“The Letter Box Is Less Competitive Than The Email Inbox”: Should Print Marketing Make A Come-Back In 2014?

Throughout 2012 and 2013, the conversation has been focused on the decisive shift away from old-hat, bland, impersonal print marketing to direct, shiny-new, exciting online content marketing. Marketers, bloggers and business owners have flat-out rejected all the once-beloved mediums of TV advertising, billboards, ads in newspapers and magazines and postal marketing campaigns.

“It’s not targeted enough,” they say, “It’s intrusive,” they cry, “It’s ineffective and un-evolved: people are too sophisticated for such a rudimentary attempt to get the word out.”

Now, however, some marketers are starting to re-think the prematurely-announced death of print marketing, with Uslan Cevet, Digital Manager at Axon stipulating firmly, “Print is not dead!” and arguing, “Consumers clearly still enjoy the physicality of print.”

To an extent, this is true

The proclaimed death of mass-marketing campaigns has, admittedly, been music to the ears of small business owners. Social media is free; it provides direct access to the lives of your target audience; it allows business owners to generate genuine interest in what they have to say about what they do; it starts a conversation.

Online marketing also provides nice, measurable results and statistics, allowing marketers to see what works and what doesn’t, what drives engagement and where people converted throughout their journey on your site, your email or your social media channels.

In a way that mass-marketing could never achieve, social media and online communication channels foster conversation between brands and their audiences. It is two-way marketing.

But why does this render all other marketing methods obsolete?

Without question, the way we market to our audience and the expectations of our audiences have evolved. But in the same way, TV couldn’t kill radio as the world predicted in the twentieth century. Songs like the 1979 hit, Video Killed The Radio Star predicted the obsolescence of the traditional, image-less medium.

But TV didn’t kill radio, because they are different. When at first we started to be able to see as well as hear commercials for big brands on our TV screens, they didn’t amount to much more than newsreaders behind desks. People hadn’t yet cottoned on that the secret to TV advertising was visual. It wasn’t about hearing the message any more, it was about seeing it.

In the same way, we are experiencing the new world of online advertising. The new online arena presents itself as a vast opportunity to marketers to reach large amounts of people, sharing particular interests. And we treat it just like TV but online. Big, flashy, visual banner ads dominated the 90s, but with social media we seem to be learning that the secret to success online is conversation.

Social media wouldn’t hurt a fly

Online marketing hasn’t killed TV in the same way that it hasn’t killed print and postal marketing campaigns.

Go to any Freshers event at a university and you will be bombarded with leaflets, newsletters and flyers, all brightly coloured, and containing new and exciting information for their audience. They advertise big nights at clubs, bars and restaurants, promising a pound off all drinks with this leaflet before midnight or a free drink with your meal when you remember the coupon.

These coupons are targeted directly at the young people who have grown up on the internet, glued to their smartphones and tweeting about the Freshers Fare as they make their way around the stalls. Yet the owners of these clubs, restaurants and take-aways know that their mass-marketed efforts in print are a worth-while investment.

When it comes to the letter box, the goal posts may have moved around – people expect something more from you than just your name and slogan. They want discounts, benefits and information. Make it worthwhile, and there’s no reason why a dip back in the paper pool shouldn’t yield a worth-while return on your investment.

Recapture their attention

We’ve come up with a few ideas for you to get the ball rolling. The aim of any marketing campaign is to capture attention and to get people to remember your name.

Receiving post has become a novelty. People like to receive things in the post, especially when it’s not just another bill. Flyers often appear spammy and people will throw them away. But if you create something that looks valuable and interesting, you will be more likely to engage your audience.

When it comes to direct (online) marketing, you’re pushing people through a conversion funnel, in the hope of generating sales leads later on. Indirect marketing, however, focuses on building brand and long-term recognition and resonance with your target audience.

What could you produce to capture attention?

Print a physical newsletter or magazine

The thing is about magazines is that they have a fabulous longevity that no email can claim. They lie around the house, in the car, on the desk at work for a month, until the next edition comes out. Offer your clients a subscription and advertise it to prospective customers on your website. Think of it as an offline blog, containing articles of interest to your audience. Make them want to receive next month’s edition.

Invitations to events

Instead of sending e-vites to your guests (perhaps they’re clients, customers, or you’ve never done business with them before but hope to draw them in with your fabulous event), send out printed invitations. It can’t be deleted and it feels more personal and exclusive. People like to receive things in the post and an invitation to an event makes people feel important and valued.


Much like a magazine, catalogues lie around for ages. Create a visually pleasing catalogue of the best of what you sell. Inform your audience of offers and sales. Offer opinions and insights to trends in your industry. If it looks interesting, people are more likely to flip through and if it is interesting, they’re more likely to read it.

However, postal marketing will never be King of the Castle again

It’s all part of an overarching strategy. It is unlikely that you will be able to base an entire marketing strategy around postal marketing in 2014. The truth is that unsolicited information through the post box can feel spammy: today’s consumer expect brands to ask their permission to market to them before sending them anything.

Nevertheless, it also remains true that the post box is now less crowded (and therefore less competitive) than the average email inbox.

In coordination with your social media efforts, your website and your blog, you can create a presence both on and offline. Print marketing should focus on branding, not necessarily direct selling, building a reputation and focusing on long-term recognition and loyalty.

Will 2014 see a return of print marketing?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Is print dead forever? Is it alive but perhaps not set for a big come-back in 2014? Let us know in the comments, or contact us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn.


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