Is Print Dead? Yes

The short answer is yes.

While you wrap your head around that, I would like to make a couple distinctions that are critical in today’s marketing environment. In my post titled, The Next Big Opportunity in Print, I touched on the chasm that exists between the digital and print worlds and how big of an opportunity this is for commercial printers. I bring this to your attention not as a headline-grabbing pontificator but as a practitioner who is growing print brands by finding ways to create results through the integration of both mediums. I recently spoke on this subject with the American Marketing Association and the topic was very well received so I am bringing it to everyone. Remember I am here to create value for you by sharing my learning, not my theories.


Earlier this year I attended Digital Marketer’s Traffic and Conversion Summit so I could get a glimpse into the priorities and focus of the digital world and identify opportunities for our brands to leverage and integrate with the print world. There are two distinctions that jump out at me that I want to draw to your attention.

Digital Marketer’s Founder & CEO, Ryan Deiss, made a comment during his opening keynote at T&C 2016 that really struck a chord with me. Ryan stated:

“Today, marketing is about optimizing for the relationship.  It’s about making deposits into the relational equity account before you start making withdrawals.


Companies that focus on branding alone will go broke if they never figure out how to ask for the order.


Companies that focus on direct response will go broke because everyone on Planet Earth hates them.”

The basis of Ryan’s claim is that the direct response and branding worlds are consolidating. This consolidation is creating the phenomenon of content marketing which is creating a very interesting dynamic among the marketing disciplines and mediums.

The concept of content marketing is relatively simple (and not a new one), create and distribute relevant and valuable content to engage a target audience and drive profitable customer relationships. What interests me the most is this very slight change in philosophy has shifted the roles of the mediums. This brings me to my first distinction:

It is the responsibility of the marketer to create valuable, relevant content and deliver it through an intimate and engaging medium. 

This may seem a bit common-sense to most of you but right now most consumer/brand relationships look too much like this…

This is because we as marketers have gotten really cocky and think we know our target consumers better than we really do. We create content that is valuable and relevant to us and deliver it through the medium that we prefer, or even worse, can measure. Don’t get me wrong, we need to make sure our efforts are generating results but click rates, opens, and engagements don’t create successful businesses.

This brings me to my second distinction, The Platinum Rule.

Instead of treating others as we would want to be treated, we need to start treating others as they want to be treated.

You see, it’s time to put the golden rule out of business. Instead of treating others as we would want to be treated, we need to start treating others as they want to be treated.

This might be tough for some marketers who can’t accept the fact that the power has shifted and it’s no longer about them. You see, consumers have all the leverage. They have the power, you don’t. There is significant research that shows consumers are somewhere around 60% through the purchasing decision before they engage a brand directly. If you as a marketer aren’t creating content that is valuable and relevant to your consumer via a medium that is intimate and engaging to them, your competitors are and you’re screwed.

So what about the death of print? Yes, it is dead as a medium for sharing and storing information.

As a medium for sharing and storing information, print is no longer effective. If you need to share or store something you are going to e-mail, text or use a tool like DropBox or Skype. It took roughly 1500 years depending on your interpretation of the first use of print and when Al Gore invented the internet, but digital provides a much more efficient medium for information sharing. But she ain’t dead when it comes to developing or influencing profitable relationships between consumers and brands. In fact, she is experiencing a bit of a renaissance.

You see commercial print is still a $30 billion industry and growing. A recent study by MarketingSherpa found that 54% of respondents preferred to receive updates and promotions in the mail vs. 47% by email. They also found that 47% of people preferred to engage with brands via print ads when they are away from their computer. A recent study by Exact Target (a digital marketing company) found that 65% of those surveyed said they made a purchase as a result of receiving a marketing message via direct mail.6

…stop focusing on what medium is dead or alive and focus on what medium is intimate and engaging to our consumer

So what the hell is the point, Jake? The point is that we need to stop focusing on what medium is dead or alive and focus on what medium is intimate and engaging to our consumer. The reality is people enjoy engaging with print over digital and here’s the deal, whether you prefer it or not as a marketer, it flipping works. It works because of the distinctions I pointed out earlier. Consumers are tired of their space being invaded with marketing messages that aren’t relevant and are delivered through obtrusive mediums.

Print’s physicality gives it immense power to solicit emotion, inspire feelings and bring a substance to brands that you can touch, feel, smell and hold. The consumer can physically engage with your brand on their terms which, creates relational equity. The more senses you engage through your medium, the stronger the impact on the consumer. This is why print and video have such a large impact compared to digital advertising or email.

The advancement of digital print and variable data printing (VDP) have only enhanced the impact you can create through print. The ability to utilize data to increase the intimacy and engagement through personalization and integration of digital mediums in such a content focused world is bringing a renaissance to print. A study by InfoTrends found that combining print, email, PURL’s and mobile messaging saw response rates as high as 8.7% and conversion rates of 19%. We have been a part of campaigns that drew response rates as high as 25% and returns on investment that would impress any brand. By the way, if you think VDP is simply personalizing a salutation or dropping someone’s name in a text block, you are completely missing the boat.

At the end of the day, print is thriving as a marketing medium. Consumers love it. As a marketer I highly encourage you to reach out to your print and digital partners to collaborate and increase your relational equity with your consumer. At a minimum, spend some time with them discussing the possibilities of digital print and variable data printing.

I feel that I really brought it on this one and thank you for coming along for the ride! I know this had to create some opinions so let me have them because I love the feedback!

Make sure to share this to keep the conversation going and don’t forget to subscribe!

You can catch my talk with the American Marketing Association here.

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