Why Print Is a Digital Champion — Plus How to Measure Success

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In a world where everyone is scrambling to label themselves “data-driven,” catalog marketers and direct mailers get to claim veteran status. We were data-driven before it was cool, back when it was called “direct marketing.” And as the digital person at an agency with a long history of direct marketing, I’ve never understood the rush to abandon print marketing in favor of digital, when they so clearly complement each other.

Print is high cost, high touch, high impact, where digital is low(er) cost, low impact. What do I mean by that? We like to say print is for the important, meaning print is a high-impact driver that can really get critical messages the attention they deserve.

Take a look at average response rates: Direct mail has average response rates from 4.9% to 9%, whereas most digital channels have conversion rates ranging from 0.77% to 1.3%. But where one is weak the other is strong. Typically, print can touch a customer a handful of times per year or season at best, but it’s a powerful touch that drives action. Meanwhile, digital can follow a person everywhere year-round, keeping top-of-mind awareness high.

So digital and print complement each other, but what about the claim that print gives all efforts a boost? The numbers tell the tale clearly – marketers are seeing real results. Of those marketers who incorporate direct mail into their multichannel efforts, 80% reported seeing better results, sometimes dramatic. One client of ours grew a division by 400% by using direct mail.

Simply put, print is a digital champion. It’s clear that the optimum channel mix (optichannel, if you will) includes print marketing.

So … Why Does Print Marketing Work?

Print is powerful. It’s tactile. You can hold it in your hands. In fact, that part of it is unavoidable: It must be handled – even if it’s to toss it into the recycle bin. But as marketers, of course, that’s the less desirable outcome. Unless you’re a fan of wasting budget, you’re focused on getting the right message in front of the right people, at the right time to reduce waste. And if we’re doing our jobs properly, that catalog or mailer is getting opened and read.

And studies prove it. 53% of Gen Xers, and 41% of Millennials say that they open and read catalogs when they get them, according to the 2018 DMA Response Rate Report.

What Is Print Success?

For many direct mailers and catalogers, success looks a little different than it did in the past. It used to be much more linear. A catalog was dropped in the mail, we see a corresponding rush of orders, we allocate revenue directly to the “catalog as a channel,” and do a matchback to determine precise contribution down to the penny per book, with no other channels or vendors scrabbling to claim a portion of that particular slice of revenue.

However, we’ve evolved, and after a little learning curve, print marketers evolved right along with it. Catalog is no longer a channel, it’s a powerful driver, pushing customers online and to physical store locations. It’s a brand showcase, giving valuable space to tell a brand story either overtly or through the use of thematic product spreads.

Direct Mail vs. Catalog vs. Retargeting

Direct mail needs to motivate consumers to do something immediately, usually with a compelling offer, while a catalog is meant to inspire desire – the window for action is larger. AND we still move them to action.

Then there’s retargeting postcards, which are the perfect layering of attitudinal and psychographic data. We know they’re brand aware, we know they are actively shopping, and we know what product they are shopping for. Talk about the right product, to the right person at the right time!

How Do We Measure Print Results?

Print marketing is not particularly hard to measure, the tricky part is slicing up revenue for any multichannel campaign. Post-campaign matchbacks can tell us when a customer we’ve mailed has converted, but then we need to take into account the whole marketing universe – they may have also received an email, been remarketed to, or clicked on a Facebook ad.

The key is a combination of website analytics, which, layered against catalog matchback data, gives a fuller view.

We can measure the amount of overlap – the transactions claimed by multiple channels – then determine consistent rules for allocating that overlap among the channels based on different attribution models (last touch, time decay, etc). Because of all the variables, this may look different for every business.

Optichannel Campaigns

So how do you find the optimum marketing mix? As with all things data-driven, you start with industry-relevant benchmark data, make initial projections, then test and refine.

  • Perform market research: industry benchmarks, customer behavior, online surveys.
  • Map out a strategy that ideally includes seven channels or better – research shows this is an important threshold.
  • Test, test, test. The most frequent objection is cost, but the initial expense of additional creative versions is nothing compared to the lost sales.
  • Launch.
  • Analyze and refine.

So the next time you start to think about cutting print to pay for digital, remember that print is digital’s hype man, and an investment in print boosts the results of any optichannel ecosystem.

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