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Print's Not Dead: Print Marketing Will Thrive in 2014 and Beyond

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As technology continues to develop—and change the way we do business—many have considered print a dead medium and online marketing the wave of the future. Nevertheless, the print industry is far from dead; in fact, print marketing has only continued to grow and evolve alongside the upsurge of new technology.

Direct mail continues to be used heavily, with a 43% share of total local retail advertising. And, according to a Pitney Bowes survey, 76% of small businesses say their ideal marketing strategy encompasses a combination of both print and digital communication.

There are many reasons why print is (and will remain) an effective tool for delivering your message to your audiences.

Variable Printing

Although variable printing is by no means a new process, consumers have been using it with more frequency as advancements in printing technology have lowered the cost. Variable printing allows you to uniquely customize each piece of media by changing certain elements from piece to piece, taking advantage of the power of complex personalization.

For example, you could run a mailer campaign and personalize each postcard with the name of the recipient, or create unique coupons with individual serial numbers so that you can track which customers used them. When this technique is used with variable images, for example, you could create a series of assorted business cards, each with a different photo background.

Photo: Eon Jung

Personalized print media has a more powerful presence than a personalized email, because the audience can recognize that it takes more effort to customize print media than digital. Accordingly, the audience feels special because of what is a personal touch often lacking in traditional print marketing.

QR Codes and NFC

As our smartphone and tablet technologies continue to grow and develop, so too has the interactivity of print media.

It used to be that the only way to advertise your Web presence via print was to include the URL and hope that the audience took the time to type it into a browser. Nowadays, QR codes and NFC technology make it possible for your print media to directly connect customers to your website.

Photo: Mark Goh

QR codes can be customized with colors and patterns to better integrate into your print marketing designs and to give you the opportunity to add branded elements.

NFC (near-field communication) is a new technology that is not available in all devices, but it is sure to replace QR codes down the line. NFC technology uses a tiny microchip to send a signal directly to your mobile device without the need for scanning. Tap the print media against your mobile device, and the NFC chip will instantly connect you to the website.

Photo: Timo Arnall

These technologies can also be used in more creative ways than simply connecting your audience to a website. They can be used to distribute files, play videos, or activate augmented reality features that encourage your audience to explore and engage, as well as share with others.

Print and Social Media

Social networking has become an integral part of the way entrepreneurs reach their customers, but the idea of networking has been around much longer than Facebook and Twitter. After all, what's a business card if not a social medium? When you hand a potential customer or business relation a business card, you're making a social connection with that person and giving them the means to do the same with you.

Social media can also be fully integrated with any print marketing strategy or campaign. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a business card from a serious entrepreneur without his or her Facebook address, Twitter address, or other social networking URL printed on it. (Slightly over half of respondents to a Nielsen survey said they used a social media advertising campaign in conjunction with print media.) 

Photo: Sarah Papierz

Though some designers unfortunately make tragic mistakes when working with print and social media, the two often share a symbiotic relationship: print media help to draw attention to your social media sites, and your social media profiles can be used to strengthen your print campaign.

By adding customer comments and testimonials from your social networking profiles to your print designs, you can make your print marketing that much more effective.

Print Marketing Is Used Less, so It Stands Out More

Many companies are competing online for their audience's attention, which can make it hard to stand out in the crowd. However, since online marketing tends to be the focus of most businesses, a void is left in print marketing that is begging to be filled.

Compared with how often and how quickly you check your email, consider the daily ritual of going to the mailbox and checking your postal mail. You set aside a few moments to take the time to look at every piece of mail before going back to whatever it was you were doing before. That means your print materials are likely to receive extra attention—especially if they look unique:

Photo: Harold Urquiola

Research from the US Postal Service indicates that most who receive direct mail advertising pay attention to it; households report that they tend to respond to about 1 in 10 pieces of direct mail. An International Communications Research survey found that 73% of consumers actually prefer mail over other advertising methods. And according to Research by Mail Print, 85% of consumers sort and read their snail mail on a daily basis, and 40% try new businesses after receiving direct mail.

No matter how crucial digital marketing becomes, there is still a large audience you can reach through print marketing and direct mail campaigns.

Print Is More Than Just Paper Products

The doomsayers who perpetuate print marketing myths regarding the "death of print" often forget that print media extends well beyond your typical paper products, such as business cards, brochures, and presentation folders. Print media can include promotional drinkware, magnets, stickers, pens, keychains, coasters, or even apparel such as T-shirts and buttons.

These tend to be thought of as gifts, not marketing collateral, so your audience is more likely to hold on to them for longer, helping to build your brand familiarity and create a stronger impression with your audience. In fact, according to the Advertising Specialty Institute, 84% of Americans retain a company's name when they receive promotional gifts with that company's logo on it.

If it's an inanimate object, there's a good chance it can be emblazoned with your brand's logo and integrated into your marketing campaign. The items don't even have to be something that your audience takes home with them to make an impression: You could, for example, use branded napkins and cups at a gala dinner, or display a promotional banner on your podium while giving a presentation.

