Ink and Bytes: Using Print in Your Digital Marketing Strategy

From 1995 to 2009 the internet went from being a premium service used by less than one percent of the world to an everyday tool used by more than a quarter of the global population. The way people communicated was forever changed, businesses were transformed, and digital marketing strategy evolved from curious theory to necessary practice.

But as impressive and global a shift this was, it certainly wasn’t the first time that civilization had seen such an impressive renaissance in communication. No, this first feat is probably more aptly credited to a middle-aged German guy from the mid-fifteenth century who sold polished metal to Christian pilgrims (said to capture the light from holy relics). It was a tidy business, but one that was brought to an abrupt halt by an untimely flood that left the man with a ruined inventory and investors curious as to how they would make their money back. The man shared that he had a secret that would satisfy their needs, and set to work. His name was Johannes Gutenberg, and his secret was the printing press.

Some wood, iron, and blocks covered in ink was all it took to revolutionize human communication centuries ago; today, marketers can still take advantage of print in their content strategies.

From Ink to Internet

If your brand has existed for more than a few months, it’s more than likely that you have some form of printed collateral. From brochures to mailings, these materials comprised the backbones of most marketing engines until just the past two decades. So with loads of marketing teams building themselves around strong social, email, and broader web presences, how can marketers bring print into the mix for support—rather than treating it as an entirely separate venture?

The first step to understanding how print fits with your digital marketing strategy is to understand the place for print in today’s marketing landscape. “Print is still a top-of-funnel medium,” said Andy Blau, senior vice president of finance and advertising at Time Inc., in an interview with the American Marketing Association. While exposure can certainly happen for your brand online, print publications make up for their limited reach through their ability to increase trustworthiness and clout. It isn’t hard to see why a visitor might be more trustful of your brand after they’ve learned about it from a mailing or magazine, as opposed to one of a thousand other display ads (that they’re likely blocking anyway).

But despite utilizing print in this way, many marketers struggle with the jump from print to digital—in particular, as they try to answer the question, “How does print bring my audience to the experience I’ve constructed on my website/social media/blog?”

There are many ways to approach this question, but there are two popular traps that your brand should try to avoid. The first is creating an artificial division between print and digital efforts. By using traditional collateral to push one funnel while digital material pushes another, brands can end up accidentally creating artificial audience segments that are only informative insofar as they tell you where a viewer initially was onboarded—which frequently won’t give you a full picture of what interests or engages your audience. The second trap to avoid is integrating without tracking. For every piece of material you send out that just pushes a general website or email address, you’ll have yet one more undefined variable when it comes to determining ROI for your campaigns.

Effective integration at the top of the funnel means coming up with an organic way for your audience to move online from print (or vice versa) while also implementing a way of tracking the specific actions that happen during that bridge. Here are some ways easy ways to accomplish this:

  • Microsites and Landing Pages. Rather than just pointing people to your website, you can try pointing them to a specific page that is only discoverable by people who have seen your print promotion. This is far from foolproof (as even the least tech-savvy internet user may still just go to your homepage and ignore the landing page), so microsites with unique URLs can be helpful here.
  • QR Codes. Particularly effective with younger audiences, QR codes can direct people to your homepage while also helping your attribute specific traffic from given promotions. You’ll want to ensure you have a responsively designed website however, as this ensures a mobile visit.
  • Google Voice Calling. Many print promotions try to push people into conversations with your brand over the phone. But if you use the same toll-free number for all of your promotions, your best bet for attribution is to ask every customer how they ended up on the line with your rep. An easier approach can be to set up a system of Google Voice numbers that all redirect to the same place. Assign each number to an individual piece of collateral, and you’ll get data on what is (or isn’t) performing—without the hassle of setting up new lines or asking callers for attribution.

Crafting for the Bottom of the Funnel

There are a million different ways that brands have used print marketing to get the attention of new audiences through the years. But as with many other top-of-funnel tactics, the pervasiveness of this material often cheapens it. While ensuring your material reaches your audience’s hands is useful, doing so at the expense of creating an experience from your brand can be detrimental in the long run. But there are some powerful ways to utilize print to improve conversion and retention, right alongside awareness and visibility.

One powerful way to do this is to move from digital-first to print. Consider your digital marketing strategy for a moment. Somewhere along the line, you likely found a way to identify particularly qualified or interested leads—maybe they’ve requested some material, made an initial purchase, or performed any other number of actions. By finding a way to give this segment of your audience powerful, palpable material, you can elaborate on your brand’s story, while also giving your customer something to hold that will (hopefully) have a powerful impact on the affinity they hold with your brand. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Musicbed, a sound licensing company that provides music for ads and films. Musicbed created a full-color magazine publication that helps it identify particularly invested members of its audience, while also creating a space to speak about its industry and provide meaningful content. Magazines aren’t new, but a high-quality one from a small digital company can still leave a huge impact.

Ultimately, the internet and printing press are both technologies that encourage people to integrate, disseminate, and communicate. The same three goals can be said of your marketing. Find ways to bring ink and internet together for your brand, and you’ll see results as tangible as paper itself.

This article originally appeared on Skyword.