By Joe Pulizzi published October 20, 2012

7 Reasons to Consider Print for Your ‘Non-Traditional’ Content Strategy

I was on the phone this week talking to a customer about different options in print. He was interested in the discussion because he felt they needed to do more non-traditional marketing.

Just think about that for a second… print is non-traditional marketing. That’s where we are today.  Blogging, social media, web articles… that’s all very traditional. Now, am I saying that brands should be looking at print as an opportunity right now to get and keep attention? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

The Newsweek move

I’m sure you heard the news that Newsweek magazine is ceasing publication in the print format. SmartMoney recently made the same declaration.

When I have conversations with marketers and publishers about these kinds of moves, I always hear the notion that “print is dead.” Well, I’m here to tell you that there has never been a bigger opportunity for brands in the printed channel than right now.

While I would not want to be in the broad-based, horizontal print game (ala USA Today), highly niche, highly targeted publications are flourishing as a marketing tool. For example, thinkMoney magazine from TD Ameritrade sees about 90 percent of its customers take direct action on a product it sells through the print magazine. The magazine is a true collision of amazing design and provocative information. It’s the type of content that is anticipated by its trader audience. And better yet, since traders are in front of computers all day long, they look forward to the opportunity to disconnect and discover.

Even our own Chief Content Officer magazine has a clear competitive advantage in the marketplace because it’s in print. At a recent event (not ours), three marketing executives came up to me and told me how much they enjoy the magazine and can’t wait until the next one arrives (they didn’t mention our daily digital content… they just mentioned print).

Print is not declining anymore

Most prognosticators say that by 2020 most printed media will be gone. I think anyone who makes those types of comments doesn’t understand history. Just type into Google “The Death of TV” and you’ll see hundreds of articles predicting the end of television. One could make the argument that right now is the golden age of television, with amazing shows like Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men and Homeland leading the way.

The evolution of the internet doesn’t kill off these channels… it makes us look at them differently because they are used differently by consumers.

We are releasing our third annual content marketing study next week. Among the findings, the usage of EVERY channel is flat or up. After years of seeing the usage of print magazines on the downside, we saw no change year-over-year. Yes, marketers, for the most part, have stopped fleeing from the print channel.

Of course, content marketing strategy comes first, followed by channel strategy. But as a content marketer, it is our responsibility to look at all available channels to tell our stories.

7 reasons to rethink print

Here are a few reasons why there might be an amazing opportunity in the print channel:

1. It grabs attention: Have you noticed how many fewer magazines and print newsletters you are getting in the mail these days? I don’t know about you, but I definitely pay more attention to my print mail. There’s just less mail, so more attention is paid to each piece. Opportunity? The decisions that magazines like Newsweek are making leave a clear opportunity for content marketers to fill the gap.

2. Its focus on customer retention: Sixty-four percent of B2B marketers create original content for customer retention and loyalty goals  Historically, the reason why custom print magazines and newsletters were developed by brands was for customer retention purposes. In a recent CMI webinar, Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of Annuitas Group, stated that one of the biggest problems marketers have with their content is that they forget to nurture customers AFTER the purchase decision was made (we have a winner!).

3. There are no audience development costs: Publishers expend huge amounts of time and money qualifying subscribers to send out their magazines. Many times, publishers need to invest multiple dollars per subscriber per year for auditing purposes (They send direct mail, they call… they call again… so that the magazine can say that their subscribers have requested the magazine. This is true for controlled [free] trade magazines).

So, let’s say, a publisher’s cost-per-subscriber per year is $2 and their distribution is 100,000. That’s $200,000 per year for audience development.

That’s a cost that marketers don’t have to worry about. If marketers want to distribute a magazine to their customers, they just use their customer mailing list. That’s a big advantage.

4. What’s old is new again: Social media, online content and iPad applications are all part of the marketing mix today. Still, what excites marketers and media buyers is what IS NOT being done (can you say non-traditional?). They want to do something different… something new. It’s hard to believe, but the print channel is new again and is seeing a rebirth. Could we possibly be seeing a golden age in print, like we are seeing in television?

5. Customers still need to know what questions to ask: We love the internet because buyers can find answers to almost anything. But where do we go to think about what questions we should be asking? I talked to a publisher recently who said this:

The web is where we go to get answers but print is where we go to ask questions.”

The print vehicle is still the best medium on the planet for thinking outside the box and asking yourself tough questions based on what you read — it’s lean back versus lean forward. If you want to challenge your customers (like Harvard Business Review does), print is a viable option.

6. Print still excites people: I talked to a journalist recently who said it’s harder and harder to get people to agree to an interview for an online story. But mention that it will be a printed feature and executives rearrange their schedule. The printed word is still perceived as more credible to many people than anything on the web. It goes to the old adage, “If someone invested enough to print and mail it, it must be important.”

We’ve seen this firsthand with CCO magazine. Contributors love being featured on the CMI website, but they crave having their article in the printed magazine. It’s amazing how different the perception is of the print versus online channel when it comes to editorial contribution.

