a strategic adviser, he has been instrumental in driving profitable growth for clients in a wide variety of industries, including consumer packaged goods, financial services, health care, media and entertainment, retail and transportation. Before joining Landor Associates, Aguilar held various marketing and strategy positions at blue chip organizations such as DuPont and PepsiCo. Tweet to Jorge Aguilar.

It's time for brands to not only rethink print, but also rethink how they do business. The times move too fast to rely on old ways of doing business without considering their effectiveness. Successful brands today are agile, never stop learning, and adjust their actions based on experience.

In this context, J.C. Penney is demonstrating agility by being adaptive in three different ways:

  1. The company is testing different formats and going with a smaller 120-page catalog this time around. It will be interesting to see how it re-invents the experience. Will they stick to the tried and true or will they embrace new technologies, such as augmented reality, like IKEA did on its latest brochure?
  2. The company knows that consumers want to browse though print catalogs when looking at home products, but not necessarily when shopping for clothes. Matching the right marketing vehicle to consumer behavior and context will help drive incremental sales.
  3. The company has acknowledged that they are not done. It will continue to tweak and optimize its catalog business to drive business results.

From my perspective, brands today have a choice: either follow J.C. Penney’s lead or die.

Renee Triemstra, VP of Strategy and Customer Experience at ChannelNet

Triemstra has shaped and launched many successful digital marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies across multiple industries, including automotive, finance, home improvement and retail. She is an expert in web solutions, re-engineering business processes and creating customer communications that sell products and retain customer relationships. Prior to joining ChannelNet, Renee led the digital account team at a traditional advertising agency, where she was responsible for digital brand integration, including online advertising, search marketing, and all digital promotions and marketing. Tweet to Renee Triemstra.

My expertise is really in digital, and I still think print has a role in the marketing mix. The one thing that is common for both print and digital is that pictures sell. People see something and they want it. Visuals drive traffic to e-commerce websites and to brick and mortar stores.

How a company decides to spend its marketing dollars, whether it's digital or print, needs to be based on the customer demographics and the actual product or service. Many companies such as Crate and Barrel or IKEA never stopped publishing catalogs. Most retailers still spend lots of money on circulars, just not as much as they used to spend.

Digital has definitely not reached a saturation level. Marketers are increasing their digital budgets because the effectiveness of digital gets better with each innovation. I think technology and data have just recently progressed to the point that we can individualize the message. When companies learn how to leverage their big and small data, we will see digital marketing really accelerate sales.

What is important is consistency of message. Having an omnichannel approach, it’s critical that the customer experience is the same regardless of the channel used.

Craig Flax, Principal at Craig Flax Catalog Consulting

Flax has been an omnichannel marketer for almost three decades. He has grown catalogs and e-commerce businesses from scratch, as well as collaborated with some of the largest retailers in America including GAP, Autodesk, National Geographic and TOMS shoes. He has served on advisory boards for Abacus Direct and DoubleClick, learning and helping to design some of the tools now deemed necessary for marketers. Flax has an entrepreneurial spirit and is always looking to create holistic responses to opportunities. Tweet to Craig Flax.

Every channel helps. Catalog has a very unique place in the marketing mix in that there’s just not the kind of competition in the mailbox that there used to be – unlike digital, which is disruptive. I can speak as marketer and a consumer: I’ve never clicked on a banner ad in my entire life, except to test. But I order from catalogs.

Catalogs give brands an opportunity to control the message in a way that a website just can’t. You can tell all the stories you want on your site – link to YouTube, Vimeo, use video messaging – there is unlimited space to share your story. But you’re really asking a lot of a customer to sit in front of the computer or tablet and spend their time reading or watching a video, because there are so many distractions online.

Catalog is different because you can sit on the couch [or in other strategic places in your home], and you’re not distracted. If you’ve used great creative and content, people will sit there and be captivated.

[Flax gave us the example of Patagonia’s catalog, in which the company uses stories and images from real customers using their product.] Patagonia has done the best job of getting people to believe their brand story, and that has given them the opportunity to push their limits.

I believe print is an important tool, and to me it’s a vital tool. If you’re not using it as part of your mix, you’d better have a good reason why.

Michael Fertman, B2B SaaS Marketing Consultant

As a marketing consultant serving B2B Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies as fractional CMO, Fertman’s expertise includes marketing strategy, brand building, lead generation, sales enablement, product strategy and pricing. Most recently, he was CMO of Guidepoint Global, and before that, was VP of product marketing at D&B. He has product management experience at two SaaS startups and was a consultant for Booz & Company. Tweet to Michael Fertman.

It depends very much on the target audience. Basic research shows that catalog buyers tend to be older, and therefore, they spend more. With computer and electronics, and apparel, folks who buy via catalog are spending more than their younger online counterparts – up to 50 percent more. From that perspective, print makes sense, done with the right targeting.

I still remember as a kid having the Sears catalog laying around and being eager to review the sections that mattered to me. Today, with all the noise around online ads and email, having a book sitting around in the home is a constant reminder of the brand. It may mean different things to different people, but it’s a constant reminder of the company that you have available to you at a moment’s notice.

But, it’s expensive to mail. If 100 percent of the people are those spending that $560 average ticket (for apparel, the average is $170), it’s a giant moneymaker. If you’re sending to 1,000 people to find the one person who will buy, then it’s not.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it came back based on popular demand.

As a marketer who makes purchases for setting up trade show booths, I find it helpful to have a catalog where I can quickly and easily see products and mockups. If I don’t know exactly what I want, it’s easier to flip through something in print than to search online.