Integrated Marketing: Print vs. Digital? Yes!


Business People Working on an Office Deskby Sean Carton, Chief Strategist, idfive, Baltimore

Sean Carton will be a SuperStar presenter at the big LERN annual conference in Baltimore, speaking on Integrated Marketing.  He is Chief Strategist for idfive, a company that works with colleges and universities on integrated marketing.  The website is www.idfive.com

One of the most common questions I get from my education clients is “should we use print or digital to reach our targets?” My answer is almost always the same.


Now, I’m not trying to be flippant, but the whole “print vs. digital” thing really doesn’t have much relevance anymore.  According to the most recent numbers available from the Pew Research Center (www.pewinternet.org), almost 90% of American adults use the Internet. If you’re talking teens the numbers are – surprise! – much higher, with fully 95% reporting regular Internet usage. Who’s not using the Internet on a regular basis? According to Pew, most of them are over 65, have no high school diploma, make less than $30,000 per year, and tend to live in rural locations.

In other words, unless you’re trying to reach low-income older adults living on or near farms, the whole “well, our audiences don’t use the Internet” argument is long over.

So all this means you should use digital, right? Not so fast! While the raw numbers may tempt you to go all out on a digital strategy, the medium you’re using to communicate is only half of the equation. The other half revolves around what you’re trying to accomplish.

One major lesson that we can learn from the companies that have been successful online over the past couple of decades is that the companies that thrive online are those whose business could only exist online. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBbay…there’s no “real world” equivalent to their businesses that could match them in scale, functionality, and reach. Amazon’s much more than a “bookstore.” Google couldn’t be anything other than what it is. Facebook without the Internet? Not possible. Twitter? Wouldn’t make any sense in any other medium. And eBay? There’s a big difference between a local auction barn and a global marketplace hosting over 150 million active users.

A key element to the success of these companies is that they leverage what the Internet does best. Global reach. Instantaneous communication. Interactivity. Multimedia. Information processing via always-on servers. They didn’t try to re-create existing “real world” businesses…they used the new capabilities offered by the Internet to create truly new businesses.

When deciding what medium to use to reach out to your customers and prospects, you’re faced with the same decisions. And when you get to those decision points, you need to ask yourself one simple question: what medium has the characteristics that best fit what I’m trying to accomplish?

Digital is good for reaching lots of people quickly and cheaply in order to drive response. It’s good for creating interactive experiences that can immerse a prospect in your brand and engage with them. Digital’s great for connecting with people and engaging them in conversation through technologies such as social media. It’s also wonderful for engaging with them during the buying decision process (that’s the secret of paid search advertising). Digital’s also pretty great when it comes to sending out updates in real-time via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. If you want fast, cheap, flexible, two-way communication, digital’s the way to go.

Print, on the other hand, isn’t fast. Compared to digital it isn’t cheap, either if consider the cost of sending a piece of communication per person. Print’s not all that flexible: once something’s been printed, it’s printed and there’s no changing it. And print isn’t particularly good at facilitating ongoing conversations with customers and prospects.

So what’s print good for? Simply put, it’s good for what digital’s bad at, primarily engaging with your audiences at an emotional level. Emails and tweets and online ads are ephemeral, insubstantial, and, when compared to decent print, fairly lo-fi. Print, on the other hand, is something you can hold in your hand. It’s something that makes your audiences feel when they handle it (literally and figuratively). A great print piece evokes an emotional response that the Web just can’t match. After all, when’s the last time a website made your cry?

The secret to integrated marketing in the digital age has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, understanding the characteristics of the media at your disposal, and understanding how to match the message to the medium. There’s no one right answer to the “print (or broadcast or outdoor) vs. digital” question except “yes.”

Sean Carton’s session on Integrated Marketing will be on Thursday, Nov. 17, from 11:20 a.m. – 12:10 p.m.

Click here for more information on the 2016 LERN Annual Conference or to register. 

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