In many ways, marketing is much like the fashion industry. It’s a discipline that never stands still and can be quick to discard last season’s staples in favour of the latest hot new ‘thing’.

The brightest and shiniest of these trends has to be digital, in all its forms. From social media to programmatic advertising, many marketers have been lured away from tried and tested techniques, enticed by promises of unprecedented measurability and engagement.

New isn’t always better

How often have you heard that a certain channel is dead or a new digital platform is the answer to all your marketing prayers? One could be forgiven for thinking that everything we did in years gone by is worth nothing in the face of the digital revolution. Except that’s simply not the case.

Take email marketing, for example. Towards the end of last year, we discussed why email, far from being a tired technique used by a handful of luddites, is still a remarkably powerful way to reach a highly targeted audience.

In a similar vein, industry heavy-weight Sir Martin Sorrell recently raised the question of whether digital advertising is all it’s cracked up to be – a topic that verbal pugilist Mark Ritson jumped on with obvious glee.

Print is another channel that many consigned to the marketing scrapheap. As readership of print titles fell in the 2000s, so printed collateral disappeared from the communications plan. In fact, research by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) suggests that two out of three marketers do not include print as part of their marketing strategy. It’s easy to understand why: print can be resource-heavy, costly and challenging to measure. But therein lies much of its power.

Long live print

While digital has proved to be the great leveler when it comes to publishing, print requires a greater investment of time and money, but it’s these very characteristics that mean printed content can be a highly effective marketing tool. Here’s why:

  • It gets noticed – In a world of digital noise, receiving a piece of printed collateral captures our attention. It’s such a rare occurrence these days that it has a novelty factor. Careful selection of the right materials and printing techniques can also add sensory appeal that words on a screen can’t compete with.
  • It’s trusted – As fake news becomes an endemic issue, print harks back to a more reliable era. Survey after survey has shown that consumers trust print more than any digital equivalent. Edelmen Vice President James Turner attributes this to the fact that companies go to great lengths to avoid expensive mistakes ending up in print, which leads to comprehensive fact checking – something that is often overlooked or deemed unnecessary when producing online content that can be easily edited.
  • It’s more appealing to influencers – Tell someone that their thoughts or opinions will be included in a digital article and they may well be flattered. Tell them that the same views will appear in print and they are more likely to be genuinely excited. Back when I worked in PR, clients were always more interested in being featured in print titles, and it seems that not much has changed in the intervening years. Founder of the CMI Joe Pulizzi agrees: “I talked to a journalist recently who said it’s harder and harder to get people to agree to an interview for an online story,” he says. “Mention that it will be a printed feature and executives rearrange their schedule.”
  • It’s more effective as a learning tool – A study conducted in Norway a few years ago tested comprehension after reading information in print and on a computer screen. The students who viewed the printed documents scored significantly higher in terms of remembering what they had read, which the researchers put down to the fact that paper provides ‘spatio-temporal markers’. In laymen’s terms, this means that the act of touching paper and turning pages makes it easier to remember where you read something.
  • It can be more detailed – Further research shows that it is harder to read on screen, with people taking in information 20-30% slower than if they were reading a printed document. As such, the advice is to reduce the length of text displayed online by at least 25% in comparison to print. This means that if you have complex or detailed material to share, you might be wise to do so in print rather than a digital format.
  • It provides a screen break – There is evidence to suggest that looking at screens for too long can disrupt sleep and lead to a condition called computer vision syndrome. As we become more aware of issues caused by excessive screen use, increasing numbers of people are looking for opportunities to switch off and tune out, even for a little while. Where once we may have shunned print as old fashioned, many of us now relish the opportunity to consume information in a non-digital format.
  • Print is going programmatic – if you’ve been wooed by the wonders of programmatic advertising then you will be heartened to hear that forward-thinking companies like Time Inc recognise the brand uplift opportunity offered by print by introducing combined digital/print programmatic ad bundles.

What all this tells us is that we shouldn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Yes, digital technology provides exciting opportunities when it comes to marketing, but it shouldn’t automatically replace everything that came before. Make 2017 the year you reintroduce print into your content marketing and see the results for yourself.