Is there still a need for printed marketing materials?

I found a really fantastic brochure in a junk store during one of my trips to the UK. It’s an “Ogden and Lawson” catalog from the 1930’s, describing their range of steam fittings and valves – prefect for a technology nerd like me! It’s hard-bound with a couple of wonderful, colorized pages showing valve cross sections. There are also printed prices for every item.

beautiful colorized valve image from the 1930's Think about that – a hard-bound brochure with pricing that the publishers fully expected to stay current for, how long, 1 year, 3 years, 10 years? When the only means of communication to your customers was by mail, it was worth spending a bit more on the brochure knowing that they were going to keep it and refer to it for years. Fast forward to 2010 – when the internet rules and it seems that prices change on a daily basis, surely there’s no need for printed materials. Can’t all the relevant info be taken off a website somewhere?

Up until maybe 5 years ago print runs had to be numbered in the thousands otherwise the cost per piece became prohibitive but I’m familiar with more than a couple of companies that ordered their “usual” amount only to be caught up in this new fangled internet nonsense when people just wanted pdf emailed to them not brochures snail mailed. They are, of course, left with thousands of out-of-date brochures on the shelf – another indication that printed marketing materials have had their day?

Not so fast! While it’s clear that the world of printed brochures and sell sheets may never be the same but to announce their demise is also clearly premature. To many people there’s still nothing quite as satisfying as receiving a written confirmation of an inquiry or sale accompanied by relevant printed material showing that what they are interested in actually exists and has supporting technical data. And I think I probably speak for many people of a “certain age” that just find it easier to read from a piece of paper rather than off a monitor screen.

Here are my new rules for printed marketing materials:

  1. Consider your audience. Surely this should always have been #1, but it’s even more relevant today. Gen X and the Millennials will require short, sharp, material that speaks to them immediately. Older readers will want more detail and more examples and/or applications and won’t mind reading a few pages.
  2. Calculate the print run carefully – today “less is more!” Digital printing has pushed down costs tremendously – what used to costs thousands now costs hundreds. If you are in a fast paced industry (and who isn’t?) chances are that the technology you are promoting today will be very different in 6 months – so adjust your print run downwards accordingly. If you run out of material – that’s probably a good thing because you’ll be able to incorporate all those changes cheaply and efficiently.
  3. Consider print to order and/or print from PDF. Many printers offer very short runs of customized materials that can speak directly to a small group of customers – even on a one-on-one basis. Individual pieces may be more expensive but now there’s no costs associated with storage or handling and changes can be accommodated immediately.
  4. Be creative with color and images! 5-10 years ago businesses could save a bunch of money by printing in one or two colors. Now those savings have all but disappeared and some printers don’t offer any discounts for less than 4 color printing, because it just isn’t worth it. So be creative and use lots of photos and eye-catching images – and if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, hire someone who does!
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