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Outward Bound: The Value of Print Media

Sidebar to You’ve Got Mail: e-tailers Push Postal Mail

Despite the growth of electronic publishing, whether via websites, email newsletters, e-books, blogs, or podcasts, print media delivered the old fashioned way still serves a critical function in a well-rounded communications program. If you’re looking for a way to motivate, cajole, or inspire consumers to respond, a tangible, colorful and interactive print vehicle still commands attention. While this view may seem somewhat anachronistic, print delivery has several advantages over over (or distinctions from) its electronic counterparts:

  • A human must review and prioritize the incoming mail. If the mailing piece promises enough value, it will be opened and read. (In contrast, unsolicited commercial email is automatically filtered and/or blocked).
  • Hard copy delivery increases your credibility and rasies the bar for competitors. Consumers understand that you’ve made a significant investment in your printed materials. Those materials not only reflect your brand, they distinguish you from the pack of competitors who can slap together bits with little thought.
  • Also, with a printed piece you reach consumers away from the computer, when they may have more time to browse and to otherwise become engaged with your message. Hard copy delivery also appeals to different senses, motivating and inspiring with both visual and tactile (and in some cases olfactory) senses. We have yet to see a perfume sample delivered through a computer screen (despite the various protytpe smell-o-vision we’ve heard about for years.)
  • One of outbound delivery’s most important advantages is to motivate consumers on your own timetable. With the pull approach, you set up shop and wait for consumers to come to you. Most Web marketing depends on consumers taking this independent action. In contrast, the push approach reaches out to consumers directly, typically using time-sensitive offers to motivate a response. Print delivery satisfies the push requirement, reaching consumers in an appealing and tangible way.

Direct merchant Lands’ End learned this lesson in 1999 when it scaled back catalog delivery and saw sales decline as a result (see “Catalogs Withstand Internet Competition,” by David Sharp, Associated Press, Nov. 26, 2004). According to the AP article, Lands’ End responded by increasing the number of catalogs, and by 2003 was mailing 270 million catalogs annually. The AP noted a similar experience at L.L. Bean. The report quoted Bean marketing chief Steve Fuller as saying that “the two [online sales and catalogs] were intertwined, with catalogs giving a significant boost to Web site traffic and shoppers freely switching between the channels.” When it comes to combining e-commerce and catalog sales, Lands’ End and L.L. Bean are undisputed masters of the craft. – David M. Kalman