Make Print Great Again
Without even consulting the neighborhood psychic or reading the tea leaves, one thing that appears certain is that the election of Donald Trump will make 2017 an unpredictable year.
Before you judge this post as political commentary in support of (or against) Mr. Trump, it’s not.
Trump’s impact on our country, economy, and way of life is, on the whole, up to anyone’s conjecture; but for those of us who profit from paper and print, I argue it demands your thoughtful attention because:
1. Trump’s election stunned mainstream media and pundits (including the author, although I am neither) who were pessimistic about his chances of election and circumspect of his motivations.
I am not old enough to remember much of prior presidents before Clinton (or enough of a historian) to know if the discombobulation we see now is unprecedented. Let me know in the comments: Have we been through something like this before?
Where the Trump Administration leads us is anyone’s guess.
2. Trump is a fighter. Nothing (and no one) is safe from Twitter missiles.
Our new POTUS (President of the Tweeting United States?) picks daily fights on his social media accounts, and I doubt that habits like this will change after he enters the Oval:
Toyota Motor said will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S. NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2017
These unpredictable fights and slights may leave some business owners confused (I am), uncertain about the impact of 140-character governance on the market and their sales. This type of from-the-gut communication may have a negative impact on the economy until it is evident how Congress (or the world) pushes back.
While I have faith in American jurisprudence and government as a counter-balance to anything wacky, Mr. Trump’s actions seem without precedent. Their long-term impact is unknown.
What Does the Data Suggest?
Even within this uncertainty, however, some things remain true about the business of print. Like you, our livelihood depends on it; for the sake of putting bread on the table, we must think deeply about this entering 2017.
Consider the results of recent research conducted by WhatTheyThink in their report titled “Printing Forecast 2017.”
1. 44% of print companies say that “economic conditions” tops the list of business challenges.
Why? Even though the economy is not that bad, it seems that amongst printers, this is a relatively persistent concern. In other words, when the economy is good, folks worry about it getting bad. When it is bad, people are worried and hope it will get better.
However, what if print companies are assigning blame to the wrong thing? (Maybe it’s not the economy, stupid.)
Let’s assume that being concerned about “economic conditions” means that printers are worried sales will (continue) to fall — or at best, be unpredictable. If you agree that the economy is not all that bad, then assigning laggard print sales to the economy is, perhaps, only a result of shifting media spend away from print towards digital (like Facebook). Take a look at spending on digital media:
Looks up and to the right to me.
The chart above shows that U.S. advertisers invested $17.6 billion in digital advertising in the third quarter of 2016, according to the latest IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report released 2 weeks ago by IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau). According to their data, this marked the highest third quarter for digital advertising spending on record, and represents a 20 percent increase over the same time period in 2015.
2. Printers (might) already know the answer to unpredictable sales, but may not yet realize it.
Follow me for a moment. When print businesses are asked about their best business opportunities in the next 12 months, here’s what they say:
It makes sense that “improving economic conditions” is at the top of the list at 30% given their top concern is the economy (although “customized, personalized, or variable-data printing jobs” is tied at 30%).
Only slightly below, at 27%, is “helping customers integrate print and non-print marketing campaigns.”
Hold up. Might this mean that printers realize that while the demand for print is going down, the demand for non-print marketing media is going up? When they learn to help customers integrate the best of both, there is an opportunity to remain relevant and make print an important part of a marketer’s arsenal.
Looking for an example of what it means to integrate print and non-print campaigns? Learn how to use Facebook in conjunction with Direct Mail in this guide. Download now.
What’s odd is that only around 5% selected Marketing Automation — one excellent way of weaving together print and non-print — as the biggest opportunity in 2017. You’ll notice it is listed twice as both a mechanism for their own lead gen, as well as an offering to Clients.
Why is it so low on the list? Maybe there’s still confusion about the term (and we, at MindFire, could be part of the problem).
Consider how many times you have heard words like cross-media, Personalized URLs (PURLS), marketing automation, multi-channel (just to name a few) and how often they are used interchangeably as quasi-synonyms.
Maybe it’s time to clean up our vernacular.
Putting aside the uncertainty and things that are out of our control, what can we do to Make Print Great Again? Let’s look at three trends in the print market that each provide ample opportunity for profit.
If we acknowledge that print has changed, then the halcyon days of the traditional printing business are behind us.
The companies of yesterday have evolved into (or been replaced by) firms that are increasingly reliant on technology and specialized by industry (higher education, automotive, financial services, and so on).
More and more, we these firms understand that print provides numerous opportunities to earn a living when incorporated into multichannel projects.
If you are in sales, you can make print great again by being creative, proactive, and willing to embrace new technology and ways of thinking to restructure the value you provide your Clients.
If you are in ownership or leadership, you may need to regain your entrepreneurial instincts or be willing to give autonomy to team members that seem just a bit crazy.
What’s crazy? You know, the ones who are asking for strange things like “IP Targeting” or “Email Custom Audience” budgets to support direct mail. If those words sound like Greek, pay attention: They might be coming from the people who will propel you towards the new and compelling ideas your Clients need.
If the economy continues to improve — and there is a Trump bounce in the markets — then it is likely that the purchase and use of electronic channels and media will continue to displace print.
If that is true, then increased spending on these channels means an ever-increasing volume and clutter for consumers (look at your inbox), yet the job of a marketer remains the same: reach and engage the right kinds of people, at scale.
You know this, nothing new there.
However, consider: There’s a whole new generation of up-and-coming marketers (born, say, before 1990) who hardly — if at all — see print as a viable alternative to electronic channels.
Often, it does not even cross their mind. Enter you, to the rescue. Your opportunity to Make Print Great Again.
Need ammo to convince that pesky Millennial? The Direct Marketing Association recently reported that the response rate of direct mail surpasses that of all digital channels by a significant margin. Get the data here.
On the other hand, what happens if Trump causes (more) fear of electronic channels?
From a man who rarely uses a computer or email (although his use of Twitter leads to me think he avoids email to eliminate leaving evidence breadcrumbs), it is possible that his fears stoke those of the populace, too.
If this happens, we could see print becoming a more and more sought-after replacement for electronic communication like email. It would be pretty hard for those Russians (or was it the 400-pound guy in his bedroom?) to remotely hack your mailbox.
Print, again, will come to the rescue.
Even without Trump stirring up fears of electronic communication hacking, it is easy to see evidence that email has become increasingly difficult to use for lead gen.
Compare the amount of Direct Mail that makes it to your desk on a daily basis (I get maybe 1 or 2 a day, max.) to the number of emails in your inbox, and it is easy to make a case for print’s ability to regain a position of prominence.
It is for these reasons that while it is anyone’s guess what 2017 may bring, one thing is for sure: Print, although having evolved, is here to stay. It’s far from dead.
If anything, it’s time to Make Print Great Again.
Who’s with me?
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