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Defining Roles – Print in 2015

We’re nearing the end of January. Much of the marketing communications community’s attention has changed focus to Sunday’s world championship of multimillion dollar television spots. That means I’m finally safe from being cliché and riding the new year bandwagon if I talk about the role of print in 2015, right?

Okay, maybe I’m still being cliche, but I’m not really trying to contribute to the annual pile on of new year prognostication.

You see plenty of articles and discussions being bandied about in speculation of the future of print right before and just after the time you swap out your old calendar for a new one. Many of them lament or applaud print-based mass media’s current state of flux.

That’s not my goal.

I’m not trying to stir up a storm of emotions on a juicy topic among people who will defend their views to the death. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m unconcerned with what’s happening in the world of newspapers, magazines or even books. Changes in the dynamics of traditional print mass media have a direct effect upon the dynamics of marketing communications especially where advertising and public relations coverage are concerned. But advertising and news media are not what I’m after either. Accusations and conspiracy theories aside, brands do not generally have control over how, when or why newspapers and magazines are produced.

What I’m after is the identification of the current roles and forms of print in the context of marketing communications that are controlled and produced by brands in 2015.

It’s not uncommon to hear people say that their brand does not do too much print these days. They may claim to source business cards and some sales collateral here and there but not like they did in the past. Does that mean that all of those print is dead and the sky is falling articles that get people riled up are correct? No, not at all. But it does give credence to a quest of defining and identifying what print means to branded marketing communication right now.

Some organizations, depending on what they do and the business models they follow, could well and truly not have much dependence on print today. However, if I were a betting man, my money would be on classic definitions fueling the diminished view of print in marketing communication. The classic view of print and branded marketing material tends to be focused on promotion and identity materials. Yep, the old standbys. Collateral like brochures, booklets and fliers. Stationery like business cards, letterhead and envelopes.

But what happens when you use a broader, more contemporary definition of print in the context of branded marketing communications? Perhaps considering it to be any time a representation of a brand’s image or message is graphically communicated on a physical surface. Yes, it’s a little technical, maybe even a little bit geeky but such a view accomplishes two important things. First, it takes into full consideration that brands do not, in fact, use print the same way they did in the past. Second, it opens your eyes to the fact that there is a lot more print serving branded marketing communication roles than many of us think! In fact, there’s so much that it gets sub-classified in different specific purposes that may be scattered and fragmented under different areas of control. To truly identify the big picture of print’s role in branded marketing communications in 2015 you have to be able to see all of the little pieces that make up the whole.

Packaging, in-store signage, point of purchase displays, shelf talkers, coupon dispensers, impulse displays and even traditional handout materials all play critical roles in conveying information that establishes brand presence, recognition and loyalty to encourage sales. They’re all printed and they all communicate brand imagery and message to a target audience. If that’s not print serving a role in marketing communication I don’t know what is. But there’s even more.

Direct mail of all forms, shapes and sizes is print serving a marketing communication role. Instructions, package inserts, training materials, coupon books, annual reports, giveaway knickknacks, customer outreach and after-the-sale follow-up materials all involve getting a message from a brand to an audience by physically placing it on a surface. That makes them all forms of printed marketing communication. I could continue, but you probably get the point by now.

Print is dynamic. It changes, it grows, it adapts even if views of it do not. So is it safe to say that print, in the context of marketing communication in 2015, is not what it used to be? It sure is. It’s also safe to say that it’s much more.

Maybe that wasn’t so cliche after all?

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