Insight: Print Media Moves Forward in the Digital Age
By Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications
Knowing I’m a voracious consumer of information about B2B marketing and communications, a colleague recently pointed me to an article that surprised me a bit. Published in April and titled “Why Some Publishers are Going Back to Print,” it appeared online in the Recruitment ADVisor; which taglines the site as “The Digital Publisher’s Guide to New Revenue.” It opened my eyes to different thinking humming in the halls of trade publishing houses. Thinking that has implications for B2B marketers.
So, what’s the buzz?
By way of synopsis, the premise of the post is:
“If you’re convinced that digital publishing is the future of trade publications, then you might be surprised at how many publishers seem to be looking to the past. An increasing number of online publications have made a point of either maintaining their print editions or have changed their focus to re-emphasize the printed page.”
The post lists three reasons for this newer line of thinking (quoting again):
Emphasis on editorial - a digital publication can quickly morph into a whole bunch of things above and beyond the publication’s core content, and this split focus can take away from the perceived value of the written word.
Premium product – the most brilliantly designed online publication is just … pixels on a screen — a disembodied experience. By contrast, a magazine printed on paper has a physical presence that lends both a tactile experience and a sense of genuine gravitas to the content within.
Advertising impact – Readers of online publications tend to have their attention spans batted around by ads, links, and other distractions, while the print environment offers a deeper, more focused experience.
In the end, it’s what’s important to their reader . . . and our buyer!
If you’ve read my previous posts on the state of print media and print creative, you know I’m still a believer in their value. First and foremost, apostle of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) that I am, the basic tenet of IMC . . . putting our message in front of your audience where, when and how they want it . . . is gospel. Print is an element of that creed. But that begs the question; why IS print still meaningful?
The answer to that question lies in the nature of how people absorb information. It’s not just about B2B buyers; it’s about human nature. So, I opened my research horizon on the topic to encompass more than B2B communications.
Rule 1: Don’t let age fool you
In an article by Michael Rosenwald, published in the Washington Post this past February, he went about dispelling the myth of a preference for digital consumption of information by what he called “digital natives” . . . college students and others under the age of 25. “Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally.”
One college student he interviewed offered this view of why a printed page matters. The important thing; “building a physical map in my mind of where things are.” That dovetails neatly with the AdVisor article’s thoughts on editorial emphasis. Rosenwald, citing works by Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist, thinks that’s more difficult on screens. Time there is spent scanning and skimming, with few places for mental markers. Baron’s research shows readers spend a little more than one minute on website pages, and only 16 percent of people read word-by-word.
Rule 2: In print, B2B stands for “Brain to Brain”
If the Washington Post isn’t good enough for you, let’s try the Scientific American. In an article by Ferris Jabr, published April 11, 2013, he states it bluntly:
“Evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.”
Why reading on paper is different from reading on screens requires an understanding of how the brain interprets written language. Reading is not an abstract, cerebral activity. Where our brains are concerned, text is a tangible. The brain regards letters as physical objects. It doesn’t have another way of understanding them.
Implications for Marketers: Making Printed Messages Prevail
1. Don’t give up the print ship: You really don’t need more evidence than cited above to conclude print still matters…even to younger B2B buyers taking on the mantle of responsibility. Any good B2B IMC plan should cover all the bases. In some ways, print may still be first base.
2. Print is meaningful in more than just trade pubs: Clearly, evidence suggests a well-crafted IMC plan that includes targeted print advertising is valuable. It associates your brand with information meaningful to the target audience. At the same time, sell sheets, promo sheets and white papers for your sales force can also reap benefits. Think trade shows. Sure, more of your lit will see the inside of a trash can than the inside of a suitcase, but how many buyers will it take to make a difference to you?
3. Think print first . . . and spool your digital content from there: Take a lesson from digital content creation. Printed information should be content rich and a quick read. Just because people read more and longer in print isn’t a license to bore them. Think bullet points to lead the reader from point A to Point B. Infographic formatted ads and materials have been shown, in research, to be very effective.
4. But print isn’t everything: Remember IMC. Be wherever your customer is with your message, where, how and when they want it. Web presence, search engine strategy, blogs and content creation all matter. Most importantly, think video content. We all grew up, one way or the other, with TV. An entirely different way people process information. According to a study by Invodo in 2014, retention rate for visual information can reach 65% vs. 10% for text-based information.
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Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications
2015 Recipient, G. D. Crain Jr. Award
Inductee, Business Marketing Hall of Fame
MARK SEMMELMAYER is a former Chairman of the Business Marketing Association (BMA), the 2015 G.D. Crain Jr. Award winner and an inductee into the Business Marketing Hall of Fame. He’s a 40-year B2B veteran, including 32-years with Kimberly-Clark, and is the founder and Chief Idea Officer of Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications, a consultancy in Atlanta, GA.