The Evolution of Print Marketing

In January, J.C. Penney announced the return of its catalog. Once known as the "big book," the direct marketing publication, often 1,000 pages in size, was discontinued in 2009. But after some recent market testing, JCP executives believe that the past five years sans catalogue have created missed opportunities to connect with existing and prospective customers.

When I heard this, it was a breath of fresh air — we live and work in a world where everyone is thinking digitally. Retailers want to know how to ramp up their e-commerce channels or reach customers through mobile devices, often while dismissing the important role print and direct marketing played in the first place. It may not be sexy or garner media grabbing headlines, but let's go ahead and set the record straight: Direct mail marketing is still the most successful (and measurable) form of advertising available today.

Don't believe me? According to the Direct Marketing Association, 11.9 billion catalogues were delivered to consumers in 2013 — the first increase in distribution in seven years. Why? Because 97 percent of consumers open direct mail marketing materials. It is effective. Plain and simple.

You might also think these numbers are exclusively a result of an older, more traditional generation, used to placing catalogue orders, but this old-new trend extends all the way to Millennials (age 18-35). Deloitte predicts that in 2015 alone, one in six Millennials will subscribe to a print paper or magazine. Likewise, they'll generate 10 percent of all newspaper revenue (not including revenue generated from newsstand purchases). Perhaps if marketers paid more attention to reaching this generation in both print and digital channels these numbers would rise, but in the meantime why ignore 10 percent of what is described as the next "boom" generation.

This and other research highlights the fact that reaching this growing demographic is not a straight line — it cannot be done solely through digital channels, but must be done through a combination of digital and physical. Contrary to popular belief, print is not dead. It never was dead. It was undergoing a transformation as all marketing strategies are currently undergoing. It's evolving to complement all marketing outreach — across physical, digital and mobile. It's not one or the other. It's one and the other.

Few companies have been successful in creating a cohesive marketing strategy and balancing the physical and digital worlds to create a singular world. But perhaps that is changing.  We can point to Apple's success as not just the world's leading tech company, but also one of the more successful retail brands with 437 physical store locations in 15 countries.  How about Amazon, the beacon of e-commerce, now on a mission to open physical stores (and a brand that doesn't mind dabbling in print from time to time)?

And for JCP, the catalog is going to become one more touchpoint with customers, but as Apple did more than a decade ago, the retailer will have to ensure that all other channels support a cohesive customer experience. From the time customers receive a catalog, to when they research the product online and across social channels, to when they search for a nearby store on their mobile device, to when they make that final purchase, their experience must be equally informative, accurate and enjoyable.

The more opportunities retailers have to reach customers, the more opportunities to refine anonymous marketing tactics into personalized marketing successes. This is not the age of digital — nor will it be the age of print — it's the age of the customer, and you'll find her at the intersection of the two worlds.

Gregg Zegras is president, Imagitas, Pitney Bowes.
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