Approaching Print Marketing in the Digital Age

Digital marketing will only get bigger, but the benefits of print marketing are undeniable. Let’s cover how to approach different types of print marketing.

The latest Digital 2019 report from Hootsuite and We Are Social claims that the average person spends over six hours online every single day. Given that incredible statistic, you would be forgiven for thinking that marketing to your customers in any way other than digitally would be a waste of time and money.

Consumers have moved to online for shopping, social interaction, learning, and more. Look at any main drag and empty lots are commonplace. News outlets often report that another newspaper has collapsed or moved its content behind a paywall. Plus the advent of social media changed consumption habits beyond all recognition. Given all of that, I guess we should just wrap this article up here and move on—there’s nothing more to talk about, right?

The benefits of print marketing

Even as we’re increasingly pushed towards the digital world, we’re also told that digital overconsumption can be bad for us. A growing school of thought advocates “unplugging” regularly. Phone-makers now include features that make it easier to do just that, by including denying access to certain apps after a period of exposure or shutting down web browsers entirely between certain hours of the day. Web browsers are also allowing users to block digital ads so that they aren’t chased halfway around the internet by the pair of sneakers they looked at three weeks ago. There’s even an annual National Day of Unplugging.

Discover how print marketing differs from its digital relative. Image by file404.

Given the saturation of digital ads in our browsers and feeds, our brains now treat them as visual noise. So, they no longer have the effect they once did.

As business owners or marketers, introducing print into the mix is a way to combat this inattention. As humans we crave serendipity, so receiving a brochure or flyer can have a huge impact simply because it’s unexpected.

Engage the Senses

It’s also worth noting that a well-designed and freshly printed magazine, brochure, or flyer can target all of our senses. Print has the potential to feel great under touch and smell great to the nose, both things that digital marketing simply can’t replicate.

Smart packaging can become part of the customer experience. Image by Customdesigner.

Elevated Branding

Linked to how print smells and feels is the idea of credibility. Holding something well-made shows a customer that your business sweats the details and cares about the customer experience. This can improve the overall trustworthiness of your brand. It is also a technique luxury brands have used for decades to draw in their customers through packaging, magazines, inserts, and more.

Long-term Investment

It’s easy to underestimate the longevity of some types of printed materials. Image by Africa Studio.

In the beginnings of the internet, setting up a digital marketing campaign wasn’t so much work. Nowadays, given the amount of choice and competition, and the way Google changes its algorithms on what seems like a daily basis, it very often means that you have to engage marketing practitioners to have any chance of breaking through the noise, which can prove costly. With print, the options are more limited, and the ability to run most of the campaign yourself is greatly improved. Sure, you’ll likely still need a designer. But, once you’ve created your materials they are incredibly cheap and easy to reproduce.

Print will also almost definitely stick around longer than its digital equivalent. Given the immediacy and volume of digital content, even if you do manage to get your ad to the top of the feed, chances are it will be buried under huge swathes of other people’s content before the day is out. By contrast, a billboard tends to stick around for days or weeks. A brochure in a doctor’s waiting room could be there for months. A magazine may remain on a reader’s coffee table for years.

Reach New Audiences

Not everyone is online, at least not all the time. Look for underserved audiences outside of the digital realm. Image by TeodorLazarev.

Technology intends to make our lives easier. However, it sometimes blocks out certain groups, such as older generations or those with disabilities or accessibility requirements. Print doesn’t succumb to these issues quite so easily: a recent survey suggested that all generations—Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials—engaged with print materials at about the same rate, reading around 7-9 magazines or brochures per month.

The business of print

A few numbers to know before you make your investment in printed materials. Image by giocalde.

Although the reasons for giving print a try are stacking up, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever if they don’t also stack up financially.

We’ve already mentioned that print materials aren’t costly to reproduce. However, in terms of your return on investment, here’s some more food for thought:

92% of 18-23 year olds find it easier to read via print than via screens. This means sustaining longer and more meaningful interactions through print.Response rates from direct mail marketing are 37% higher than email equivalents.When making purchasing decisions, customers trust print 34% more than they trust search engine ads.

Types of Print Marketing

So, where do you get started? Which print mediums are the best ones to try?

Magazines, brochures, and catalogs

Consider your magazines and brochures to be long-term investments in your marketing strategy. Image by Cozine.

You can have all the digital content in the world, but none of it will ever come close to the experience of holding, and reading, a magazine, brochure, or catalog. The queen of all marketing materials, they are incredibly effective at portraying visual content and long-form writing. Not only this, they demand a reader’s full attention, making engagement levels much higher than when idly flicking through digital content.

Although these are the most costly of print materials, they are long-term investments because they won’t need to be updated frequently. If they look good enough, they can become mainstays as coffee table books shared with friends, family, and colleagues for years to come.

Airbnb magazine comes in print editions, but you can read all of the stories online.

Airbnb is a very young digital brand, but it still experiments with old-school marketing tactics to extend its reach and elevate its identity through Airbnb magazine. Along with a print edition available to subscribers and Airbnb hosts, the Airbnb magazine is hailed as a digital experience on Medium.

Follow our step-by-step tutorials for creating magazine covers and magazine layouts.


Flyers and other handouts are a tried-and-true method of getting your message literally in customer hands. Image by Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko.

A medium that has been around since the dinosaurs—at least it feels like it—flyers have potential in many settings, either as direct mail, handouts, or as inserts in other mediums such as brochures. Make sure you include a discount code, perforated tabs, or a custom QR code that links to a specific landing page. These codes will give you have another great “top of the funnel” opportunity for your sales channel.

Follow our flyer design tips for lessons in print and digital flyer-making.

Cards and inserts

On the smaller end of print materials, cards and inserts are best for simple messaging and therefore need immediate impact to be effective. They are used most often for referring customers to other (usually digital) places such as landing pages or additional content, and due to their size, are more likely to be picked up and retained than larger items. If placed between the pages of a magazine, they can grab a reader’s attention when it gets discovered. This breaks the reader’s flow and focuses them on your messaging.


Posters and billboard fill a slightly different marketing niche than flyers and business cards.

Although an absolute favorite for marketing, posters are an outlier in my suggestions as, unlike the others, they aren’t intended for the customer to keep. Having said that, due to their size, they offer the most opportunity for creativity and messaging, which provides an immersive and compelling experience for readers. Never underestimate the humble poster for its power of persuasion; placed strategically around an area of interest, they can be a constant reminder of who you are and what you do.

Try your hand at postering with our tutorials on typographic posters, or music festival-inspired posters.

Tracking and analytics

QR codes make it easy to track customer engagement with printed materials. Image by manfeiyang.

Determining the success or failure of a print campaign is just as important as with their digital counterparts, and just as easy. The simplest way is to treat them exactly as you would a digital campaign. Use links to custom URLs that can analyze traffic from the leaflet or brochure, to the specific landing page you’d like customers to visit. If you’re short on space, rather than displaying the entire URL think about other methods such as QR codes. These are easier to place and offer less friction for customers to interact with—just point your phone at the code and away you go.

Custom discount codes can also help you track exactly who signed up for the offer from a specific print item. Finally, if you don’t have an online presence, you could even set up a specific phone number just for inbound calls from print campaigns. There are plenty of services available that can help with this.

Print is dead, long live print

Although the digital world surrounds us more each day, there is still a huge part for print to play in marketing your products or services. Its usage brings about serendipity and unexpectedness, it is hugely customizable, cheap to reproduce, and it gives a much more solid and trustworthy impression of your brand than digital ever could.

So, the next time you’re setting up a marketing campaign, don’t overlook the power of print. Combined cleverly with your existing digital marketing strategy, it can be a killer addition to your outreach efforts.

Cover image by Diego Schtutman.

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