Three Important Statements in the
Debate Over Digital vs Print Marketing

by Robert Toscani

Posted on March 24, 2016

digital vs print marketing

It’s the digital age, and everyone is communicating with their mobile devices. So, if you are a business, you have responded to this new world order by shifting your marketing efforts from print (offline) to digital (online), and you are preoccupied with issues such as social media, digital content, ‘ranking’, ‘optimization’, and ‘clicks’. So, here’s a question to ponder: has your decision to make the shift to digital been based on sound research or on speculation? Ask average business-owners why they are actively marketing online and they will tell you that it is because everyone is online and print is dead. Certainly, online marketing is huge and cannot be ignored, but here are three things I am here to tell you:
1) print is not dead;
2) shifting completely from offline to online is a big mistake, and
3) you should have one comprehensive strategy that incorporates both offline and online marketing techniques playing off each other to attract, recruit, and engage customers long-term.

1) Why Print is Not Dead
There is a great deal of research that shows print marketing is far from dead, and will likely be around for a long time. Among the most notable research, there are two studies that quite compellingly support the idea that print marketing is still a very effective medium. The first one, conducted by Canadian neuromarketing firm, TrueImpact, compared the effects of print marketing with digital marketing. Through the use of eye-tracking and high resolution EEG brain wave measurement, it was possible to evaluate three key areas of advertising: attention, ease of understanding, and persuasiveness. The results indicated that print marketing required 21% less cognitive effort to process, and scored 70% higher on brand recall. Moreover, using a calculation referred to as ‘motivation-to-cognitive load ratio’, it was determined that print was 50% more effective than digital media in terms of persuasiveness.

In another recent study conducted by Temple University, significant differences were found in how the brain processes print and digital communication. This study used MRI scans to observe differences in how people’s brains respond to the two forms of communication. The results showed that print communication triggers an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is mainly responsible for decision-making. The study also produced some other interesting facts about those viewing print ads:
1) They spent more time reviewing the ads;
2) their brains were more stimulated;
3) a one-week follow up showed their information recall was greater, and
4) their brain activity showed a greater subconscious desire and value for the product or service advertised in the print ad.

2) Why going exclusively online is a big mistake
There is no question that by going online, you can reach masses of people far more cheaply than with print, however, there is a big difference in how people receive and manage the two. Let’s take, for example, e-mail (digital) versus direct mail (print). With e-mail, it is true that you can very affordably reach masses of people in one fell swoop through an e-mail blast, but how many people actually look at your e-mail? Most e-mail management systems help people ‘deal with’ non-essential e-mail. Unsolicited e-mails are generally viewed as a nuisance that people need to weed out to get to the important ones. Also, with unsolicited e-mails, there is generally a trust issue. Most people are reluctant to open an unsolicited e-mail, especially if it is from an unknown entity. If their junk mail filter doesn’t dispose of it, they will. Compare this with a direct mail piece one receives in their mail box. It’s harmless, so people aren’t threatened by it. Also, because physical mail engages two additional senses - touch and smell, when people go through it, their mindset is different than it is when they go through their e-mails. Because of the physical and tactile nature of physical mail, they tend to engage with it at a higher level; spend time reviewing each piece, sorting, putting things in different piles. If relevant and effectively designed, a direct mail piece has a far better chance of being viewed, possibly set aside, rather than thrown away, which means it will lay around somewhere for others to see. Instead, an e-mail that is not trashed, will just sit in a person’s inbox, never to be seen by anyone. So, unsolicited physical mail is generally received and managed better than its e-mail counterpart, because it is viewed as more ‘real’ or ‘legitimate’. This is why going exclusively with an online program is a big mistake.

Another reason not to abandon your print campaign
The entry point for online marketing and advertising is very very low. The fact that it’s cheap compared to print, radio and TV may be great for your bottom line, but it also means the space in which you are advertising is congested, and shared with start-ups, small and even smaller businesses with little or no budget. Put simply, you’re going to get what you pay for, so in terms of value, it may be great, but in terms of quality, not so much.

3) Conclusion – Use offline to attract and online to engage
Online is definitely the way to go for inbound marketing, to engage your customers, and sell your products and services, but print still reigns when it comes to outbound marketing, which means reaching out to prospective customers. So, the conclusion is to leverage both digital (online) and print or other offline media strategically, so they play off each other. For example, in addition to e-mail, social media, and a search-engine-optimized website, use print ads, direct mail pieces; billboard, sign, radio or TV ads to promote and attract people to your brand, product or service, and drive them online, where you engage them, and build and maintain a long term relationship with them through your web site, e-store, social media pages, or other online media.


There is a great deal of research that shows print marketing is far from dead, and will likely be around for a long time.

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