26 November 2018 Events

The pendulum swings back

Print has proved its value against digital in the books sector; interest is now growing from the advertising and marketing sector. But first the facts need to get through to the brands and marketing decision makers this year’s Print Power conference in London was told.

Early in his presentation Whistl Door Drop managing director Mark Davies provided an inadvertent image for the day. He showed a graph of spend on door drops over the last decade by one of his clients.

It had flatlined at zero for most of that time until a spike in 2017 and what will end up as a larger spike this year. It was as if someone had applied a defibrillator to the printing industry and jolted it back into life. Speaker after subsequent speaker continued the theme: print had appeared to be a dead medium wiped away by online and digital channels, now it was alive. Print may never again be the only game in town for most brands, but at least it had found a place.

Davies was not the only speaker to use the same graph showing the decline in spending on print for marketing purposes and demonstrating that spending on digital has rocketed in that time. It is now forecast to account for more than 50% of ad spend said the day’s final speaker Katherine Punch from August Media. And with television accounting for a further 40%, the amount to be shared by print based media is thin indeed.

But by following the trends the broadsword approach of print, with no metrics, no way of measuring the ROI of a piece of print or print ad, compared to the rapier precision of digital where agencies can satisfy data hungry clients with click rates, response times and Facebook activity, would have no chance. Print should have become a curiosity, like steam engines.

However, it seems that the digital evangelists have over played their hand. Even without the quasi-fraudulent numbers used by social media brands to promote their effectiveness, there is a consumer backlash. Davies pointed to the increasing number of ad blockers in use, the failure of programmatic advertising to deliver the right message.

It has led to Proctor & Gamble turning sharply away from digital marketing. Its product managers, many digital zealots, now sit alongside a business analyst able to see what is really effective. And that is the door drops and putting product samples into the hands of a consumer rather than a ‘like’ on a social media channel.

He attributed a renewed interest in the door drop to GDPR and concerns about misuse of personal data. A door drop uses anonymised data and demographic information to reach households and consumers in tightly targeted groups, probably not qualified customers of the brand. Door drop becomes an effective tool for customer acquisition. “It is at the intersection between reach and effectiveness,” he told the Stationers’ Hall delegates.

Equally print had not yet regained its strength and as digital consumption and access continues to grow, it cannot be ignored. Print needs to use the same language and arguments that have helped digital gain its dominant position. The industry has begun to do this, cooperating on research to prove that something arriving through the letterbox is read multiple times and hangs around for 18 days before reaching the recycling bin.

The same research underlined how door drops followed by a piece of direct mail can magnify the return over both used separately. It gives the agencies evidence to support print. The problem though is not with the agencies. The creative characters, whether at director or intern level, love print and enjoy it – the Sunday papers in a country pub, the look and feel of an effective piece, and they think print according to Punch's work to understand why agencies and their clients are not as in love with print as their personal experience suggests they should be.

The blame, she says, lies with their clients, the brands that want to say that any campaign elicited measurable results in the short term. “And clients are obsessed with ‘share of voice’ compared to their competitors,” she said. “Because of this very few are prepared to step out and do something different.”

It means that agencies have their hands tied when making recommendations. At its most extreme, one agency, supposed to be advising how to make an impact through most effective choice of media was told that billboard sites had been booked in March, six months before the content and message of the campaign had been decided. When the internet first arrived, using websites and banners was considered daring and print was the safe option. Now it appears that print carries the risk.

But the sheer volume of content flowing through websites, emails, SMS and social media channels like Facebook is creating so much noise, that some are finding that print is best able to achieve cut though.

Dan Davey, CEO of Progressive Content, has been on this journey. His was a story about the growth of customer publications as an alternative to major magazines, and then wholesale adoption of digital media, able to target individuals with negligible cost other than the ongoing costs of creating content (where his business steps in).

“Why send a piece of direct mail, when you could send an email for close to free?” he said was the universal question a decade ago. “But now things are changing. Print is being recognised as offering a real difference – real value that digital can’t always match.”

And the giants of the digital world have recognised this: Facebook’s publication of Grow, a magazine focused at business decision makers about why they ought to use print; Google’s Think publication and others from AirBNB and even Amazon’s bricks and mortar supermarket to be joined by Google’s pop up shop in London.

“Companies need to do more to get people’s attention and print can easily do that,” he explained. And when those people are on the top floor, executives making decisions about major investments, a piece of print is valued and trusted, that the publisher thinks enough of the reader to go to the trouble and cost of printing and mailing a magazine or book. “These people are digital weary and digital wary,” Davey said.

According to surveys quoted several times during the day, print is trusted above digital channels by people across the age spectrum. There are the tactile advantages of print. It is a medium without distractions for the growing number of consumers that want to switch off from the digital haze. That advertisers dislike this will be another factor in a renewed interest in print.

However, facts are necessary, said Vanessa Clifford, CEO of Newsworks, a body to deliver the facts about advertising in news­papers. This was not about the exclusive use of newspapers to the detriment of other channels, but how the right message using the right medium can have a multiplying effect on a consumer’s intention to make a purchase.

Her research was thorough, calling on a wide range of analysis, even studies promoting television and radio, to show that planners and buyers underestimate the power of print. Consumer research finds that newspapers are the third most important influencer and magazines fourth; the same questions posed to agencies found that newspapers are ranked eighth and magazines tenth. Online video was rated highly by agencies even though Facebook has admitted that very few people actually view the majority of these films.

The result is a piece of work that can place any advertiser within a matrix for how it ought to divide its budget across the channels to achieve the greatest return and profit. The sweet spot for a supermarket’s marketing spend is between 19.4% and 31.3% towards newspapers. Above this there is little marginal gain. In 2013, supermarkets were directing 23.2% of their budget to newspapers: in 2016 this had fallen to 16.2%. Spread across all sectors, inefficient use of print means that brands are losing out on £3 billion of profit she said. “It’s what print can do,” she pointed out.

In truth, the case for print is about a slower burn, about brand building rather than a call to action where the speed of digital holds sway. Few consumers can recall digital advertising and the limited format of a mobile phone restricts creativity and the message. The instant response of the Facebook like (not a click through because as one speaker pointed out “you are more likely to survive a plane crash or climb Everest than click through a banner ad”) has distracted the agencies, what Davey called ‘vanity metrics’. “Each channel does something unique and we need to prove what that was,” said Clifford.

Scott Barclay, Williams Lea TAG, produced a graph to show the consumer journey from awareness to purchase and which media delivers the influence at that point in the journey. “Print remains a significant channel: it’s a vital and enduring part of the communications method.” In the days of bots, Russian bloggers and click farms in the Philippines “print side steps these issues. And it has the high value that online can’t give you”.

This summation could not be bettered, a message that 200 delegates could take away and employ across their own businesses. And there were practical examples of the power of print from cancer care charity Macmillan, where millions of information booklets are consumed each year.

These provide clear, concise, accurate and trusted information that those receiving an unwelcome diagnosis require. In the confusion of differing opinions found on websites, blogs and forums, there could be no better example of just how important print in real life actually continues to be.

Gareth Ward

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The Print Power audience of 200 delegates in Stationers’ Hall was rapt by presentations about print’s effectiveness at all points in the purchasing cycle. Practical examples of the power of print were on display from cancer care charity Macmillan, where millions of information booklets are consumed each year.

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