For decades, printed marketing materials have served as both the backbone and the workhorse for marketing communications efforts. From brochures and one-sheets to white papers, client advisories and more, printed materials have led the way in conveying a company’s image and marketing messages to prospects and customers.
Then along came the Internet and social media, which turned the whole marketing communications world upside down. These days, online marketing materials represent the easier and more cost-effective way of communicating for most businesses. But if you think printed materials will disappear any time soon, think again.
The preference for printed materials depends in large part on the type of collateral and the generation reading them. In particular, older generations that grew up in a print marketing world still tend to prefer physical items as opposed to digital. As a result, things like printed business cards remain a staple of business, and will likely continue to do so as long as older generations hold an important place in the business world.
What does the future hold for printed materials?
There are many things to consider, not the least of which is cost. As resources become scarcer, it may become mandatory to print everything on recycled paper. This would impact both the cost of the materials and the production process, and could force companies to limit what they print and how much.
Companies also need to consider how to optimize their print pieces for use on websites, portable devices, and other electronic formats — especially when it comes to search engine optimization. In the past, print collateral didn’t need to take into account things like SEO, Google algorithms, or linking to other websites. Now, these have become an essential part of the distribution process for print materials that are also used online.
In addition, the emergence of iPads and other types of tablet devices are rapidly changing the way we view “printed” materials. Until recently, brochures, white papers and other collateral were primarily optimized for reading on or downloading from a website. Everyone knows the drill – you fill out the online form and download a .pdf file, which you can then choose to read online or print and carry with you. However, as more and more people turn to tablets for their primary reading tools, companies will need to ensure that all print materials are formatted for this platform as well.
In addition to generational preferences, the biggest factor keeping print materials mainstream is the fact that data sharing has yet to emerge from its early stages of development. However, rest assured that the mobile technology companies are moving ahead at full speed in this area. Once data sharing between mobile devices becomes more sophisticated, businesses will find it a lot easier and more cost-effective to distribute digital materials.
Printed materials may well be on their last legs. But as long as we have people who prefer to hold something, those legs will keep kicking a while longer. The challenge for today’s marketers is to know the preferences of their target audience and develop the appropriate mix of print and online/mobile materials.