Onscreen versus Print Marketing: Which Is More Effective?

In the last decade or so electronic advertising (e.g., e-mail, social media)—with its low costs and instant delivery—has become the marketing industry’s darling. But is it as effective as print marketing? The two formats together can yield excellent results. On its own, however, onscreen media lacks the positive impact of print media.

Any marketing expert worth his or her salt knows that a successful marketing campaign has to achieve at least two goals: first, it must reach its intended audience; and second, it must engage that audience. Let’s examine how both electronic and print media do in those two categories.

First, how well do they reach their audiences?

Onscreen marketing is either “pushed” to targets via e-mail, e-newsletters, or social media platforms, for example, or “pulled” by targets who actively seek out that information, perhaps via web searches for a particular company or topic. In either case, the information appears on the target’s screen … where it competes for attention with countless other items.

Think about the number of banner ads, e-mails, tweets, status updates, link ads, etc., that pass before your eyes over the course of a single day. You probably don’t even notice most of them—and of the ones you do notice, very few make a lasting impression in the neverending stream of electronic media.

Now consider the reach of print media. True, a fair amount of print media gets treated as “junk mail” and goes unread (or even unopened) straight into the recycling bin. But handling printed material compels at least some engagement with it. Even the act of sorting through a stack of mail and choosing which items to discard and and which ones to save for a closer look requires more effort and attention on the target’s behalf than simply hitting the “delete” key.

And the more informative or interesting a piece of mail looks, the more likely it is to receive extra attention from the target. Postcards and poorly designed mailings rarely warrant a second glance, but well-designed print media stand out from the crowd. Magazines, in particular, have a size and format that certainly attract attention, partly because of their strong association with and reputation for substantial content.

Now let’s consider what happens when a marketing piece reaches its audience. At that point, the job is only half done: in order to be effective, that marketing piece needs to connect with its audience, too.

When a piece of electronic marketing survives the inbox purge and lands in a viewer’s feed and gets a few precious minutes (or maybe only seconds!) of his or her time, the likelihood that he or she will engage with the media can vary tremendously, depending on its format and the message itself. More and more studies are demonstrating, however, that regardless of its content, onscreen content lacks the effectiveness of print content.

As I pointed out in a post a few months ago, recent research has demonstrated that people read, remember, and respond to texts in print differently from how they interact with texts in electronic form. Not only do people remember print texts better than onscreen texts, but they also comprehend print better as well. And magazines offer a particularly good bang for your marketing buck: people actually read, retain, and pass along magazines at high rates, and magazines yield an especially high return on investment.

So what’s the upshot of this analysis? Electronic and print marketing both have their champions. But if you want the best connections with your audience, you’d do well to follow the research (and the results enjoyed by savvy marketers) and make sure that print media—and especially magazines—play a role in your marketing efforts.


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