The Power of Print

By Sean Milmo, European Editor | 01.23.17

Combining print and digital may provide a better return on investment for an advertising campaign.

The European printing sector, including ink producers and other suppliers, are gaining confidence about the future of print in the face of continued fierce competition from digital media.

This was evident at Power of Print, a recent seminar in London organized by the UK-based Two Sides, a group representing the graphic communications supply chain.

The increasing optimism about the future of print stems from growing evidence that information can be more effectively communicated through print than TV and radio and by the Internet, email and other forms of the digital media.

Above all, there are signs in Europe of some marketers beginning to lose confidence in promotional strategies confined to the Internet and social media. Instead, they are switching to advertising campaigns that provide a mix of medias including print.

“There is recognition among marketers that a combination of print and digital will provide a better return on investment in an advertising campaign,” said Tiffanie Darke, director of Method, the creative agency of News UK, part of the US-based News Corp. and the biggest national newspaper group in the UK.

The series of big political events in 2016 – such as the UK’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union, Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election and the escalation of the wars in the Middle East, particularly in Syria – seems to have confirmed print as being a more reliable news source among many consumers.

“Newspapers have been increasing their circulations because they are trusted more at a time of important events such as Brexit,” said Darke. “People want to sort out all the noise which comes with big news stories and newspapers have the means of cutting through the noise.”

The print media is also been seen by advertisers as been particularly effective when promoting certain types of products, like luxury goods.

“They are acknowledging that magazines can, for example, have more of an impact than they are given credit for because compared with broadcast or digital media, the time span of the advertisements is longer,” Charles Jarrold, chief executive of the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF), told the meeting.

One of the more confident print sectors has been direct mail, on which UK expenditure grew by 1.4% last year. But in 2016 this is expected to turn into a sharp decline due a low level of spend in the first quarter of the year. Nonetheless it still remains the country’s third largest advertising outlet behind digital and TV in what is one of Europe’s largest advertising markets.

The sector is hopeful about its future because of a belief that its intrinsic strengths will enable it to become much competitive against digital media.

Among its qualities, trust is the most valuable. “Print is one of the most trusted mediums,” said Rachel Aldighieri, managing director of UK’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

Direct mail is also able to meet many of the main current needs of consumers – such as privacy, security and a sense of responsibility and understanding.

Surveys show that three quarters of consumers expect organizations to understand their individual needs, said Aldighieri. “(Forty percent) said that they’d be less likely to buy from a company that sends them multiple communications that are irrelevant (to) their needs,” she added.

Direct mail is also data driven, which gives it more scope for and improvement in personalization of promotions at a time when the vast majority of marketers are looking for more effective personalization.

The challenge for direct mail is to use data in a more creative way, particularly with the help of good copywriters. “It’s the integration of data in creative work and the creative application of data that can enhance the user experience and ultimately win over customers,” Aldoghieri explained.

The print industry and its suppliers has recently been launching a series of campaigns and promotional initiatives to highlight the benefits of print.

One example of a highly successful pro-print campaign has been a drive by the Royal Mail, the UK’s main postal service, to ensure that people retain their right to be informed and billed in print by services companies.

The three-year-old Keep Me Posted campaign, which now comprises a coalition of 93 charities, consumer groups and trades unions, also opposes unfair charges for customers who choose to receive paper bills or statements.

While protecting the interests of those who want a choice between printed and online communications, the campaign’s role is also to defend the needs of an estimated 5 million UK citizens who do not use the Internet.

“Research shows that 81% of UK consumers think it is important to have the choice in how they access financial information and statements from service providers,” David Gold, Royal Mail’s head of public affairs, told the conference. Half would consider taking their business elsewhere if this choice was taken away, he added.

A growing number of companies in the country are seeing the offer of choice as an important part of their customer relations. As a result, the campaign offers companies “Best Practice”and “Good Practice” marks to show consumers that they are committed to choice in the ways they communicate.

“We are not anti-digital but just against unfairness,” said Gold. “Around 70% of people like receiving their bills online but they also like the comfort of paper bills. They do not want to be forced into accepting their bills one way or the other.”

The Keep Me Posted campaign has now been extended into other European Union countries, such as France, Belgium, Spain and currently Germany.

The print sector in the UK and elsewhere is also fighting back against accusations that the print industry is causing far more pollution than digital communications because of its global warming emissions.

In fact, print has a similar carbon footprint to digital. It may even be smaller when comparing the carbon footprints of printed mail and emails because of the energy consumptions of the huge databases and electronic networks used in the cloud section of the internet.

“Life cycle analysis shows that there is not much difference between mail- and electronic-based communications when cloud is considered,” Jonathon Porritt, co-founder of Forum for the Future, a sustainability group, told the conference.

Claims by services and utility companies that people were helping to protect the environment by switching to paperless billing had to be challenged, said Gold.

Two Sides launched a Love Paper campaign in the UK in 2016 that aims to dispel the misconception that Europe’s forests are shrinking. In fact, the region’s forests are providing the vast majority of the raw material for making paper in the region. The amount of trees for making the paper increased by an area the size of Switzerland in the 10 years to 2015.

On the other hand, the print industry had to be careful to avoid “green washing” or exaggerating its own environmental credentials, the conference was warned.

The pulp and paper sector – the major energy consumers along the printing value chain – reduced its CO2 emissions by 22% in 2005-2013. Half its total energy comes from biomass.

“Pulp and paper making is still one of the top five energy consuming industries,” said Porritt. “It faces an enormous challenge in becoming even more energy efficient and further reducing its CO2 emissions.”

In comparison to the digital sector, print, however, does have the advantage of paper being a product with a high level of recycling. At 72%, Europe’s paper recycling rate is the highest in the world.

“If print is to have a safe, secure and sustainable future it ought to strive to form a completely closed loop,” Porritt explained. This would involve recycling all printed paper for reuse, while ensuring it relies on renewable energy with a maximum use of stored, battery-based energy.

While environmental sustainability could ultimately be a bigger challenge for digital than print, digital’s effectiveness as a means of communication could also increasingly be questioned.

It now has the advantage over print of being able to provide advertisements whose impacts on consumers are relatively easy to measure. But this could become more difficult to gauge because of the sheer volumes of data.

“Ninety percent of the data in the world at the moment has been created in the last two years,” said Aldighieri.

The volumes of data on the digital media are becoming so great that they are stretching the limits of the human brain to absorb them.

Because of the volume and speed of disconnected data on digital media, people are not able to process it in a normal way, said Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist who is a senior research fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford University.

“You need to relate facts with other facts in order to turn information into knowledge and that comes from thinking,” she continued. “The big difference between digital and print is that print enables you to think.”

The next few years could provide the print industry with openings, which could help it regain at least some of the ground it has lost to competitors, especially the digital media. n

European Editor Sean Milmo is an Essex, UK-based writer specializing in coverage of the chemical industry.