Paper vs. Pixels: Leveraging the power of print marketing

It’s no surprise that the advent of digital publishing has transformed how we all think about communication, including marketing. In the past, marketing was something that could be easily delegated to the marketing “experts” in our organization (if we had them).

For church and ministry leaders, marketing was often something we either didn’t do (it was too worldly) or something that followed a well-established donor development model. Digital advertising has changed all that. All leaders, including church and ministry leaders, now understand and think about digital marketing as much as any other aspect of their leadership. 

Leaders ignore the power of social media at their own peril. Advertising retargeting is so familiar that we may be surprised when we see a digital ad that is not relevant to our online behavior. If you’re not thinking about marketing in some capacity and at some level, you’re probably missing out on significant opportunities to expand whatever it is you’re doing. 

And, in all the ongoing hype about the measurability, niche targeting, and low cost of digital advertising, you may have found yourself swept up by the sparkle of today’s spectacular technology and still-evolving digital marketing opportunities. After all, who doesn’t enjoy new technology, and it is pretty impressive what can be done these days.

Still, newer technology rarely replaces older technology completely. As you develop your own marketing skills (whether you want to or not), I want to encourage you to stay open to the possibility that older marketing tactics may not always be bad or irrelevant. 

Take print advertising, for example. I can recall the days when publishing leaders were anticipating the complete demise of print publishing. It hasn’t happened. A more recent phenomenon is the rise of the conviction that print advertising is dead. Some marketing departments are now saying they are “digital only.” And while I do understand that shrinking budgets and measurability can make digital-only advertising appear to be a good strategy, it can also be short-sighted. Why should you consider including print advertising in your arsenal of marketing “weapons”?

Credibility. Like it or not, there’s still a perception that print advertising is simply more credible. People may use the Internet to access lots of information, but there’s still a good deal of skepticism about digital content, and that skepticism splashes over to digital advertising. If credibility is high on your list of priorities, you should consider print marketing. 

Neural Connection. Researchers have demonstrated that there’s a higher level of neural connection between a reader and print content than digital content, and that includes print ads. This is no guarantee that readers will automatically buy what you’re selling. There are still lots of variables that go into making a great ad. But, all other things being equal, a print ad is likely to connect at a higher level than a digital ad. 

The Total Experience. Print ads create a more comprehensive experience for the reader. Nobody every says, “Ooh, I love the way my computer screen feels.” But, place a magazine printed on high-quality paper in a reader’s hands and you may hear them say, “Wow, this feels good!” Have you ever smelled a magazine? Come on! Ink on quality paper just smells good! And I don’t care how great your monitor may be, digital content simply can’t compare to the quality of print resolution. Print content simply provides a better overall user experience!

Print Is Still Powerful (and Popular). Look around your office. Even the most avid digital advocates can’t seem to get completely away from paper. What is an office without books? What is a home without books? Sure, your kids may be delighted to have a tablet with lots of fun apps, but a real book will make them squeal! And, not to state the obvious, but where are you reading this article?

Branding Is Still Relevant and Significant. The old marketing mantra is still true… The best marketing provides repeated exposure over an extended period of time. Seen any billboards lately? You can’t click on them, but you’re likely to see them every day for months. Sure, we love the immediate gratification of counting the hits on a digital ad, but don’t forget that there’s value in branding that isn’t always measurable. The most recognizable brands in the world didn’t get that way through digital advertising. They got that way because we’ve been seeing those brands every day of our lives for decades. Don’t discount the simple value of branding. Print advertising gives you that kind of value. 

Longevity. Have you ever tried to go back a page or two in a web browser to view an ad for a second time? It’s highly unlikely that it will be there. Digital ads are often replaced every time the page is refreshed. Not so with print! Good advertising is aspirational. Can you see yourself driving that new BMW? Been thinking about celebrating an anniversary at that mountain resort? Is a trip to Israel still on your bucket list? These kinds of aspirations often drive people to pick up that magazine just to take another look at that ad they know will still be there! There really is value in the longevity that print advertising provides. 

Pass-Along Rate. Print magazine publishers love to talk about pass-along. This number assumes that people are sharing the magazine or specific articles with co-workers, friends and family members. Pass-along rates can easily be inflated, but they’re real nonetheless. It just takes one relevant article to carry the entire magazine to the co-worker next door. I mean, nobody tears apart a magazine just to share a single article. And, it’s highly likely that the recipient will read more than just that article. Magazines (with your ad) really do get shared!

Print Ads Are BIG (Literally). Digital banner ads may do some cool things, but they’re relatively small. My entire computer screen (if an ad could fill it) would still be smaller than most full-page print ads. If you want to grab someone’s attention, go big! Print ads will get the job done much more readily than a small banner ad. 

Print Ads Can Respond. Printed QR codes and URLs make print ads “clickable.” Yes, you need to make sure the links work, but if you’re all about measurability, don’t assume you can’t measure response to a print ad. And, whatever response you do get, don’t forget that print ads bring additional value beyond the quantifiable number of “clicks.”
Digital communication and advertising has certainly changed our world and, likely, your own organization and leadership. The people you’re trying to reach live in a digital world you can’t ignore. But very few of them are “digital-only.” There are good reasons why you should consider delivering your message via print. Are you thinking about marketing? Don’t forget print!


This article was extracted from Issue 5 (Spring 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.


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