When touch is banned, print provides the connection consumers crave

In our current COVID-19 world there has been a big emphasis on digital adoption, but Zeina Khodr makes a case for print media and explains why the concept of tangible touch should still be highly important to CMOs.

It’s impossible to deny that 2020 has looked to be the nail in the coffin for commercial print magazines. We’ve watched title after title shut its doors, replaced by digital watch time and social media scrolling and swiping.

But even as Australia continues to feel the wrath of the 2020 pandemic, I believe there’s still a case to be made for the tangible delights of print media. In our new world devoid of hugs and handshakes, links to the physical world have never been more important as we look for ways to slow down and reconnect with the world beyond our tablets and smartphones.

Call me crazy, but I truly believe we’ve never needed print media more. While its role as a money-making advertising vehicle may be over, what it can do for a brand to create a physical touchpoint with an audience is unparalleled.

In order to make an impact in our era of social distancing and 1.5-meter gaps, it’s critical that CMOs find ways to incorporate the concept of tangible touch into their marketing. With the entire world absorbed into their devices, the concept of something with pages that customers can hold, touch and turn becomes novel, indulgent and exciting.

I spent a portion of my career facing digital disruption head-on as a publisher of print mastheads, trying to figure out how to monetise audiences and run newsrooms on the smell of an oily rag. We didn’t win, but from the ashes I think there is an opportunity for custom publishing to become the renaissance of print, led by smart brands and marketers.

Brands that have kept up their publishing activities and tapped into the unique opportunities print has to connect with audiences and command attention are well aware of the cut-through they can get.

The Qantas Magazine, which has possibly one of the most desirable audiences for any advertiser, with over 393,000 readers has also pivoted during the pandemic. Instead of putting its magazine in seatbacks, Qantas posted the magazine directly to the mailboxes of its lucrative platinum members. Sustaining engagement now more than ever is critical, particularly for any industries that are experiencing unprecedented disruption and uncertainty, such as travel and tourism.

The monthly magazines distributed by Coles and Woolworths, filled with recipes – all leading back to the products they sell – can be found in many kitchens. Studies by automobile clubs like NRMA and RAC, who all still publish member magazines, show that magazines can stay in the home for up to two to three weeks after delivery. The pass-on factor far out-strips a digital story – for every issue, at least two to three additional people will read the magazine as well as the receiver. What other medium provides that kind of long-term touchpoint, overcoming the ‘fake news’ effect and creating credibility for your brand?

I see it directly with the custom monthly print magazine that we publish for the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA). The magazine provides a tangible and very human connection and effectively cuts through the digital clutter.

During the pandemic, we gave readers the choice to receive the magazine at home rather than at the office. It meant that, even during isolation, the FPA could keep a physical connection with their members and the industry. By increasing our content focused on members themselves, as well as voices external to the industry that could offer meaningful insight on topics such as mental health, resilience and leadership, we were able to maintain a sense of connectedness even as members were physically removed from their co-workers and clients.

For David Jones, print has been a mechanism to address the serious problem of shopper attrition and is succeeding. The Jones magazine is now the poster child of beautiful print mags with a digital extension featuring highlights from the print edition. Growing beyond department store catalogue status, with around 200k copies distributed of each issue, Jones easily bypasses the circulation of popular newsstand mastheads (sadly not hard to do in this current climate). And for those looking for the financial link, Jones magazine is directly attributable to product sales.

The narrower the audience, the more opportunity there is for brands who want to deliver a premium experience. The ubiquity of digital experiences in our lives and an overabundance of content not only makes it incredibly difficult to create cut-through but can also make it seem less valuable.

When a brand demonstrates a commitment to a niche audience by investing in print, they are telling that audience that they are important and worthy of that extra investment. This creates a connection and emotional resonance that is greater than the content itself.

When brands demonstrate they are willing to go the extra mile to provide value to an audience – especially one that may often be overlooked due to their size or very specific interests – that investment is often rewarded with the holy grail of brand-customer relationships: loyalty and fandom.

Brand publishing also allows us to continue the tradition of publishing. There is huge value in nurturing the print skills of (almost) digital natives on the team, to foster an understanding of what is required to produce good quality journalism and storytelling, and pass on the techniques and precision required to create a print magazine or book, even as we are moving ahead with creating innovative digital experiences for a screen, and toward an increasingly screenless world navigated by voice commands.

It goes beyond the digital playgrounds that seem to capture much of the time and attention of modern marketers to create something unique and physical for its audiences. It’s a sign of a truly integrated marketing strategy.

I still love watching my clients and readers discover the benefits of the printed page and the impact of a powerful cover, a double-page spread, beautiful layout and a finite beginning, middle and end. From the feel and smell of the paper to the turning of a page, print is a sensory engagement with longevity that lives on far longer than a tweet, Facebook post, Insta-story or a 30 second TikTok.

Without wanting to sound too sentimental, print also offers a sense of possibility for the reader – the opportunity to escape for an hour or so, removed from the blue light of screens, immersed in a world of beautiful images and carefully curated words, without interruption or the temptation to fall down a link-clicking rabbit hole. In many ways, print is an opportunity to press pause.

The pandemic has resulted in many marketers shying away from risk and taking the easy, well-trodden digital path. But I’d like to invite you to rethink your all-digital strategy. It’s time to be brave: consider print.

Zeina Khodr is the founder of Paper + Spark.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash.