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Where Does Print Media Fit? It's Up to Us.

There was a song in the 1970s about finding the right garden to grow in,

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: May 20, 2009

There was a song in the 1970s about finding the right garden to grow in, and thirty years later it's time to play it again, for us. Ultimately, we decide where print fits by our entrepreneurial insights into the opportunities we help our customers seize. Some recent articles might be of interest.

Pharmaceutical companies are starting to use online and social media to reach to their various audiences. Their efforts have been limited by law and regulations of the many agencies that oversee the industry. The Advertising Age article states:

"What [pharmaceutical companies] are doing now is experimenting" ... To further illustrate the complexities of a digital world without clear DTC guidelines, it took AstraZeneca more than eight months of meetings with a team of 15 to 20 company experts from the regulatory, legal, compliance, corporate, and brand management departments before it put up a YouTube channel for its asthma drug Symbicort. "The social-media space is very much a gray area," said Dana Settembrino, senior brand communications manager for the drug. "In that sense it makes it challenging."

It's not as simple as creating a web page or starting a blog. Many industries have significant barriers to change that are removed slowly, and only years after others have gotten on board. The good news is that printers who sell to pharmaceutical companies still have time to develop digital capabilities for them.

* * *

The iPhone has been one of the most successful product introductions of the last decade. The device has moved from being an enhanced phone to a computer applications platform that can stand alone from others. (It has already eclipsed what was expected of personal digital assistants [PDAs] such as Palm Pilot, Sony Clie, and the Handspring Visor). Apple has opened up the platform to independent developers. Now, marketers are looking at the iPhone as an important part of its campaigns. As reported in the Wall Street Journal:

At the most basic, marketers are taking advantage of the iPhone's advanced video and screen capabilities by creating streaming video ads. But some are taking things further by offering ads disguised as apps. The latter allow users to do such things as play games or manipulate images by touching the phone's screen.

A month or so ago, Amazon started sales of e-books formatted for its Kindle reader for iPhone users. There are now word processing and spreadsheet programs for the iPhone (just as there were for Palm).

While printers may want to consider becoming iPhone developers, the bigger idea is to assist print clients to get into mobile marketing techniques. This would be especially interesting serving businesses in college towns and tourist destinations.

* * *

Pizza chain Papa John's is using social media and e-mail as key tools in its campaigns.

In a pilot program, customers can effectively exchange an email address for a discount (sent via email to verify the address, of course) at in-store computers, as they wait to pick up a Hawaiian BBQ Chicken pie... The company has also used a Facebook fan page to grab addresses. It has 293,000 fans. Some 130,000 of those came in the initial 24-hour period after launch, and 75% handed over an email locale, as there was an offer for a free pizza... In 2009, the company wants to find ways to use text messaging to collect more addresses, though its executive overseeing online marketing acknowledges people hold their mobile devices dear and may view them as a marketing-free zone, so caution is required.

It's another indication that you have to go where your customers are. Can printers help their customers navigate this mix of mobile marketing, e-commerce, and social media?

* * *

Newspapers are very much in the news, usually because of titles shutting down or for financial problems. One may think that the experience of newspapers has little to do with commercial printing, but they are a window into the overall use of print and the preferences of consumers for information access. There is another reason to study them: business strategy.

Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz has written about the managerial attitudes that allowed the revenue streams of newspapers to be undermined. He writes:

...the Net changed America, but newspapers remained mired in two-dimensional thinking. They created sites that were largely a static replica of their print editions. There was little updating, little sense of the dynamism of the Web... The missed opportunities were endless. For the first time in half a century, newspapers could compete against television with real-time reporting, but didn't. The Globe's previous owners turned down a 1995 offer from the founder of Monster.com to put Globe classifieds online, before his site became a smash hit. Why did no establishment media company create a Craigslist, a Huffington Post, a Google News, a Twitter, or other sites that have altered the boundaries of news and information? ... Now that they are belatedly beefing up their Web sites, executives are using corporate-speak like "platform-agnostic" to explain why they are firing hordes of journalists suddenly deemed redundant. Perhaps newspapers had grown too fat and were always destined to slim down in the Web era, but the mass firings have about them an air of desperation. How can papers with far smaller staffs and reduced ambitions stem circulation declines?

The extremely lucrative classified ad business was a ripe target for the Internet. The founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark, says that he shouldn't be blamed. The site is dull and boring, and extremely successful. As the article notes:

It is worth examining the evolution of Craigslist from a tiny local email list to its current iteration as a global behemoth operating in more than 500 urban areas, generating over 20 billion page views a month... Newmark said that he started out simply trying to create a kind of online “flea market,” sort of like the kind his Mom enjoyed when he was growing up back in New Jersey... flea markets, like malls, are about a lot more than sales; they also are about socializing... I heard him say that that Craigslist is really the original social networking site in our online media world. As Craig says, “We learned to…turn over the running of the site to the people who use it.”

The decline of newspapers means that advertisers have to reach their market using alternative means. BrandWeek interviewed Bonin Bough, head of the social media effort for PepsiCo. The strategy is described as "taking social media: from 'campaigns to conversations,' and likewise, 'from impressions to connections.'" He comments that:

I think what's really driving adoption of social media is the fact that when you look at the numbers, people trust content created by people like themselves more than they trust ad content. With newspapers-the second largest media in the world-deteriorating in front of our eyes, what are people turning to? Digital. Consumers are looking for a new home to find this content. They are looking at content that is created by people like themselves and is of a more editorially fast pace.

What I found particularly interesting was what he said when he was asked what they would use if social media disappeared. Imagine that... they're so committed to this new approach that they would be hampered if it disappeared! His response was:

Mobile. It's the only device that you have next to you three feet away at any point in time. It's not the next huge thing; it's huge right now. But I think mobile would quickly fill that void. What we'll see are an extension of the same kind of thought and conversational processes we're having online onto mobile. When you do sit and look at Twitter, a lot of it is uploaded through [devices like TwitterBerry] so people are using these tools and there will be geographically distinctions which marketers will have to work with. That's going to be a game changer.

So PepsiCo has moved on from newspapers to social media. Even a year ago, would any of the major newspaper groups have considered Facebook or Twitter their competitors?

* * *

Communications markets are changing, and slow economic periods only intensify the interest in disrupting the status quo, especially when it is believed that the changes will reduce costs or increase effectiveness despite austere budgets. This is the marketplace we are in; we can be a part of the overall solution, making new media more effective, or we can choose to ignore the obvious.

I still strongly recommend David Meerman Scott's “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.” I suggest reading it three times. First, read it for familiarity. Second, read it for ideas about services to offer clients and prospects. Finally, read it with an idea of how to implement it in your business. Remember that the focus should be on small and mid-size business who would not be able to initiate these techniques on their own. Find dependable freelance programmers and designers who can add insight to the projects. When there is constant change, there are always opportunities to start something new. Not starting, however, is becoming a very bad choice. Like many digital printers find that those forays led to increases in their traditional print business, one should work toward that same synergy here.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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