By Rhys Handley, Monday 23 October 2017
As digital technologies continue to make their evolutionary impact on everything from news and advertising consumption to data storage, analysts and onlookers seem to declare print to be dead with increasing regularity.
This is old news now and a preconception that the print industry has pushed back against for years – but there is no denying that the web has changed the landscape print now finds itself navigating.
Perhaps it’s encouraging, then, that 74% of 18-24-year-olds in the UK are worried they spend too long using electronic devices, and 69% of UK consumers believe they need to switch off and turn back to print in order to detox from a so-called ‘digital overload’. A survey commissioned by Two Sides and carried out by reasearch firm Toluna in the summer, involving more than 10,000 international consumers was published in its Print and Paper in a Digital World report. It shed some unexpected and encouraging light on print’s power.
While online media undeniably dominates day-to-day life, respondents made clear that print stands out as something special and demands attention. As a result of this, however, print is now more of a welcome exception than a steadfast staple that consumers live by.
“I believe in print,” says Bruce Galloway, director of creative agency BD Network.
“Digital has got its place, it is a lot cheaper and reaches a much broader range of people faster. But print has the longevity digital lacks. Print makes brands’ ideas really tangible in a customer’s hands and that will give you a higher average return rate.”
Galloway admits that print’s position is shifting – 62% of consumers told Two Sides they would increase how much news they consumed for free online in the future, despite 63% feeling print allows for a deeper understanding of stories and 76% worrying about ‘fake news’ trends on the internet.
“In this sense, digital can only make print better – we must find ways to be faster, reach wider, to be more cost-effective,” adds Galloway.
As the commercial viability of printed news declines, Two Sides’ survey indicates print advertising still has a hold over consumers and their choices, with 63% using ad blockers online and 43% admitting that seeing a printed advert would be more likely to influence their actions.
Judith Donovan, chairwoman of the Royal Mail’s Strategic Mailing Partnership (SMP), believes direct marketing to the consumer will always hold more sway than an ad on a website.
“Digital is very left-brained and logical, whereas print is right-brained and taps into something emotional,” she says.
“Mailing out your ads rather than using spam email or online ads has properly-measured returns on investment, you can see how printing pays off. Brands need to build relationships with their customers and maintain their integrity. Print is still the best way to control how and where your brand is seen.”
Print could have a real chance of winning back consumers inundated by digital media, and efforts are clearly starting to pay off – spending on the print sector is up to £13.8bn in the UK now, up from £13.5bn in 2015.
“Touch, feeling, smell, appearance all engage more senses than a purely digital message, and this leads to deeper involvement,” says BPIF chief executive Charles Jarrold.
“We are a technically focused industry, so the more we understand all relevant technologies, not just new print technology, the better we can look after our customers, and the greater the likelihood that they will stay with us and be our advocates.
“Print also works hand in hand with online marketing; it attracts and activates the customer’s interest initially, and they will typically then complete the journey online.
“The great advantage of print is its ability to get attention, as long as it is appropriate, and typically with good production values. Ironically, the ubiquity of online and digital means that print has a greater impact than ever.”
But it’s still a scary, ever-changing world out there as social media remains an unknown quantity – not quite news media, not quite advertising, but all-encompassing of people’s time and concerns.
“It’s the Wild West out there at the moment,” says independent print consultant Sean Smyth.
“No one really knows what is going on with social media or how brands can grapple with it properly to engage consumers.
“Reports like this are definitely encouraging for the print sector, but the rest of the sector is still overseen by an old guard.
“This is generational – of course industry veterans, steeped in a history of print, are going to resist a sea change. We need a new generation to come in and give print a shake-up so it can find its place in the new world.”
Among the many drivers moving brands to digital, environmental concerns are prominent, but widely considered unfounded by the print industry. With its surveys and campaigns, Two Sides is trying to push back against any myths keeping customers away from the sector under false pretences.
In September, it found 460 global companies using misleading or unsubstantiated environmental information to justify a digital transition, and 278 of those companies have removed their statements following Two Sides’ engagement.
Managing director Martyn Eustace says: “Knowing that print can be green when managed responsibly should be at the forefront of printers’ pitches.
“Generally, print has a great story to tell. We often don’t tell that story as well as we should. We can change the message by engaging with those who doubt or even deceive about the benefits of print.”