7. Print lets people unplug: More and more, people are actively choosing to unplug, or disconnect themselves from digital media. I’m finding myself turning off my phone and email more to engage with printed material. A year ago I didn’t see this coming.  Today, I relish the opportunities when I can’t be reached for comment.

For example, our entire family does “electronics-free Saturday.” This means no computer, no iPhone, no Xbox, no email, no Facebook. We’ve been doing this since January, and although it’s been difficult, it’s been an amazing experience for our family.  Just two weeks ago, all four of us were sitting in the family room reading books and magazines. We’ve also done much more together, as a family.

If I’m right, many of your customers (especially busy executives) are feeling the same way. Your print communication may be just what they need.

Online content marketing is definitely here to stay. So say “yes” to social media, apps, and the rest of it. But don’t forget that print can still play an important role in your overall content marketing mix.

Looking for more ways to maximize the impact of your print content? Get practical insights, advice, and answers in our 2018 Guide to Essential Content Marketing Tactics.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Helder Dantas

    Hi Joe,

    Magazines are indeed one of my favourite forms of content. For the foreseeable future, though, digital will always have attributes that print lacks: immediacy and accessibility.

    It’s all very well to have access to the digital edition of CCO, but as you will agree, it would be much better to browse the content with the magazine in my hands. Something a non-US resident will have difficulty in experiencing.

    Having worked on a magazine with numerous international editions, I know the many trials and tribulations (and massive costs) of publishing across various continents, in different languages. With digital, it all becomes much easier, more available and scalable to different financial and social realities. That is why I think magazines will become the exception to the rule when it comes to content marketing. As you rightly point out, a magazine is special because it’s content seems more credible and exciting, and people will want to be associated with it.

    Regrettably, though, I think that the many advances in mobile, social and location-based marketing will change the nature of magazines. The growing tendency for niche printed content, like a magazine specifically aimed at content marketers, is a direct result of why content works: when it’s done right, every single page should be relevant to the audience it’s trying to reach.

    A decade ago, I would be reading an average of 7-8 monthly magazines, and one or two weeklies. Now, given my constant connectivity to digital content in all its forms, I’m lucky if I can make time to read Wired, Monocle and Little White Lies from cover to cover. Sign of the times? Or am I starting to be part of the Millennial Generation that would only be caught reading a magazine if their smartphone is not to hand?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Helder…great comment. I agree that the consumer is interacting with print differently…not sure how it ultimately will change things, but I agree that there is indeed a place for it. Just like radio and TV…they didn’t go away, they just evolved. Print is there right now.

  • Colleen Swain

    amazing to me that print marketing is thought of as “non-traditional.” And if it did indeed “die”
    away, where would we be if some catastrophe blacked out our power (think

    J.J.Abrams’ TV show ‘Revolution’) and we couldn’t plug in to read our digital news
    or e-books? Can you imagine that? It’s amazing that we even have to defend
    print. Things do balance out. Things do come full circle. What’s old is new
    again. All clichéd, I know, but it’s true. At least we have the option to “unplug” and we can read a print book
    or magazine instead of scanning a digital screen, even if it’s just on one
    “electronics-free” day.Thanks for defending print.

  • Kerim El Gabaili

    HI Joe

    I believe that print will be a premium channel used only for premium products and high quality clients. To this very day our clients are getting a better response rates using print even when directing them online, its the cost of print that is holding print back not even the the immediacy because immediacy becomes irrelevant when there is low or no engagement.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Kerim…I believe you are right about the premium aspect of print. I guess we’ll just have to see.

      • NenadSenic

        Well, I’m not sure I agree with you too. Cases in Europe show that although digital is rising, print is still sought after by consumers. B2B and custom magazines are still on the rise, despite what’s happening to newsstand print. Well, let’s wait and see? 🙂

  • Paul Keers

    Two further reasons you may not have considered:

    Print lends credibility. It’s very easy for companies to put forward a professional face online; a website gives no true picture of a company’s stature. A tangible, physical publication often reassures customers about the presence and permanence of a company – think both catalogues and annual reports.

    And print is fashionable. In London, trendy outlets will often sell a small, selected range of cult magazines, to show that they are in touch. (It used to be club flyers once upon a time; now it’s magazines.) Produce a well-designed niche magazine, and many of these outlets will stock it, providing cool brand association with the outlet itself.

  • magalogguy

    My work as a direct market designer is 90% print, so I know it’s not dead. But it is interesting to hear from new clients/prospects why they’re going the print route.

    One company that called me was targeting both lawyers and plastic surgeons. (Yeah… kind of a strange combo.)

    The reason print was being used was because they knew that their ideal target was not sitting online at the end of a busy day looking for a service they didn’t even know existed.

    The answer was to send a magazine/magalog that would introduce them to the service, and then lead them to the website for more info, videos, etc. They stood a far better chance of their prospects seeing the print piece than the prospects accidentally stumbling across them one day in the future.

    Paul also mentioned something that I see in the niches I work with… print still has more credibility for a certain segment of the population: seniors. Yes, many seniors are now online, but many also still perceive print as more legitimate. It’s what they grew up with even though they realize scams happen in print, too.

    Print isn’t for everyone or for every situation, but it’s far from dead.

