A woman in a purple top is operating a long black and grey Canon professional grade printer. Behind the machine are racks with cardboard boxes on them.

To make print work, it pays to talk

The pressure is on. As a marketer, you know this and feel it keenly. It’s not new, but what is new is the environment in which you’re working. Your campaigns are under pressure to perform like never before, you have to win new customers, retain existing and differentiate from the competition. But your budget, which has been tightening for a while, might be actively shrinking. And among these unwelcome challenges sits an uncomfortable truth: the more online we are, the less welcome digital advertising becomes.

“We were already spending a lot of time on screen, but in the last year, where vast numbers of people are now working from home, digital communications have seen an increasing lack of effectiveness.” Mathew Faulkner, Head of Marketing for Canon Europe's Professional Print business has every sympathy for frustrated marketers, who need fast results in a world that is becoming increasingly ‘digitally fatigued’. Canon’s latest Insight report, a respected indicator of what’s happening in the world of professional print, tells a story of frustrated marketers who are looking to print to fill the breach, with 86% saying they would welcome advice on combining print with the digital elements.

But why has it taken until now to reach this point? It’s a combination of reasons. “There’s a perception that because print is actually making something that it’s slow,” explains Mathew. “And that it has limitations in terms of varying messaging – variable data – and targeted personalisation. Then when we send print out into the world, how do we measure it?” Mathew is keen that Print Service Providers (PSPs) address these misconceptions, taking every opportunity to show marketers what print is capable of in an integrated campaign.

The body and arms of two blue-shirted people at a desk. In front of them are colour swatches, paperwork, pencils, some reading glasses and a desktop computer. One holds a document and the other points at something on the document.
“Brands and marketers are crying out for advice and support.” Mathew recommends reaching out to your Print Service Provider and making the most of their knowledge and experience.

Print pulls the trigger, but…

Some of the frustrations that Mathew often hears are down to something called ‘last click attribution’ – the practice of measuring the success of a campaign by the final interaction prior to the sale. He cites an example of the customer who looks up and sees a poster on a bus, advertising a pair of trainers that he likes the look of. He searches for the product online and signs up for a newsletter. Later that day, he receives an email about the trainers, which sits unopened in his inbox. The following day he discovers a direct mail on his doormat – with an offer from the retailer. He returns to the email and clicks through to the website to buy the shoes.

It’s quite the journey. The customer has been exposed to a classically integrated campaign of OOH (Out-of-home advertising), email and direct mail, but in many cases, the success of the campaign would be attributed to just one communication – the email. From a measurement perspective, this is problematic in the long term. “You have to measure the journey, not just the final action,” stresses Mathew. “Otherwise, it’s a false metric that drives future campaign spend in the wrong direction. You may invest more in emails, and get disappointing results because, without the other elements, they don’t work as effectively.” Ultimately, marketers can find themselves in a downward spiral of flawed campaigns, based on inaccurate metrics. “We encourage the measurement of a whole integrated campaign, so you can see and learn about the preferences of your customers, what content they interact with, and how that works. That can be done as easily with print as digital communications.”

What’s the worst that can happen? A marketer makes gains, and a PSP shows interest in their customer

Responsive, personal and measurable

“A third of marketing spend is still directed at print,” Mathew points out. “In that sense it’s a bedrock of the marketing mix, but pressures over time have meant that many PSPs haven’t been able to adapt to the language of digital enough and key messages about what print can achieve have been lost.” The Insight report certainly backs this up, with 80% of brands reporting that they are looking to their print providers for fresh and innovative ideas to cut through to their target audiences, but fewer than 20% of PSPs providing them proactively.

Widely, marketers need to learn what print is capable of. It can be fast, programmatic, act as a trigger for digital activity, and contain highly measurable elements. Mathew gives a powerful example of print in action, using a piece of direct mail for a new car. “Augmented Reality or QR codes on direct mail are a great way to connect the physical with digital. Both drive interaction with the brand by letting the customer see a moving image of the car, but at the same time takes them through an experience that tells the brand even more them.” Following the customer and using this journey to trigger the next interaction could result in a phone call or email. Or perhaps a brochure on their favoured model and options, accompanied by an exclusive offer of an early test drive. This targeted, measurable engagement can all pan out in just 24 hours with great levels of automation on the part of the PSP. Effective? Absolutely. Slow? Absolutely not.

The ‘abandoned basket’, where a shopper fails to complete a purchase, is also a classic scenario where direct mail can drive levels of communication between buyer and brand, as well as building a picture of the customer over time. Overnight, product samples and offers can be dispatched, encouraging the customer to complete their purchase. Equally, different approaches can be A/B tested, using personalised QR codes, unique to the individual or even location, to build up that essential consumer picture.

The communications irony

The outcome, that the report strongly stresses, is that communications professionals aren’t talking. Marketers are stretched and don’t have time to reach out for support, and if they do then their PSPs aren’t the first port of call. Equally, PSPs are bogged down with high levels of time-consuming short runs. This leaves them unable to analyse the campaigns they are supporting and offer more cost-effective or creatively impactful alternatives. However, this much is true: brands are loyal to their printers. Yet only one in seven says they’re getting the kind of service they would like. “Brands and marketers are crying out for advice and support – and particularly to look towards their PSPs as consultants on how and where to use print innovatively and effectively,” says Mathew. “Printers have all this expertise, knowledge, creativity and passion. They need to be proactive in talking to their customers about it.” Marketers too, must keep in mind that their PSP can offer advice and support – consider it a value-add consultancy service. Printers are well-placed to make an independent assessment of campaign creative, for example. So many great ideas pass through their doors, that it almost seems wasteful not to tap that knowledge base. “That’s why it’s important to step back and recognise the opportunity this presents” urges Mathew. “After all, what’s the worst that can happen? A marketer makes gains, and a PSP shows interest in their customer.”

'Creating Customer Value' is filled with valuable insights from our latest EMEA market research and offers PSPs practical opportunities to promote print to existing customers and prospects.

Written by Caz Nicholls

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