A case for print in the digital age

Updated: Nov 27, 2018

I think we can all agree that getting your voice heard as a business is always going to be something that we all strive for, and I think it always will be. After all, more exposure normally equals more customers - if you have a valuable product or service to offer, that is - and as we've discussed in the past, it's vital that we all have that to offer as businesses, and to shout about that.

Over the past 10-15 years, the way that businesses communicate with their customers has obviously changed, not only in their tone, but most importantly - the medium that they choose to use as their method of communication. Of course, the obvious option is to use email, social media, your website, and basically everything else at your disposal, and we all should be utilising those FREE platforms. Sometimes digital mediums don't have the connection that others do though, which was the reason for us writing this post. We wanted to address a question, is it pointless utilising print materials for promotion? Are billboards and poster advertising campaigns useless now? Are books and brochures a thing of the past? How can printed mediums help your business to grow and gain more value from their customers, and how should you use them? There's quite a few questions that crop up, but these are all questions we hope to answer in this post ...

Before we begin, and if you want to stop reading now (spoiler alert) the main answer is YES ... we are very biased, and it is in our interests to promote this idea, we're not going to lie about that. However, it's also in your interests as businesses to evaluate whether it's an option for you. It may be the answer is "NO", and that's fine, and we will also be the first to recommend digital mediums to our clients and customers if that's the best solution. At the end of the day, we're just here to support and bring value to our clients through design and creative solutions, and we'll suggest whichever way is best for you, based on the research and the strategy behind it. Our goal in this post is just give you options, and options to think about - which is the same method we use for all our blog posts really - take it or leave it, we're just looking to start conversations about these questions that you may have, we're not just trying to force our most expensive services upon everyone, that's not what we're about.

Let's get to the questions ...

1. Is it pointless using print materials for promotion?

So the honest answer to this question is, it depends, and it depends of a variety of factors. Print materials can be fantastic for promotion and advertising, and they have been for many many years.

Now, the important part is evaluating why you'd choose print over digital, and if it would be a successful option. In some ways, there's no way to judge that without trying it, but if you've used printed items for promotion before, it's good to look at the results you got from that. If you go to a design agency, generally they will evaluate which option is best, either print or digital, and they will set you up as best they can for success in whatever way is chosen - but sometimes you have to try it out to see if it's a good option for you.

It's no secret that if you're going to engage people with print in the digital age, it needs to stand out, it needs to look good and be as clear in its communication as possible. Perhaps most importantly though, it needs to offer something different that digital communication won't. That could be the materials that are used and the texture of it, it could really be anything - but it needs to offer something more than what people can see on a screen. If you want to produce a book or brochure for example, it's always going to be worth producing it properly and making a great job of the print. This is something that people are going to hold on to, and, if done correctly, it's something people will cherish for years - so if you're thinking of producing a book or brochure - once you, or an agency evaluates whether it's the right option - you've always got to go print, it has a quality that many other mediums don't.

So to sum up this section, it depends. (Sorry, we know that's not always a helpful answer). If you're just wanting to advertise something with a poster that's only going to go in a few places, then it's probably easier to go digital. However, if you're going to do a poster campaign in a key area for where your target market will be, or where people are likely to engage with (again, this is something that design agencies will look at for you), it could be a fantastic option and one that could be hugely successful. Obviously, it depends on a variety of factors, but to sum up this section, print certainly still has it's place, it's just good to evaluate the uses of it and if it's going to be cost effective.

2. Are billboards and poster advertising campaigns useless now?

No, they're certainly not useless, and in fact, we're seeing more and more companies utilise these mediums more and more. Granted, a lot of these companies have big marketing budgets, and again, it's certainly something you need to give a decent amount of financial backing, particularly with billboard campaigns - but they can reap great rewards. With poster campaigns though, they can be done on a huge scale, or they can be done on a smaller scale. If they're done correctly, they can be really effective in engaging potential customers/service users.

