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In today's online world, does print marketing still have its place?

Originally published: July 2017

We live in a digital world. From social and video to e-books, marketers have a range of online tools at their disposal. What's more, mobile technology has transformed the way audiences consume content — over a third of the world's population (around 2.53 billion) is expected to own a smartphone by 2018 — paving the way for digital marketing opportunities like never before.

So what does this mean for traditional print marketing channels such as magazines, newsletters, leaflets and brochures?

What does research say?

Research from the Content Marketing Institute shows that marketers in the U.K. and the U.S. are spending their budgets on online channels rather than print. For example, they're writing blogs (93 percent in the U.K. and 75 percent in the U.S.), using social media (80 percent in the U.K. and 85 per cent in the U.S.) and sending out email newsletters (78 percent in the U.K. and 75 percent in the U.S.).

Meanwhile, print marketing is taking a back seat, with only 14 percent of marketers in the U.S. using print newsletters and 13 percent in the U.K.

Joe Barrell, executive director of Eden Stanley — a U.K. integrated communications, fundraising and campaigns agency for the nonprofit sector — says: "Whether it's a tactical campaign or a major brand drive, very often digital is the first place people pick. A big part of that shift is due to social media, which has had a huge impact, but I think video has really changed things as well."

How to plan your marketing budget

In today's online world is it still worth printing marketing materials? That depends on a few factors.

Your audience

When deciding how to allocate your budget, it's important to think about your audience and how they like to consume content. For example, if you’re trying to encourage younger generations to donate to your charity, you should consider using online channels such as social media, video content and text giving.

According to a recent report by FutureCast and Barkley, generation z have no concept of what daily activity was like without social media, with channels such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr and Vine popular with this age group.

Although internet usage is increasing among older people, there are still many who don’t have access. If you are working with older beneficiaries, you should consider using leaflets and brochures to promote your service.

As Chris Daly, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the U.K., puts it: "There is no one size fits all approach to marketing." Daly explains that marketers need to focus on audiences and objectives, and build their channel strategy around this.

"The appropriate marketing mix for a luxury watch retailer will be very different from a charity or a brand looking to engage millennials. Where print will be the most appropriate avenue for one brand, engaging on social media will work better elsewhere."

Evaluation and metrics

When it comes to providing your chief executive with monthly figures for your marketing activity, it can be easier to measure and evaluate your online activity than it is for printed materials. For example, you can use Google Analytics to track your website traffic, monitor your pay per click advertising or measure the engagement rate on your Twitter feed. These analytics can be gathered fairly quickly.

It can be difficult to find out what news stories and features in your print magazine strike a chord with readers and to build up a picture of the number of people reading your leaflets.

You might want to send a survey to your supporters to seek their views on your magazine or newsletter. You could then include a customized code on your leaflets to track how many people are reading them — you'll need to use a direct response mechanism, such as a special offer, to encourage them to get in touch and quote the code.

U.K. charity RNIB moved its print magazine, for eye health and sight loss professionals, to online in 2015.

"With a print magazine, you have no idea who is picking it up and how long they are spending on each feature," says editor Hannah Baker. "Unless you're sending regular surveys to people, it is difficult to know what resonates with readers and what new features to commission. With digital you have better access to analytics so you can see what people are looking at. The analytics inform the content we push."

Return on investment

With budgets being squeezed in the nonprofit sector, many marketers are shifting to online where there is a bigger return on investment. Digital marketing gives you the ability to adapt and refine your content, helping you to make the most of your budget.

"With digital marketing you can get more for your money because you can continue to tweak and change your campaign even when it’s live," says digital marketing consultant Fran Swaine, who works with nonprofits. "For example, if you are running ads on Facebook, you’ll instantly get an understanding of how well they are performing and can tweak accordingly. By split testing ads you can find out what works best to produce the best results."

In contrast, once you've printed a newsletter, you can't make changes without having to redesign and print them. Indeed, design and print costs — and limited analytics — might make it tricky to convince the chief executive of the return on investment.

An integrative approach

Yes digital has a lot of advantages, but don't dismiss print altogether. It can complement your online activity. One of the biggest advantages of print is that it gives you something tangible to pass onto your audience. If your chief executive is going to a meeting with a funder, for example, they might want to take an impact report along to show them.

Ideally, if you had the budget, you would combine both offline and online for bigger impact. Barrell explains: "Many larger brands will still see value in a more integrated approach. It creates a much stronger sense of ubiquity if your campaign is also on TV, outdoor and you're landing on the doormat.”

Sanjima DeZoysa, parent content manager at U.K. charity NCT, says print could still be valid and important format for your charity and advises not to go down the digital route just for the sake of it.

"It might not work for all organizations. You need to carry out user insight and figure out your reasons for going digital. Really interrogate all pros and cons. What do you really want to achieve by going digital? You might realize there's something else you need to do."

Every organization is different

Ultimately, you need to do what is right for your organization. Make your decisions based on your audience and what marketing channels will communicate your messages most effectively. Take into consideration the return on investment: What channels will help you make the most of your budget? How will you evaluate your activity?

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Disclaimer

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Writer, editor and proofreader specializing in case studies, web copy and impact reports.