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Just because marketers are jumping on the interactive-marketing bandwagon in droves doesn't mean that things on the interactive side are all rosy.

Sure, with the rise in popularity of email, websites, video, social media, mobile apps, behavioral targeting, etc., magazine advertising and direct mail have seen a steady decline, ad-supported magazines are diminishing, and costs and environmental concerns have taken a toll on direct mail.

But the decreasing numbers for print don't necessarily mean a particularly high return on investment (ROI) for all digital initiatives.

For instance, email overload and clutter have resulted in stagnant response rates for email marketers. On average, consumers receive 14-15 emails per day from companies or brands (per IDG Connect, 2010), in addition to the countless business-related emails they receive.

Because the cost of sending emails is so low, most marketers are planning to increase their outbound mailing. Accordingly, consumers' inboxes will get fuller and spam filters will inevitably become more aggressive to compensate, making it even harder to connect with the target audience.

The jury is still out as to how consumers respond to advertising on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. There has been consumer pushback to each, including popular movements to delete Facebook accounts over privacy concerns.

As new government bodies are formed to regulate Internet marketing, new obstacles are introduced every day: Even a few members of Congress have voiced privacy concerns about behavioral targeting (just when marketers were making real progress on the social-media ROI front).

But with the decline in printed advertising clutter reported by American households comes opportunity. According to Pitney Bowes, the typical American household receives roughly 15-17 pieces of advertising-related mail per week. That is minimal, considering that consumers are getting the same number of emails every day.

There is an advantage for marketers who embrace a multichannel approach, rather than putting all their proverbial eggs in one basket. A recent study by ATG found that nearly 80% of consumers use more than one channel when making purchasing decisions, and 25% use three or more. Moreover, 78% said they use catalogs to browse and discover products.

Catalogs? Yes. Marketers who are willing to go against the grain can benefit from the shift away from print by reinventing the catalog.

The catalog's role has changed—both in effectiveness and format—re-emerging as a reliable means of driving consumers to a website or retail store to complete a sale.

When quality, relevant content, and storytelling is added to a traditional catalog, what was once deemed a long-form and multipage advertisement is now an opportunity to break though the online clutter and grab a significant share of attention.

Essentially, the resulting product is a magazine and catalog hybrid—something content-marketing insiders refer to as a "magalog." The name doesn't matter as much as the benefits to incorporating print storytelling into a multichannel campaign.

Adding quality content to the traditional catalog format refers to more than just copy and text; the smart use of design elements can also form a storytelling narrative that shows the products and services in context, giving customers new ideas for using or wearing those products.

Companies leading the magalog trend and achieving great results are Vera Bradley,, and Avon's mark, a youth-oriented brand. According to mark Marketing Director Lily DeStefano, "the magalog is a critical vehicle for marketing mark because their marketing mix must reflect how the Gen Y audience consumes media across platforms." (Deliver magazine, October 2009)

Here are six of the benefits of such a print approach:

  1. It cuts through email clutter by getting into the home to make an emotional connection. When a household receives only a few pieces of mail a day, a well-designed catalog will stand out and have a chance to make its way to other household members.

    Print is lauded for its ability to make an emotional connection—something that can be at least partially attributed to the fact that you hold and feel it in your hands.
  2. It uses content and storytelling to build awareness and purchase intent. Whether you use copy or design for storytelling, you have the ability to weave a narrative so that customers can see themselves in a situation that is either true to life or aspirational. It is much more difficult to accomplish that with an HTML email or a banner ad.
  3. It offers customers a chance to browse (vs. searching on a website). A print catalog gives consumers a chance to shop, browse, and make discoveries at their own pace or over multiple viewings. Website searches are not well suited for discovery. A print piece is great for finding things you never knew existed, while on the Web you are generally searching for something you already have in mind.
  4. It can be integrated with online tactics: digital editions, mobile apps, social media, and commerce websites. A print catalog or magalog can help drive people to your commerce site or to a digital edition of the catalog; there, you can convert the sale. Also, it can raise awareness and help get people to go to your Facebook page or to follow you on Twitter, or you can alert them to retail deals you're offering on Foursquare.
  5. It lets you finely target your list for both acquisition and reactivation of lapsed customers. A powerful use of print is reactivation of a lapsed customer. Zappos has been successful with that approach, re-energizing its relationship with lapsed customers who had been receiving regular emails but hadn't purchased in years.

    After receiving the Zappos Life magalog, many lapsed customers went to the site and purchased, having their interest reignited after the magalog appeared in their mailbox.
  6. It provides tangible, measurable ROI. There are a few techniques for measuring the effectiveness of catalogs and magalogs.

    If you sell online, compare all sales during a set time period (6-8 weeks is an optimal time period based on buyer behavior) against the mailing file. To the matches you can append sales and product data to do a more thorough analysis.

    Selling through retail is a bit more challenging. You can add a bar-coded coupon and test it on geographic areas or against control stores. The goal is to establish a revenue amount that you can attribute to the catalog. From there, back out your margin and apply it against production and postage costs.

With new media channels emerging, it is time to evaluate your media mix to ensure you're reaching your customers and prospects wherever they are to build awareness, grow community, and drive sales.

Continue reading "Six Reasons Print Belongs in Your Media Mix (or Why Digital Popularity Brings Print Opportunity)" ... Read the full article

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image of Gordon Plutsky
Gordon Plutsky is the director of marketing and research at King Fish Media (