Let's look at a few examples:

IBM: Smarter Cities billboards

This is one of our favourite ones. A billboard campaign by Ogilvy and IBM which plays on the fact that IBM want to bring new technology to drive cities along and continue to solve challenges that we face in the 21st Century. Now, this project teeters on the line of being actual industrial design rather than print design, but the message is the same. Make something that is beautiful and functional and people will engage with it and want to know more. As we mentioned, this is a big budget "analog" idea, but if you watch the video and look at how many people engage with it and have posted it on social media, there's a huge amount of value in that alone. The billboard is providing a service for people, but it's also being a very clever ad campaign for IBM.

We know that for many of us as companies, we don't have the huge budgets that IBM and big global companies have, so what about the smaller companies, the smaller budget poster campaigns?? Well, let's look at an example:

Now, it's worth mentioning that there needs to be a decent amount of investment put into any promotional campaign, in order to have some levels of success. That certainly doesn't mean that inexpensive poster campaigns can't be hugely successful, because they can. However, it would be true to say that if you invest in your promotional campaigns properly (which doesn't always have to be thousands) you're setting yourself up for a more positive outcome.

The above poster series (yes, it's a series but we haven't got the space to post them all) was for NYC in order to get more New Yorkers visiting the different landmarks and tourist hotspots that they may have taken for granted because they walk past them everyday. Again, we're not talking about really small budgets, but it would certainly have been cheaper to have these produced than getting the IBM billboards designed (I would imagine). Really, the key with print is making the best uses of the tools and budget that you have. The doors are going to be opened a little bit more with bigger budgets, but generally, you can make something great with whatever means you have - it just takes a little creativity! Take a look at Pret a Manger's posters for example, they're all created from fruit that's been deformed to create another striking image. Again, this is very time consuming as a process, but it's still a very simple idea - that has created something fantastic. You have to weigh up whether using your time on this is worth the return that you could get on it if done well.

3. Are books and brochures a thing of the past?

This one should be a little easier to answer, and the answer is no. They're absolutely not a thing of the past. Many people still use printed books and brochures to great effect. It's well known that while people are making the switch to digital over "analog" formats, many printed books and brochures are still being regularly circulated.

We don't want to sound like a broken record, but it's all about adding value to people through any medium, but particularly in print. People love having things to take away and cherish, to refer back to. Things that look beautiful, and things that are helpful and informative (to name a few). People no longer want decent, they want gold standard print design and something that is useful to them, and thats always the challenge for us all when working on these print projects, and all projects for that matter, how does it solve the challenges that businesses face? It may mean that creating a printed document isn't the right approach - but there's often scenarios where it could be really effective. An annual report, a book about where your company has come from and the journey it has taken, a collection of stories or insights into your business. Or it could just be outlining the services you as a company offer, or products you offer - if it meets a need and will be valuable to the people you're targeting, crack on.

You only have to look at the latest release of the D&AD Annual (which are fantastic books to collect and source inspiration from, by the way). They recently released the 2018 book - which we should be receiving in the office soon - but the hype around that has been huge, and many people find it a really helpful resource. Of course, it's beautifully designed and features incredible creative work from the last year, but it also brings value to people and has some collectability about it.

© Magpie Studio

4. How can printed mediums help your business to grow and gain more value from their customers, and how should you use them?

Many of the questions that crop up in this question have already been answered I'm sure (if they haven't, I'm sorry - and feel free to ask us more questions). But the answer is simple, if you bring people value, they will bring value to you and be more likely to want to use your service.

It's not just printed mediums, but all design that can bring value. Design can help solve problems for you and your business, and the solution could be through a book, a re-brand, a marketing campaign or a strategy change - once those problems are solved, the business should then grow, due to more exposure, or simply just because one question that people may have about your business has been answered.

So this post was all about print, and how it's definitely still an effective tool for you and your company/organisation, and for us as designers. But really, it's all about how you use design, and that translates to every single aspect of a business and the marketing campaigns that we so often use as businesses. It's about the strategy, the challenges, and most importantly the solution to those challenges. That bit is really difficult to get right, but when you do, design can really change companies.

Just read about AirBnb and the high regard that they hold design in - it's a huge thing for companies to get right. We love doing that through print, and we're certainly not saying that's the only option, or the right solution, but it is still a fantastic medium - just as it was during World War 1 is preparing people for battle, and to do their bit to fight against the challenges around them. That same success is still available today.

Thanks for reading!

The BRIX Team