Least-expensive Cost per Impression

Small businesses need more bang for their buck, which is why a low cost per impression (or CPI) is essential for running an effective marketing campaign—one that can reach the greatest number people at as low a cost as possible.

In fact, according to the Advertising Specialties Study, the most popular promotional items, such as pens, shirts, and caps, have an average CPI of $0.002—lower than the average for online marketing, which tends to be $0.0025 per impression.

Photo: Daniel McQueen

A 2010 study by the Direct Marketing Association found that $1.00 spent on print advertising expenditures can generate an average of $12.57 in sales. That high return ratio was found to be universal across all industries: No matter what business you are in, print is still an effective medium for creating sales and generating revenue, especially as premium printing techniques continue to evolve.


Although print marketing can lead to success, it doesn't guarantee it. You still need to develop an effective print strategy that will put your brand in the spotlight and excite your audience. If you use the same, boring print materials as everyone else, you will have a hard time making your mark.

Get creative, put some real thought and effort into your print marketing collateral, and make use of all the tools and technologies available to you.

Have an interesting print marketing success story you'd like to share? Feel free to use the hashtag #PrintWins or engage with members of the printing community on Twitter.

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Vladimir Gendelman is founder and CEO of Company Folders Inc. He has spent over a decade learning the ins and outs of print marketing and specializes in helping businesses create quality marketing materials they can be proud of.

LinkedIn: Vladimir Gendelman

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  • by Wed Jan 8, 2014 via web

    Thanks for the article Vladimir. We're based over in Ireland. We regularly have conversations with clients on how to combine both print and digital effectively. At first they often just want to talk digital but when you start discussing engagement through print & digital they start to see the value.

    The one extra point I'd make about print and why it is still so useful is that it is tactile. It's the ability to touch and feel a piece of print that has been proven to help a prospect recall a companies product/offer or logo far better the digital alone. As you mentioned in your article, it's making sure you use specialist papers that add to that sensory engagement. This ultimately leads to a better chance of engaging with the digital element of a DM piece as you've created a "linger experience", meaning more time is spent with the print.

    Gary Berney @

  • by Eileen Burick Wed Jan 8, 2014 via mobile

    Under the topic of "standing out," print can also be created in effectively unique, die-cut shapes and folds which can enhance the message and increase engagement.

  • by James H. Wed Jan 8, 2014 via web

    Thanks for writing this! I definitely agree with you that print's not going anywhere (ever).

    Our lives still revolve around print material, especially since it's not just on paper. It could be on coffee mugs and other material goods like you pointed out. Also, the lack of print materials by other competitors leaves that marketing opportunity wide open. I thought that was a very good point.

  • by Fokke Wed Jan 8, 2014 via web

    Print is certainly not dead.
    But the QR code is, since the Layar augmented reality provides excellent print to web experience without the nasty code spoiling the artwork of the print itself.

  • by Wed Jan 8, 2014 via web


    In the high-tech B2B marketing world that we work in, printing is rare. Of the 140-150 production marketing projects we currently have in house, only 2 involve printing. And many companies, including high-tech startups with sustainability issues at top of mind, dedicate themselves to a paper free environment.

    However, with that said, you are correct about very highly targeted mailing pieces for B2B that are uniquely designed (box or unusual shape). They can work! As you pointed out, these pieces can resonate with people inundated by online data.


    Vince DeCarolis

  • by Donna Williams Thu Jan 9, 2014 via web

    I think the key messge here is about providing the right message at the right time to the right target audience - and this is not necessarily via digital media. With the plethora of emails and digital ads that we are exposed to on a daily basis, a piece of printed media has something of a novelty about it. Not only that but it is an unintrusive media that allows the recipient to choose if and when they want to consume it .. meaning that if they do, they are more likely to be in the right frame of mind to consume the message and act upon it.

    The other thing to think about is media complimentarity and direct mail loves digital! Used together you can create a very powerful brand experience ... greater than the sum of its parts.

  • by Gina Testa Thu Jan 9, 2014 via web

    I second that, Gary—we are human and, simply put, print creates a human, tangible connection. I recently came across an interesting study in the “Journal of Research in Reading” that said reading online may not be as effective or rewarding as reading the printed word. That same study found that physical manipulation (i.e. swiping your finger across a tablet or smartphone screen) distracts our focus from what we are reading, resulting in an inability to absorb messages in the way we would from a book or newspaper. However, I would argue that—because digital adds unique, complex elements to a marketing campaign—print and digital can and should be used in tandem. Because, no matter which medium you choose, a marketing campaign ultimately hinges on its relevancy and personalization to your target audience. —Gina Testa, Vice President, Xerox Worldwide Graphic Communications Business

  • by Vladimir Gendelman Thu Jan 9, 2014 via web

    Thank you for sharing your stories and offering suggestions, I will definitely make a note of it for future articles. Fokke, I have never heard of Layar before, but I just checked it out and it seems to be amazing, thank you for sharing.

  • by Thaddeus B Kubis Thu Jan 9, 2014 via web

    Great article, not much new to me since I have been an integrated print evangelist for the last 10 years. Great to see that world is beginning to see the true value of print. I just completed a book for the PIA, the guide to integrated marketing and media convergence for the printer. The book defines and supports much and more of what this excellent article states.

