By Sarah Scudder
Print’s role in the marketing mix, the attributes of printed marketing materials, and the ways those materials are produced, acquired and distributed have all changed in fundamental ways over the past several years. Many of these changes are becoming, or have already become, prominent features in the marketing and procurement landscape.
Some industry commentators have been predicting the demise of print-based marketing for two decades. These pundits have typically argued that the proliferation of digital communication channels and the resulting explosive growth of digital-marketing techniques demonstrate that most forms of “dead-tree marketing” are obsolete relics.
There’s no doubt that digital marketing has grown tremendously, and some of that growth has been at the expense of print-based marketing. For example, data from the August 2019 edition of The CMO Survey indicates that spending on digital marketing has grown consistently since August 2011, while spending on traditional advertising has steadily declined over that period. Meanwhile, data from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) shows that the annual volume of marketing mail has dropped 5.5 percent since 2009.
But despite the shift to digital marketing, print-based marketing hasn’t died, and in fact, some types of print marketing are experiencing a resurgence in use and effectiveness. Take direct mail, for example. Research by the Alexandria, Virginia-based Data & Marketing Association has shown that response rates to direct mail are higher today than they have been for more than a decade. In addition, USPS studies have found that printed catalogs are still highly effective marketing tools.
Technologies Changing Print Marketing
It would be easy to say that this resurgence is just another example of “everything old is new again,” but that would not do justice to the changes that are underway in the print-marketing space.
Today, many kinds of print-based marketing are deeply entwined with technology. Numerous technologies have affected print marketing, but four types stand out:
●Personalization technologies enable printed marketing materials to be customized for individual customers and prospects. Messaging can be customized based on demographic attributes and more importantly on the behaviors and/or expressed interests of each recipient.
●Digital printing. Personalization technologies are of little value if the cost of manufacturing a personalized document is extremely high. When “digital presses” were first introduced, the costs of producing personalized documents were sufficiently high to put severe limits on their use. Today, however, advances in digital printing technologies have made personalized marketing materials cost effective for a wide range of use cases.
●Multichannel integration. Technology also now makes it possible to use printed materials as components of integrated multichannel marketing campaigns. One such integration is retargeted direct mail, in which specified online behaviors by customers or prospects automatically trigger the production of direct mail documents. Several research studies have shown that integrating online and print marketing delivers higher conversion rates than non-integrated campaigns.
●Web-to-print. This group of technologies is enabling a new way of ordering printed marketing materials. Web-to-print technologies typically provide online “storefronts” through which authorized users can order printed materials. Many of these solutions also provide personalization capabilities that enable authorized users to customize materials in controlled ways. Web-to-print solutions have become particularly popular with companies that sell through a large network of channel partners such as dealers, independent agents, financial advisers and franchisees.
Implications for Procurement
The changes brought about by these and other technologies have significant implications for sourcing professionals who are involved in managing the procurement of printed materials. The most important impact is that purchases of printed materials are increasingly embedded in the procurement of broader solutions that also include technological capabilities and various kinds of services. Put simply, in many cases, buying print is no longer about just buying print.
For example, a typical web-to-print solution will include (1) the technology that enables the online ordering system, (2) the development of templates that enable document customization, (3) the production of printed materials and (4) fulfillment services. Many web-to-print solutions also provide robust reporting capabilities.
The shift from buying individual “print jobs” to multifaceted solutions increases the complexity of sourcing decisions as well as other impacts. First, the cost of most solutions will be significantly higher than the cost of most individual print jobs. Second, as a practical matter, many of these solutions involve a long-term commitment, not because of contractual obligations, but because of the internal “switching costs” of changing solutions and providers.
As a result, many solutions have the potential to produce significant benefits, but they can also carry higher risks. It’s vital, therefore, to make sound decisions when choosing solutions and providers. Such decisions can benefit greatly from the expertise sourcing professionals can bring to the decision-making process.
The bottom line is, print-based marketing is not going away. But technological developments have altered how printed materials are used in marketing — and more importantly for sourcing professionals — how the supply chain operates for many types of printed materials.
Sarah Scudder is president of Real Sourcing Network, a New York-headquartered print solutions provider.