chalkbox feature: The power of print marketing materials in a digital age

The power of print marketing materials in a digital age

Let’s start with an honest assessment. Print marketing materials in this digital age have diminished somewhat. In volume, mostly. For example, 200 business cards will last most of our clients more than a year instead of just a month like they used to. This article is not written in denial of this decline, but as an exploration of where print fits in today.

One could make the argument that the diminished status of print provides some new room to engage with an audience. An easy example of this is one of the simplest print marketing pieces there are—the humble thank-you card following the completion of a service. The hand-delivered printed envelope containing the printed card with a hand-written note will always leave your customer feeling more warm and fuzzy than an emailed “thank you.” Especially because there aren’t many of those showing up in mailboxes these days. The use of thank-you cards has declined, while their impact has risen.

Print is powerful

Disclosure: I am aware of my strong biases toward print. I am old enough to predate the internet and computers in every home. My first work out of college was entirely print-focused. Paper is soothing to me. It holds power for me. And, like it or not, it still holds a role in much of today’s branding and commerce.

Print adds dimension

A brand is the public's collective perception of your organization. That public lives and breathes in the real world. And while much of their commerce activity may now be online, meeting them out in the wild where they dwell adds a new dimension (a third dimension, literally) to their experience of your brand. Done right, this can only strengthen your connection with them.

Print disrupts patterns

Newspapers, magazines, and other opportunities for print media advertising have decreased significantly in the last two decades. So many businesses are relying solely on digital means to pull in customers. That digital pool is so big, we’re all a bit diluted there. Like with the humble thank-you card, this leaves opportunities to show up in the world in unexpected ways that disrupt patterns and get noticed.

Print ties into social identity

This is the realm of concert t-shirts, event posters, vinyl records, art books, album covers, and other items that people connect with on a level beyond the physical object itself. Interestingly, research has been conducted into why this happens. That research suggests that “when a physical object aligns with the consumer’s identity, it provides greater symbolic value and self-verification.” Holding the thing holds more meaning than just seeing it or listening to it.

Print serves as reference or learning material

Trade shows and conferences are full of print. A lot of that is the large-format display work. But they’re also oozing with helpful guides, comparisons, checklists, and catalogs that help guests do their work better. When done perfectly, using these reveal problems that they’ll come back to you to address.

Print reminds

Marketers use print to remind us with “Remember to vote,” and “Don’t miss our sale!” postcards. And even when they don’t we can use their work to remind ourselves: “I don’t want to miss that exhibit, so I’ll grab a brochure now.” Or, “I’d love your business card” so I’ll be reminded later to find you on LinkedIn. And every day, billboards remind millions of commuters of all sorts of things.

Print packages

Quite literally, the box or bag containing other treasures can be its own object of desire. Who knows this already? Apple comes to mind, with their sophisticated, minimalist packaging. Also consider the wineries, breweries, and chocolatiers and all the other tasty things in a grocery store. Spend some time in the retail aisles and you’ll get it. Those labels, boxes, wrappers, and bags are highly sophisticated print advertising designed to sell an experience and make you want, want, want what’s inside.

Print provides an experience

To control the brand experience, spaces, exhibits, events, and conferences will make the space their own. This happens through small things like credentials, programs, and brochures. It happens through the big things, too, like wayfinding, signs, wall graphics, floor graphics, booths, and vehicles. And it goes home with people as pens, apparel, posters, gifts, and other business promotional materials.

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Fit to print

It’s important to remember that our customers, at least for now, are humans. We can share so much with them on our websites and through email. Our digital ads can zoom past their eyes and interrupt their cute kitten videos. But these humans have eyeballs in their heads and nerves in their fingertips—not for scrolling through their feed, but for experiencing the world around them through sight and touch.

Printed marketing materials of all shapes and sizes can satisfy those nerve endings in meaningful ways. Print can complement a strong digital marketing strategy as a way to strengthen connections and brand loyalty.

Is print a part of your marketing strategy? Want to talk through some new ideas?

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