The growth of digital marketing over the past few years has been nothing short of spectacular. According to Forrester’s latest digital marketing forecast, digital marketing spend in the US will exceed $100 billion in five years, it will be about $13 billion more than television advertising, and it will represent 35% of all US advertising spend.

There’s no longer any doubt that digital technologies are playing an increasingly important role in the path to purchase of both consumers and business buyers. This doesn’t mean, however, that all non-digital forms of marketing have lost their effectiveness. In fact, recent research indicates that traditional print-based marketing channels and tactics are still a vital part of the marketing communications mix for some kinds of companies.

The Nielsen Research

In September of this year, The Nielsen Company published a report that focused on what sources of information consumers use to make buying decisions. The Nielsen report acknowledged the growing importance of digital technologies in consumers’ path to purchase. For example, Nielsen expects that online sales of consumer product goods in the US will be 2.5 times higher in 2015 than they were in 2010.

What some people will find surprising is that Nielsen’s research also reveals that print marketing is still an effective component of the marketing mix for retailers. Nielsen found that today, more than half of all US shoppers use printed circulars to obtain product and sales information, and the use of printed circulars is nearly 20 percentage points higher than the closest digital marketing touch point – email. Based on its research, Nielsen concludes that print is not dead for retailers and that digital won’t be replacing print anytime soon.

The ABM Research

Research also shows that print marketing is still effective in the B2B space. Last year, The Association of Business Information & Media Companies (ABM) conducted an in-depth survey of almost 6,700 media end-users (readers, event attendees, etc.) to gain insights about how they are obtaining information to support business-related purchases. The survey focused on several kinds of digital and print media, and also included events such as conferences and trade shows.

The ABM survey found that 96% of end-users use both websites and print magazines to obtain business information. When asked what sources of information they use on a weekly basis, 73% of respondents said websites, 67% said e-newsletters, and 45% said print magazines.

ABM also asked survey participants to rate the importance of various sources of information in buying decisions. When asked about researching work-related purchases, the top three sources identified by respondents were:

  • Websites – 65% of respondents
  • Product information from manufacturers – 62%
  • Print magazines – 48%

When asked specifically what sources of information were important for learning about new products, services, or suppliers, the top three information sources identified by respondents were:

  • Websites – 80% of respondents
  • Product information from manufacturers – 73%
  • Print magazines – 69%

Key Takeaway

The growing importance of digital marketing channels and techniques is undeniable, but these research findings indicate that both consumers and business buyers are still using printed marketing materials to inform buying decisions. The evidence shows that potential buyers are increasing the number of information sources they use during their path to purchase. So, they are embracing the newer digital communication channels, but they are also continuing to rely on traditional, non-digital sources of information.

It’s also clear from these studies and other research that younger buyers are more likely to use and rely on digital communication channels. Therefore, it’s likely that, over time, non-digital marketing channels and tactics (including print-centric marketing) will become less important than they are today. For the intermediate future, however, print marketing will remain a useful and effective component of the marketing mix for many kinds of companies.