Is print dead?

27 October 2021
By – Mike Sweeting

Ghost Print Is Dead

We’ve been thinking a lot in the studio about how much we have missed getting out and experiencing tactile print design over the last year and a half. So we thought it would be a great opportunity to take stock and re-start the conversation that we explored in 2019. At the time we were using Halloween as a novel way to approach a statement that we felt was misguided. We wanted to explore the idea that marketing was being done a disservice by believing that print is dead. 

So two years on, where does print marketing stand in a ‘new-normal’ world full of hand sanitiser, social distancing and contactless interactions. Looking to get some first-hand wisdom, I had a chat with Andrew Edmondson, a passionate print advocate and driving force of Derby based printers Purely Digital. I wanted to explore how the phrase ‘print is dead’ is used and if it has any more or less resonance since the pandemic. We couldn’t have this conversation without first addressing how advanced digital technology is becoming. It is now so progressive that it is part of almost every aspect of our lives. 

1 — I kicked off the conversation by asking Andy – “What do you think it is about printed media that your customers love so much?”.

“I think print is changing” he said. “You’ll still find it heavily used at exhibitions and in-store. I know my customers use it as a quick way to hand out information. Printed media has now taken on the role of a portal. Initially grabbing the targets attention with a tactile piece of design that appeals to them on a different level, before directing them on to follow up information found online.”

It feels like print is finding a new place in a brand’s communication arsenal. However, digital media can still play the role of the first contact, attention grabbing advertisement. I asked Andy. “What do you think it is that makes people pay attention to print design?”.

He replied, “I guess in a comparison the benefits of print media (a ‘real world’ object) are found in the lack of distractions. You won’t be bombarded with notifications, cookie preferences and GDPR tick boxes. The reader can concentrate on the item in front of them.”

It seems that print appeals to more of our senses, forming a deeper connection with the audience. This can help with the understanding of the subject matter being conveyed. I suggested, “It sounds like there’s a ceremony to the experience of opening up a piece of printed design; like having a special invite to a celebration event?”.

“I agree, we have all received invites to things, likely both through the post and via email. E-invites are quick and easy but they lose the drama. I think the psychological effect of handing over something into the hand of the recipient appeals to both the marketer and the target audience.”

2 — A lot has changed since March 2020, so the conversation moved on to how print has had to adapt to a ’new-normal’. I asked; “Is print still relevant in a socially distanced age?”.

Andy replied; “It seems to me that print is more relevant coming out of the pandemic. It just feels more personal”.

“Print has played a very important role. Whether that’s enabling instructive messaging and signage to spring up everywhere as a reminder to stay safe, or to be used as temporary and disposable items such as menus. Over the last year and a half print design has evolved and is now working a lot closer with technology.”

It’s clear when talking to Andy that print hasn’t lost any relevance. The pandemic has seen a lot of things move online, but this has also presented an opportunity for using print in a smarter way perhaps. 

3 — Andy had mentioned the benefits of print in essential and clear instructive messaging. We have all seen these popping up everywhere, reminding us to ‘wash our hands’ and ‘keep 2m apart’. So I wanted to explore what it was that helped print to spread these messages and capture the readers attention?

Andy paused for thought and replied; “For one, these printed instructive messages are in your face! You have to walk past them and you have to see them. They are based in the real world”

That’s very true, there is no option to ‘opt-out’ of these printed messages. 

“And because of this they act as a great reminder that these messages are still to be taken on board. An important thing to consider is that by printing the various signage and posters that were required, they could very quickly be positioned in essential places across the whole country. In shop windows and supermarket aisles these messages all appeared exactly where they were expected to be seen.”

True, we do as a culture have in-built expectations about where and how we expect to find information. By utilising printed media positioned in highly visible areas, the target audience didn’t have to look hard to find up to date and relevant information. 

4 — Understanding how much passion Andy has for print. Knowing he spends his working life producing beautiful pieces of print design, it would be foolish not to ask if he had spotted any shifts or new trends in the way print is used or the technology utilised?

“I’ve seen a big uptake in the use of QR codes”. He continued; “After years of never really taking off, it seems that they are finally helping print to bridge the gap with technology.” 

A common theme appearing throughout our conversation is that print is developing new ways to adapt. By utilising new technology and methods of bringing the best of both the physical and digital worlds together, we are seeing print designs do things that were not possible before. 

“Exactly.” Andy agreed. “The QR codes are allowing the audience to transition online via complex URL links, just by using their phones camera. I’ve also noticed that with the massive increase in online shopping and home deliveries, there has been a rise in demand for printed labels, stickers and boxes. Helping brands improve their new purchase experience for customers.”

5 — The environmental impact of brands is becoming more obvious. Marketers and designers are more conscious about the decisions their brands make. I asked; “What things should we consider when planning a campaign, to use print responsibly?”.

“Like you say, the environmental impact of brands is becoming something that everyone wants to address. We (Purely Digital) have taken big steps to ensure our Carbon footprint is as low as possible.” 

I thought it was a great first thing to consider, find a print supplier with great eco credentials.

“The next thing to consider when planning a responsible print design is ‘can you use a recycled paper stock’. It’s having a big come back at the moment, and by using it you are increasing the demand for the countries waste paper to be recycled. This will prioritise a need to improve waste streams and to progress the education of how the quality of recycled paper can be improved.”

Andy made a very interesting point, increasing the demand for environmental solutions should hopefully create positive change to the systems that are needing desperate improvement. As a final point to guide a responsibly planned out print campaign (from a design and marketing point of view), you should target your media well. Think about who needs or wants to hear your message and deliver it to them. Printed media will resonate with them on a level that non-targeted digital media can.

6 — I had to address the phrase ‘print is dead’. So, I asked Andy; “What would you say to people who think marketing communications should be digital only?”.

“Print’s not dead, it’s evolving.” Was his instant reply. “It goes in waves, the less print is used the more it becomes unique. Currently the cost of print is making it a premium form of media. The rising of energy costs, has driven up the price of paper as well.”

I thought that made real sense. Print will become more and more premium and desirable, until it becomes increasingly popular making it more competitive and driving down prices. 

Before wrapping up the conversation I wanted to summarise some of the key points we had discussed. Print is an essential part of most marketing plans. It has been finding a new relevance by evolving and utilising new digital technologies to enhance the readers experience. The way I see it, printed media can be a great introduction to a brand, before leading the audience to digital platforms. By having a targeted plan and understanding paper stocks, print design can still be used responsibly.  

“Personally, I love how print appeals to our human nature.” Andy summed up. “The tactile nature adds to the theatre and experience of any communication. It allows the reader to remain more in the moment, so the campaign messaging can hit home without digital distractions.” 

Print is very much alive, and to repeat Andy’s words ‘print is evolving’. A traditional communication method that isn’t scared to adapt to the future, print is an amazing way to break through a one dimensional digital world. 

We’re a team of creatives who believe that our individual abilities and perspectives are amplified when we come together to create change for our clients.

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