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If you get a chance today, pop down to your local High Street and visit a range of shops. You’ll find your local bookstore, full of printed items. The town’s newsagent will have plenty of magazines available too. Head over to a fashion shop and you’ll find free printed magazines of the latest trends. Then pop down to the stationery store and you’ll be met with tons of printer paper for sale – literally.

Print is not going away. We’ve had more than 25 years of the web and a decade of smartphones, yet print is still soldiering on, refusing to be set aside. Most book sales are printed books, not e-books. Plus there is a whole new business arena whereby firms have sprung up which will turn your digital items into printed materials of all kinds. People love print.

A new study has revealed that in spite of some growth in the readership of digital magazines, still almost two-thirds of people read printed magazines every month. The shift towards digital is not as rapid as some pundits think. Plus it appears that some people are reading both by subscribing to the digital and print version of the same title.

Many of the world’s leading digital firms appreciate the value of print. Both Airbnb and Asos have printed magazines, for instance. Plus, luxury brands allocated most of their promotional spending to print. That’s hardly surprising as a recent study showed that print advertising produces a significantly higher return on investment (ROI) compared with other forms of adverts. Plus 45% of people who make purchases online do so after searching for an item having read about it in print.

Altogether, print is highly influential and valuable to businesses. But why?

The psychology of print

Printed documents of all kinds appear to trigger different brain responses when compared with their digital counterparts. According to one study, people spend more time on physical items than digital ones. Furthermore, they remember what they read in print better than what they saw digitally. On top of this, there was a higher emotional connection between printed advertising and the reader than between digital material and the viewer. In other words, printed materials provide greater overall engagement than the digital alternatives.

The rush to digital might seem to make economic sense as a business doesn’t have the distribution costs, for instance, but the downside is weaker engagement by target audiences. Print lingers in the mind as well as in reality. This means that people are attracted to printed items more than digital ones because they are easier to use in the longer-term due to the memory effect of print.

Furthermore, print involves us physically. We have to pick it up and touch it to engage with it. That makes us feel more connected to the document than is possible for us with a website. The fact that you have touched a magazine brings you closer to it psychologically than merely viewing a website with no other sensory input.

Businesses are not attracted to print

The reason that people love digital is because of its measurement capabilities. You can track people on social media, see what they clicked on, follow their journey through your website, discover the keywords they use, see how long they looked at something and a whole host of other data. Collecting and analyzing this data means you can work out how to improve your engagement and thereby increase sales if that is your intention.

Doing the same with printed documents is impossible. You have no way of knowing how long someone read your content in a magazine. Nor do you know anything about their journey through the material. You don’t even know what was in their mind – what keywords were being focused on – if they do read your printed material.

The result is that with digital it is really easy to measure ROI, whereas for print it is difficult (unless you organize a complex and detailed survey, for instance). This means that business owners and marketers are attracted to digital because they can measure it, a point also made by SmartInsights.

This attraction to digital over print is in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the value of print and the importance in the mind of the buyer.

Three ways your business can get more from print

Given that most businesses are attracted to digital because of its measurement capabilities, the best way to improve the usage of print is to establish measurement systems for print that can provide useful data.

  1. Phone numbers. Get a phone number that you only use in printed campaigns. Get a different number to your main office one, or the one on your website. Then the logs of calls will show you which people saw your printed promotion and you will then be able to see how many of them bought from you, or took the action you wanted. If you use the same number in print as you do online you have no way of measuring the impact of print-based orders as they will use the same number as the website.
  2. Domain names. Get a domain name for each specific campaign and then use redirection to send that to the specific landing page on your website that you need. Do not get the domain name indexed by search engines. In this way, you can be sure that everyone who used that domain name did so after seeing it in print. Even if they were given the domain name by a friend, the referral was due to the printed item. If you use your normal domain name, then you have no way of knowing whether the visitor came from print or elsewhere.
  3. Coupon codes. If you are using brochures, leaflets or other forms of printed advertising offer a discount with them which can only be applied using a specific code. That code is only available on each individual printed item, which means you have a means of measuring the impact of print.

Just because you cannot measure print as easily as digital, does not mean you should give up on it. In spite of its vast usage, digital is still the minor way in which people engage with the world. Print is still much more important than many would have you believe – especially your marketing team who will focus on the instant attraction and measurability of digital. Remind them that your customers are still spending a great deal of time with print, in spite of estimates that print engagement is falling. Such estimates often come from organisations that measure ROI, which is so much easier with digital than print. As a result, they want you to believe that print is on its way out.

No doubt the Ancient Egyptians said that when hieroglyphics were replaced with writing, but just look at the popularity of emojis. Four thousand years on and graphical communication is still popular. Digital is not going to replace print any time soon either. Indeed, all of the evidence shows that people still love it. Hence if you ignore it in your business you are missing out.