    • NenadSenic

      Indeed. But print isn’t rejected by teens either, not yet, no matter what some would like to make us believe. I think in the UK there was research that shows that kids and teens like print too if its content is relevant to them and if it’s for free. Sounds familiar, right?

  • osbennn

    Come on, Joe. We’re supposed to be measuring media buy ROI using conversion metrics nowadays, aren’t we?

    Print is for sure awesome for the reasons you listed, and I’ve always been a fan of holding actual paper with ink on it, but you can’t click on it.

    Brand awareness can be bought via print, but clickthroughs not as much. QR codes can help, and they’re finally being used more and more, but they’re still not used enough to justify thinking of print media as offering more potential yield for marketers than digital media.

    • NenadSenic

      Osbennn, print has been solving this problem lately too, with augmented reality for example. Plus, retails can add coupons (which has been really effective too, check out Uk and Swiss retail magazines), you can add a special phone number to follow how many consumers act based on the magazine, etc.

      • osbennn

        For sure there’s a lot that we can do to track conversions based on print exposure. But it’s a medium best employed for image branding goals, with metrics like QR code use, coupon redemptions and phone responses representing a fraction of the impact of the media buy.

        With clickable media, on the other hand, media buyers have the option of paying for the placement according to the number of people who heeded the ad’s call to action, which means it’s built for higher ROI.

        There’s been grumbling in the industry about switching print placement pricing models to “pay per conversion,” but I don’t know of any big publications doing it. I would love to see some gutsy moves along these lines, and maybe the Newsweek news will inspire some. But overall, I think print buys are better employed exclusively for soft branding and building awareness, with harder goals like lead capturing or ecommerce sales best reached via placements that are made for clickthroughs.

  • Giraffe

    I’ll add in 3 more reasons to round it out to 10

    Print has beauty from design and flow: The web has become a jumbled mess of eye straining, jump from this to that, read here, share with you, like me, twits and clicks. I see the tremendous value of the web and its relevance. And, yes, there are sites that are incredible works of art, form and function but it is not the norm as you see in this very page. Why, because the web is opened up to everyone to creating content. That is a good thing. However, ink on paper with stunning visual and organized content, designed by a skilled and gifted eye, provides visual thinking and comprehension that is missing from the web. I know Joe would agree that if you took the same ‘content’ on this page and printed it on a page it would have more communicative impact.

    Print ROI vs. Web ROI: There are two opinions to ROI measurement, the CQO (Chief Qualitative Opinion or your CQO (Chief Quantitative Opinion). The first CQO is less revered. Why? I guess it all makes sense from the bean counter’s perspective. But when was the last time anyone was inspired by an accountant. It is within my inner being, my Qi, my DNA that the first CQO is more valuable! Until everyone from the second CQO get’s it, we are screwed.

    The last reason is similar to “What’s old is new again”: I’ve never stopped using print. I just added to it. Clients like that! Whatever your definition, ‘Content Marketing’ is and forever will be about communication. Communication will never die.

  • Michael Assad

    This article is so good that I want to print it out and mail it to our customers 🙂

  • Elaine Fogel

    Yay! I couldn’t agree more and have been touting the benefits of print since digital marketing took over.
    3 Reasons Why Print Isn’t Dead:

  • Suzanne Townsend

    A few years ago I predicted that the printed, snail-mail-delivered letter, and the handwritten letter (versus a letter churned out with variable data printing) would be the differentiating factor in a successful direct mail campaign. Looks like it’s already trending that way!

  • Esther Goh

    Point 6 is astonishingly true. I was dealing with a PR rep recently
    about a product giveaway who was set on getting it into our print
    edition. I explained that very few people actually ever enter
    competitions in the magazine, but dozens and dozens, on the other hand,
    enter online giveaways. She wasn’t convinced. There’s a certain
    perception of prestige/exclusivity – suppose it’s the scarcity factor at

  • RTC

    Print won’t go away, digital is just another new channel making things more complicated and more interesting. It’s cool to browse the www, still it is cool to feel, smell and read paper after 10hours work behind a monitor!

  • Ruth Gray

    How fascinating it is that print has so quickly gone from being the traditional method of marketing to something of a novelty which, though effective, is not the most common means of marketing anymore. I guess fads are just like that, so easily changed and discarded. For those curious on the future of print, here is a good article.

  • Steve Scherzer

    I do not feel that it is the golden age of TV. Programs are content and that content is being consumed incredibly different that it ever has been. Audiences have access to more content with less commercial interruptions due to streaming ad DVR services. A combined adoption rate of over 55%. If you market on TV, you not only face the problem of selecting the right stations and programs, you now face over half of an audience ignoring your message. I do agree that relevance is everything an that print in a focused interest or field is dramatically more valuable to a marketer than broad publication. The only problem with that view is that the time spent with print is dropping. That means level of engagement subsquently drops. That it due to increased productivity that smart phone bring into the mix. As a professional I do not have the time or the space in my pocket to haul around a lot of things, especial magazines. When i do engage them would be while waiting in a lobby and looking at what is one the coffee table. The only unfortunate thing is that magazines do not parallel a life on the go. A life which most americans endure daily. Especially ones of the professional world.