Why We Are Having The Print and E Debate

Pat McGrew

We've been asking the questions "Is Print Dead?" for the last couple of months. It started as a conversation about digital first strategies and some of the ways we've seen print disappear. It turned into an idea for how to foster smart conversation about the power of print, but also the power of digital communication and picking the right channel for the conversations. The amazing thing about our title is that we've been able to draw people into conversations that focus on print advocacy, discussions that promote digital first, and dialogs with people who are firmly committed to making decisions based on their current needs. And through all of the conversations, there are the people who tell us that Print is not dead but growing in new directions. And those directions open opportunities to link print and digital, enabling even more types of conversations.

There is a divide among us on the value of print. For some of us, it holds the power to communicate, while for others it is the medium of the past. It depends on who you are talking to, and if you are referring to bills and statements, marketing mail, educational content, or even signs and displays. There seems to be more heat in the debate about transactional documents and if all bills and statements should be banished to bits and delivered to phones and tablets and personal computers. Educators have been in deep debate for years about when to use printed books, when to create customized books, and when to put content online or on tablets. There is growing debate in the world of sign and display. The rise of digital displays of all sizes sees some of the traditional wide format printing replaced by giant LED panels manned by programmers. If you are in the marketing business you look at marketing budgets and communication requirements to see how to meet your brief most effectively: sometimes that is in print and sometimes it is not.

In all of these aspects of communication and many more, there is always an opportunity for both print and digital delivery. In many cases using print in concert with digital enhancement (QR codes, bar codes, Augmented Reality), digital communication over the web, or mobile communication via apps, is the basis of the most effective communication plan. And that is true whether it is a bill, a statement, a book, a marketing offer,  or a book designed to educate.

If we've learned anything in the last decade it is that people are different. Some people learn aurally, others visually, and still others through reading. Not every millennial wants everything on their phone, and not every senior wants everything on paper. That leaves us looking for guidelines on how to pick communication options when budgets are tight and the option to communicate in every channel is financially blocked.

Pick Print First When...

Print when the law requires print. This may seem like it doesn't need to be said, but at this moment there are many documents that must be printed for delivery, confounding people who want to live paper-free. Many financial transactions and legal interactions require print today, though some of this is changing. Know your legal requirements before you start making decisions that could pose business problems down the road.

Print when your customer tells you they want you to communicate in print. And once they have specified print, respect that option.

Print when you are building omni-channel campaigns that touch the web and mobile. Enhance those campaigns with signs, displays, catalogs, coupons, and point-of-sale collateral. The point here is to not forget the myriad options for print. It's not just a letter or A-4 size piece of paper with some ink or toner; print has many personalities.

Pick Digital First When...

Use mobile and web-based communication when it provides the best customer experience. Online applications, real-time notifications, location-based communication, near-field communication alerts, and a host of other communication options are made for digital first communication plans.

Offer options to interact in print, like offers to send a print catalog or printed coupons. You can create a cycle of communication by using digital to drive to print to drive back to digital. 

Use online communications to create immersive experiences, linking video, music, lectures, and instruction. But remember that there are consumers who do not have access to the internet or smartphones, so your best way to reach them will be in print.

We will be exploring print, mobile and online communications because we want to know if Print as we know it is dead, or if, like Mark Twain, rumors of its death are premature. Talk to us on Twitter at @IsPrintDead2018 and use the hashtag #IsPrintDead to share your thoughts.