Selling the value of print in a digital world
December 10, 2022

For everyone still making their mark in the print game, Leon Dombrowsky has a word of advice. To make his point, the President of AccuCraft Imaging summons his inner James Bond.

Having passion for what you do—in this case, delivering the passion and promise of printed goods to people who depend on them to tell their stories—means you have to have swagger. You have to express a refined aura of self-confidence in your identity and the place you hold in the marketing world.

As a printer in today’s ever-involving, always creative print landscape, you have all those Bond-like gadgets and technology needed to make what you do sizzle. You possess the seasoned wisdom of a company that has been through the ups and downs, and ins and outs of what it takes to survive in today’s digitally focused landscape.

And like James Bond, you have to know the villain, i.e., the opponent you face. In this case, today’s consumers are being bombarded with a strong dose of digital. For example, according to a study commissioned by Vision Direct, the average American is expected to spend 44 years of his life staring at a screen. On any given day, people spend an average of five hours staring at a laptop, four and a half hours watching TV, four and a half hours glued to their smartphone and more than three hours gaming.

What’s a printer to do? Dombrowsky recommends going with what you know—and why it works. A successful marketing campaign should consist of a strategic allocation of digital and print. Neglecting to include print as an integral part of any marketing plan will significantly increase the risk of a campaign missing its mark. “Whether that’s in your above-the-line or below-the-line strategy, it’s an added touchpoint that is tangible. Digital and print tactics can be thought of two-fold. We capture consumers both visually and viscerally. Print enhances your digital tactics by adding a tier of something thoughtful.”

More than anything else—and the point all printers must dwell on—is that perhaps the No. 1 advantage print has over other media is that it truly is so visceral. One of the many things we have come to better understand and appreciate over the past few challenging years is that people desire and need personal connections and interactions. Print, unlike digital, provides a greater sense of one-on-one connection.

"If your target is someone who doesn’t value print, my experience is that showing them something from someone else in their space who is using print successfully makes a difference."

— Bill Gillespie, VP of Sales, Bennett Graphics

“Print can immortalize moments in time, from memorable events to art that makes you feel something,” Dombrowsky says. “There are multiple studies out there demonstrating how the synapses in the brain fire off and process things differently in digital vs. print. It shouldn’t be ignored that print has, and always will, make you feel something.”

The message is gaining traction. During the first half of 2022, the United States Postal Service (USPS) launched the Tactile, Sensory & Interactive (TSI) Promotion, a discount promotional program for direct mailings offering a tactile, sensory or interactive component. Examples included adding texture with embossing or crinkly paper, visual effects with holographic paper or paper infused with scents. Another promotion offered direct mail discounts for businesses that incorporate advanced technology in their mailings, such as video in print.

According to Globe Newswire’s “Direct Mail Advertising Global Market Opportunities and Strategies to 2031” report, the global direct mail advertising market is projected to grow from $42,799.0 million in 2021 to $46,330.1 million in 2026 at a rate of 1.6%. The market is then expected to grow at a CAGR of 0.7% from 2026 and reach $47,938.3 million in 2031.

“In our data-driven world, print necessitates having measurability,” Dombrowsky says. “Luckily, digital peeps are well-aware of the significance print has as a complementary tactic, and have delivered ways for the print industry to adapt. With the refreshed use of QR codes throughout the pandemic, we’ve been able to quantify our efforts. In addition, landing page visits, UTM and coupon codes, call tracking, and personalized direct mail campaigns with clean lists are all easy solutions to tracking ROI.”

Taking direct aim

After 44-plus years in the printing business, Bill Gillespie has tons of stories about how print helped connect the message a brand wanted to tell with the community it serves. Many of these stories came under his watchful eye as VP of Sales for Bennett Graphics.

There was a brand selling vodka. The target was restaurants and bars that were not carrying the brand, so the printer built a kit in a FedEx box that delivered a sample bottle and a clever story. Or the salt substitute brand that wanted to target food processors around the world. The printer delivered a bag of crackers and a bag of chips along with the value argument to decision-makers in 19 countries. Or you could take the example of the hotel that was looking for unique ways to train its employees. Bennett built a board game that required employees to play. The game put them into situations that would randomly occur during the day when they were interacting with guests. The employees were able to learn to navigate the desired responses.

“Only print could do any of this,” Gillespie says. “I think the industry should be evangelizing print by sharing these kinds of successful stories and case studies with prospects. Leaders and reps should be showing examples of how print solved a problem that no other media could. The examples would be different depending on the company’s space (packaging, direct mail, catalogs, dimensional graphics, etc.), but the process or goal would be the same. Package and show how print solved a problem and helped the buyer’s business accomplish goals.”

In what has been Gillespie’s longtime message, he says the tools for this are easy. It involves direct mail, hosted events, social media blogging, face-to-face calls with samples and/or virtual “lunch and learn” style sharing sessions. “If your target is someone who doesn’t value print, my experience is that showing them something from someone else in their space who is using print successfully makes a difference. Stakeholders see problems they face being solved by a competitor and they instantly relate. It doesn’t make an instant sale, but it moves you along the journey. People simply learn better when you’re talking about their world and not yours.”

" Print can immortalize moments in time, from memorable events to art that makes you feel something."

— Leon Dombrowsky, President, AccuCraft Imaging

Today, print has become the perfect complement in a digital world—conversations that can become cool object lessons. Think of it like a golfer with a bag full of clubs for each situation. Print is one of those clubs. It works alongside social media. It works with PURLs. It can send you to a website or follow up on an inquiry alongside an email.

“For me, as a sales rep, my confidence in print was evident in every call or email,” Gillespie says. “My prospects knew I thought print was the best club in the bag. They also knew I knew it wasn’t the only club in the bag. To be hired, I had to be flexible and be part of something bigger than just my own deliverable.”

Show them the sizzle and the value follows.