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Rethinking the value of Print Advertising


While I know that the focus of this blog is around digital marketing and the components that encompass it, I figured I’d go off the beaten path a bit and write about a topic that is rarely discussed in the digital word…the value of print advertising. Yes, you heard me correctly…the value of print advertising.

As one who is firmly entrenched in the world of digital marketing, print is a topic seldom discussed and when it is, it’s often done so in the context of shifting budgets or it’s how its representative of an advertising model of yesteryear. However, during a client meeting recently the topic of print advertising came up and this client said something that really made me rethink and reassess the value of print advertising. The statement was as follows:

Not everyone will read your ad, but if they do, reward them”

So why was did this statement make such as impact on me? Well, let’s dissect it and I will tell you why.

“Not everyone will read your ad”

When it comes to print or any form of advertising, this is a basic fact. No matter how much research you do and how much effort you put into the placement, message and/or creative, you’re not going to connect with everybody. Print, by its very nature is a “passive” advertising medium. Yes it’s integrated into mediums that ideally contain the audience you’re looking to reach and in some cases contextually relevant content, but the target is not there to consume your message, they are there to consume the content of the publication. Therefore, you have to assume that most people will likely tune out your ad, because its not what they are looking for to begin with.

In many cases this fact seems to be almost assumed which is why print ads do not tend to be dense with copy and are more visual in nature. Therefore, when it comes to print if your ad is able to create “awareness” this factor is often considered a hallmark success.

It’s my belief, that when it comes to print, “awareness” is the primary measure and KPI that continues to justify its existence. Yes, advertisers put calls to action in their ads…QR Codes, unique URLs and 800 numbers, but at the end of the day, many of these elements are not effectively measured, and the justification for the print placement continues to be base around “awareness”. As a result it appears many marketers do want to actively develop a print strategy around users who may actually read their ads, because this group represents such a small subset of overall users. However, while they may be small, what they are not considering is the value that the “reader” represents.

“but if they do”

It was these four words that got me thinking. Why, did the trigger my thought process? To be honest, when I think of print, I have typically thought of it as a passive medium that is primarily glanced over by the reader. I never thought about the subset of users that might actually take the time read an ad.

Yes, those who do actually take the time to read your ad represent a small subset of those who are exposed to it, but I believe that their value in the marketing supply chain is very underrated. More specifically, these are readers who are now taking the time to break from their planned path of consumption to “read” your ad. Therefore you have now gotten someone to actively consume your message and for the moment you have their undivided attention.

When you think about it, this is a very valuable brand engagement. The user did not pick up the publication in which your ad was placed with the intent of viewing it, rather they did so because of the content that surrounds that ad. In assessing the value of this engagement consider the following in terms of who a “reader” may represent:

A new prospect or customer
This is some who had not previously heard of your product, but is likely interested in your category by nature of the publication in which your ad has been placed, particularly in the case of trade publications. Therefore, in this case you are making an “active” brand introduction, as they are not just becoming aware, but actually taking the time to learn.

An Active Prospect
In this case you have a consumer who has already researched your product and is knowledgeable, but has not yet made the decision to purchase. By taking the time to read about your product, you have re-connected with them at the point where they are now considering making a purchase.

An Advocate
Here you have someone who has already purchased your product, and they are taking the time to read your ad because they’ve had a positive experience with the product. To this group, reading your ad is like re-connecting with an old friend and this reminder may push them to recommend it to someone they know who is looking for a similar solution or dealing with issues your product addresses.

Simply stated, its my belief that when it comes to print these subsets of your target are often overlooked. However if print is considered to be such as passive medium, it’s my belief those who do actively engage with it should be treated differently because they are truly a valuable subset of your overall target audience.

“reward them”

We all know that those who take the time to read your ad represent a small subset of your overall target, and as I previously outlined, their value should not be underestimated. However, these users are often not treated with any kind of special reverence, as emphasized by the associated calls to action. As noted previously, you’ll often see QR codes, 800 numbers, unique URLs, but they are not necessarily tied to a call to action or offer of much value. In short, if you’ve gotten someone to stop their planned consumption activity, read your ad, but you do not provide them with a offer that will encourage them to complete the engagement; you’re stopping short of the goal line.

Think about it, unlike online, to get someone to act on your print ad, you’ve got to them leverage another medium… mobile device, computer, telephone, etc., that is not directly connected to the medium. Therefore in getting someone to act on your message, you need to make it worth their while.

Hence, if someone has taken the time to read your ad “reward them” with a unique call to action and offer that will get them to take this next step.

How you decide to “reward” the user on is up to you, but some ideas could be:

– Exclusive coupon
– Unique White Paper
– Free Download

The ideas are endless, but the key is to realize that this audience represents a unique subset of your overall target, and therefore you should reward them for taking the time to engage with your message.

Ultimately, what this exercise taught me about print is that there is more than one way to look at it. All too often we get caught up in looking at things through a single lens and as a result that view is short sighted. Therefore, you should not only look at things via the medium, but also through the lens of engagement and audience segmentation. With print, we too often assess its value based on placement and the reach it provides; but when looked at from an “engagement/segmentation” perspective, suddenly that value equation changes. While this subset of users may be small, they likely represent those who may actually purchase your product or are currently out there consuming it.

Therefore, when placing your next print ad and developing the associated creative, be sure think about the value that the “readers” provide and how you can reward them. Because if you do take this step, my guess is that you will see higher levels of engagement with your print messaging and ultimately, a much higher and definitive ROI.


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