    Thaddeus B kubis

  • by Bob Zeitlinger Sun Jan 12, 2014 via web

    Good article. I think the same argument can be made for traditional print media relations. There's still a place for it -- and it still carries the legacy of "being real." That is, online publications have unlimited space that can be filled, so they can run more stories and carry more information. Print publications have limited space, so if your firm is featured in print editorial, you've made a much more selective cut.

    Bob Zeitlinger
    B To Z Communications
    Helping Businesses Achieve Their Goals Through Public Relations

  • by Toby Danylchuk Sun Jan 12, 2014 via mobile

    It's not dead, but if you're a local business best tactically to put as much budget to online efforts first. Print is still carpet bombing and you just hope enough people have the need and that you can appeal to them enough to respond. The retail companies I've worked with pay $5-10x the cost per lead,. Often the increased cost associated with variable data doesn't pay for itself.

  • by Aoife McArdle Wed Jan 15, 2014 via web

    Hi all, I recently sent a print campaign out to about 20 markets around the world and we experienced deliverability issues in LATAM and Africa. Does anyone know where I could find out more about the types of materials which get held at customs or anything I can do to prevent sending issues in the future? Thanks!

  • by Kelvin Mutize Fri Jan 17, 2014 via web

    They may say print is dead, come to Africa where not everyone owns a smartphone or has access to a computer and we still have a older generations which is not social media, email and computer savy, of which the younger generation is good in that area...

    They actually say in some countries of rural africa Radio is the most powerful media tool out there...

    Print is still alive certainly in most parts of Africa....

  • by Joe Fri Jan 24, 2014 via web

    Our company actually specializes in hybrid marketing. We did several extensive marketing studies that support this very fact. USPS profits increased in 2013 (actually only profitable sector). Look at the USPS first class mail discounts - all of them reward senders if it includes some kind of digital content. It's a fact that certain demographics are unreachable by email marketing. Print isn't going away.

    We deploy several hybrid marketing techniques using print and our technology. One combines cloud CRMS like Salesforce with our digital paper. We have the first paper with an embedded micro-chip. So imagine "plugging in" our paper and automatically be connected to a companies CRM database. The recipient becomes your data entry clerk!

    We've also done EDDM zip code demographic measurements. Our direct mail hybrid campaigns typically have a 300% to 400% increase over traditional direct mail. We take active open rates from each zip code and combine one hypersensitive customer list for our clients.

    Our technology allows us to do things different. Take a QR code for example. Traditionally the equation for a QR is URL = QR. With our tech the user can direct the recipient to multiple URLs in realtime using the same QR printed on our digital paper. Keep in mind, our paper stores information! Even without a QR we can still direct people to URLs.

    I personally think hybrid campaigns will be the way marketing is done in the future. Vive La Print!

  • by Tracy Noyes Mon Feb 24, 2014 via web

    Great article Vladimir. After the introduction of digital media, digital advertisements etc many expected the traditional methods, whether the printing service, the mailing service, all expected them to perish. But they did stand and for me they actually made these direct mailing, printing, fluxes etc very special. I am in publishing business and I've been carrying out direct mail promotions and banners, T-shirt design promotions to build our business and I've found great turn around than all other digital promotions. These ideas where given to me by Troi Mailing Service in Toronto and they clicked just find. Some traditional ways stays strong and good, just need to change according to the changing market.

  • by Mark DeBellis Sun Mar 2, 2014 via web

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and insights to this conversation. I think Donna nailed it and it is and always has been the tenet of responsible marketing. The decision has to be the right medium at the right place at the right time. It ultimately is driven by the goals of the campaign and the budget available. Ironically, we are finding that many of our clients, especially over these past few years during declining budget periods, have shifted perhaps too much of their budget into digital and social media because of cost constraints, necessity and perceived effectiveness (the jury is out on social media value for some industries). Now, as we begin to see direct mail communication opportunities growing (we work with a lot of financial institution clients where direct mail is still very relevant especially in marketing loans), clients are faced with the challenge of trying to internally sell the need for budget increase to pay for it. So we need to add, "the right medium at the right place at the right time...with the budget available to pay for it!" :)

    Joe, please share more of this imbedded technology paper. Sounds fascinating.

  • by Whole Sale Print Shop Tue Feb 10, 2015 via web

    Thought this a great article that clearly addresses the issues of print media and social media and how companies use it well to help promote their business.

  • by Tue Mar 3, 2015 via web

    Augmented Reality is the trend in Print Advertising. It taps into the possibility of setting things into interactive print by integrating it with digital content and allows the allows print content to come alive with Video, 3D, Animations, Call-to-Action, Deals and much more.

  • by Carrie Tue Oct 11, 2016 via web

    Does anyone know if any tools out there exist for monitoring what competitors are advertising in print, preferably in the Boston and Metro West area? Thank you!

  • by somiching hungyo Thu Nov 3, 2016 via mobile

    I want sample of marketing strategy on printing firm

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