The Role of Print in an Omni-Channel World

There are lots of innovations in the world of print at the moment. There is a great deal of excitement about 3D printing and augmented reality, some of which is capturing consumer and media attention and bringing some positive PR into the sector. As difficult as it is to contemplate investment in new opportunities during these difficult times, it may well prove to be the right time.

Omni-channel
More than 60% of consumers who interact with brands do so through multiple channels, which means that marketers have to be consistent, but channel-relevant, with brand and shopping experiences. This diversity demands that marketers map specific consumers’ purchase journeys, integrate marketing teams from different channels, and harmonise data repositories to deliver a superior and consistent experience, online and offline.

If you really want to see how the world is changing, go shopping with someone in their mid-20s and watch how the experience is very different from the linear purchasing we are used to, either in-store or on-line. Everything is mobile driven; the whole experience is done with phone in hand and is interactive. Research and price comparison, and offer checking, is done on the hoof, there is always an element of finding the best deal, and getting any purchase ratified by friends, and sometimes not friends.

While these innovations are exciting and leading to a convergence of channels, towards an Omni-channel presence for retail brands, it is still not that personal. The next step is to use preferences to tailor content for individuals and provide a more personal experience both in-store and online.

The Future of Print
So what role is there for Print/Direct Mail in this technology driven age? Often, marketers treat marketing as a series of individual channels rather than composing those channels into a unified whole that guides customers from discovery to purchase and beyond. As customers’ behaviours have evolved, the line between traditional and digital channels has become meaningless: both old and new channels feature heavily at every stage of the customer life cycle.

The future of marketing is one in which all media are considered at the right time, and printed media are a key part of this mix. There have been many studies that show that combining media, including printed media, creates a much more effective communication vehicle than just one media on its own – Direct Mail combined with online and donations through text message has created a huge impact, particularly in the charity sector.

According to recent research from Royal Mail and fast. MAP, the generation most likely to open and read direct mail is those aged 18-24. So, while they don’t get much mail, they engage with it when they do, but it needs to be relevant, personal and exciting to drive the customer to engage through other channels. This generation is often lost in Direct Mail campaigns, but the influence of mail, coupled with other media can be very effective.

In-store printed Point of Sale (POS) needs to be coupled with digital engagement via mobile phones and possibly digital displays to provide a personalised in-store experience. We see this as evolved QR codes, embedded in the product linked to personal customer information that provides something unique; an offer, competition or maybe something fun. The key is that the printed material and the data combined create an interactive experience.

For magazines and newspapers, the model is changing and will continue to change; printed copies will continue to decline but will not disappear completely. However, by buying the physical copy, the customer will get access to the digital version for free. It therefore comes back to choice – what the consumer wants, where they want it. Convenience will ultimately result in higher consumption.  Advertising needs to span both, on the page but also online, joined up and personal. The question for advertisers is how to lift what is on the page to make it relevant to the individual.

Summary
There is a future for print, possibly not as a standalone product, but rather as part of the mix of ways a brand can deliver content to an individual. Direct Mail is, and will continue to be, a hugely impactful medium to carry content and marketing messages, and the challenge is to ensure its relevance and efficient delivery.

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