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Commentary & Analysis

Does the Future of Print Start with Digital Marketing?

As the level of sophistication and effectiveness of digital marketing grows, and as the younger generation of marketers who natively understand and use these channels continues to overtake the traditional generation, is the future of print to understand digital marketing and fit into its world rather than the other way around?

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: July 12, 2018

As someone who has watched the printing industry evolve for more than two decades, I find myself in a surprising position. In order to understand where print is going, I’m having to learn about online marketing. I never thought of print as heading in this direction, but the reality is settling in that this may be the future of print and, especially, direct mail.

There will always be a place for high-volume mailings, whether personalized or static. It’s the rest of the mail volume, the more traditional commercial mailings, where the uncertainty lies. Printers are trying to understand how to position print and make it relevant in a largely digital world.

Those of us in the industry know that print has an incredibly important and irreplaceable role to play, both now and in the future, but not all marketers do. The strategies of digital marketers are incredibly successful. They could be more successful by integrating more with print, of course, but we can’t necessarily expect them to know that. As a result, is it incumbent upon us to understand and integrate into their world, not the other way around?

Take direct mail retargeting. I wrote about this several months ago, and since that time, there is even more happening in this space. In “traditional” retargeting, someone goes to a website, looks around but doesn’t buy anything, and then a digital ad for the product they were researching pops up in their social media feed within minutes or hours. With direct mail retargeting, they get a postcard instead of a digital ad. Just within days instead of hours.

This type of retargeting is made possible by the use of cookies, which companies either gather themselves or purchase from data companies that pair those cookies with user identities based on third-party data. Thus an anonymous website visitor gets served with a postcard with a discount on the very pair of pants he was researching three days ago.

Not that retargeters may jump immediately to print. More likely, they will start out with digital ads. For those in their target audience who don’t respond to digital ads, they may bump up to retargeting with email. If it’s a high-value product and certain people haven’t responded to retargeting emails, the marketer may graduate to direct mail.

The point is that, while direct mail plays a key role this type of escalating site visitor re-engagement program, it doesn't start there. It is a piece in the larger puzzle that starts with digital marketing. Digital is the door that opens the opportunity for print to play its “closer” role.

It’s similar with other digital services, such as data onboarding and net promoter scores. I was contacted recently by AskNicely, which offers a net promoter score service. These services track what people are saying about your brand online in social media and other channels. Once you know what people are saying about you (positive or negative), you can adjust your marketing strategies accordingly to address specific needs or capitalize on opportunities. Some of these strategies may involve print, but once again, it starts in the digital realm.

Likewise, I’m continuing to see the number of mobile-to-print photo services exploding. Take a photo, send it as a postcard. Go online to a service like Shutterfly, and as soon as you select photos to print, you get a pop-up screen asking if you want to order a photo book instead.

The number of examples is growing. It’s adding up to a larger pattern in which print plays a critical role, but the opportunity starts with digital.

I’m seeing it with my interviews, as well. As I have contacted these digital marketing companies to understand the connection between online and print, I have been surprised by the number of people I’ve come across who started out in commercial print. They are doing what I'm talking about here—taking the value of print and understanding how to plug it in to their digital worlds to amplify their results.

It’s a different way of looking at print, and I suspect that it’s one we’ll be talking about more and more. 

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”



By Stan Tan on Jul 12, 2018

I can foresee retargeting with direct mail playing a bigger role in a digital marketing strategy. Sooner or later, direct mail will be integrated into CRM and marketing automation systems like HubSpot.

A banner ad on Facebook will not match the effect of a flyer in your hand.


By Formara Print on Jul 17, 2018

We noticed a while ago that our customers' needs were changing and that print alone was no longer good enough to effectively communicate with their customers. So we extended our business model to offer digital marketing. In our experience, you can't keep print and digital communications in silos, you have to create a seamless / integrated marketing campaign.

After all, the world is interconnected now and we think linking up print and digital media bridges that communications gap perfectly.


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