Is Print Dead? Not So Fast…

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August 4, 2019

Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly

In introducing LinkedIn’s recent B2B marketing trends for the contrarian marketer series, Peter Weinberg shared an interesting thought about following trends too closely: “If your marketing strategy is based on consensus opinion — even if that consensus opinion is right — you’re destined to fail. If your competitors are doing exactly what you are doing, then you have no advantage, by definition.”

Weinberg’s words remind me of something a former colleague of mine liked to say. Whenever someone declared something dead, he would respond with something to the effect of, [marketing phenomenon] isn’t dead, calling things dead is. 

In other words, marketers’ ears should perk up whenever something is declared dead because it represents an opportunity to take an approach that both surprises and delights. It’s also a call for marketers to change the way they look at trends. This brings us to our topic of the day: Is print dead? 

We say it's very much alive, and we've put our money where our mouth is by publishing the latest edition of The Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly magazine. Our sixth issue debuted this week and features stories like these that provide insight for marketers on how to grow their business:

  • Our exclusive advice column from content marketing pioneer Ann Handley
  • Using LinkedIn data to create effective B2B video
  • Five marketing lessons from the Fyre Festival disaster
  • Why David Ogilvy's ideas remain relevant in the digital age
  • A brief history of advertising on LinkedIn

Print and B2B Marketing: A Brief History

The digitization of marketing and sales content is now more reality than trend – the last two decades have brought us e-everything. Classic B2B marketing materials like brochures, data sheets, and white papers have slowly disappeared from office display cases in favor of digital versions that can be created, sent, and refreshed more economically. Thus, companies reduced their printing and postage costs. They also wasted less, because they no longer needed to toss stacks of content featuring outdated product data. 

Many of the same market forces that were responsible for ushering out print were also responsible for ushering in content marketing. In response, B2B companies didn’t just digitize their existing assets, but also used some of their old print budgets to create digital content like blog posts, infographics, and various other presentations. One of the bigger impacts was the ebook explosion. Suddenly, it seemed like every B2B company was now creating and publishing ebooks as a lead gen mechanism. Recent survey data indicates ebooks remain a top-three tactic in terms of usage and effectiveness. 

Today, print marketing still very much exists, but it has been relegated to the bench. You won’t find print near the top of any industry-wide tactics lists. 

Printing Trends: Where Are We Now?

While we’re not seeing a massive resurgence of print in B2B marketing — which, as we’ve established, might actually be good news if you’re interested in pursuing print — the signs say print isn’t dead, nor is it even on life support.  

As for general consumer preference trends, sales of printed books actually rose in 2016 while ebook sales fell. What’s interesting is that this reversal was mostly driven by younger readers’ preferences

At LinkedIn, we’ve noticed a similar preference among our own audience members. Our Sophisticated Marketer's Magazine continues to be in popular demand, and every time we bring printed content to events and conferences they fly off the tables. Even when we've A/B tested through Sponsored Content for graphics (ebook cover) versus images of physical books (below), the books perform better. 

Another general trend of note is that of self-publishing. You’ve likely heard about the rise in self-publishing, and if you’re like me, may have assumed that the influx was due to lowered digital publishing barriers. But the opposite is true: self-publishing is in decline for ebooks and is experiencing hockey stick-like growth for print books (below). 

Image credit

Where Does Print Fit into B2B Marketing Today?

We at LinkedIn certainly aren’t the only B2B marketers using print these days. For instance, logistics company DHL publishes five issues of “Delivered” each year, distributing to a targeted list. An APA Advantage Study found that people spend an average of 25 minutes actively engaged with consumer magazines, which equates to 50 TV ads at 30 seconds apiece. 

Here are a few more notable customer magazine statistics from the study:

  • Customer magazines increase brand loyalty by 32%
  • 44% of all customers who receive a magazine take some form of positive action as a result of the magazine
  • Consumer magazines contain independent editorial content which enhances the corporate brand image by 9% on average

Aside from customer magazines, what other options exist? While printing has become cheaper in some instances, like most things in business, varying factors affect price and you typically get what you pay for. ROI-wise, it probably won’t make sense to return to the days of printing everything, but you may consider the following:

Take your most popular piece of content and create a print asset out of it. Formerly, we’d probably be talking about a brochure. These days, traditional printing options are more flexible, and with the rise of 3D printing for B2B, your printing capabilities are really only limited by your imagination. Another option here is to print your most popular, most universally-applied ebook to be used as a leave-behind booklet for presentations and meet-ups. 

Use print to support your digital presence. According to the U.S. Postal Service, roughly two-thirds of direct mail recipients were influenced to visit a specific website. Some of this is no-doubt an indirect effect, yet it still shows how offline tactics can play a pivotal role in online success. Also, don’t hesitate to support your existing online campaigns with print. For example, on LinkedIn, you could theoretically test a LinkedIn-only campaign versus a LinkedIn campaign that’s supported by print to determine a) if you’re actually seeing a lift from the print support, and b) if so, whether the increased ROI is enough to offset your print and shipping costs. 

Publish your articles in print publications. People who read print trade magazines tend to be highly invested in the topic. Even if you don’t print, per se, you can cater to your audience’s preferences by getting your message seen in the print publications they’re most attached to. 

Reinforce customer relationships with printed content. It might be tough to justify the expense of print materials at scale for a brand awareness play, but what about producing small batches of select printed content and sending it to your most valued customers? They’ll likely be surprised to find a high-quality book or magazine in their mailbox, as opposed to the standard deluge of digital docs via email. And think about the intrinsic value in having physical branded assets sitting on someone’s desk at an important account, easily seen by peers and perhaps even business partners or fellow decision makers traveling through...

Print is in a pretty good place for B2B marketers: Not so dead as to have someone question our sanity for suggesting it as a tactic, but unique enough to command someone’s attention and compel them to explore what they otherwise might not have. 

Experience the power of print for yourself: Subscribe to The Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly or read the magazine online right now.