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Today's trends for tomorrow's business

How should you advertise?

Reading time: 5 minutes

Digital or print?

For too long, we’ve heard the only way to reach customers today is online. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. Chatbots. Emails. Texts. Anything digital. Printed materials? They’re so yesteryear. The advertising your out-of-touch parents put in Sunday newspapers. Right?
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Print is making a comeback thanks to younger generations feeling nostalgic about the printed page. For instance, 83 percent of Generation Z – the coming-of-age demographic group born after 1996 – turn to newspapers for trusted information and content and 34 percent read thoroughly, a USPS survey found.
Why does that matter? Well, consider the fact that this particular generation is expected to make up about 40 percent of all consumers by next year, influencing about $4 billion in discretionary spending, according to MNI. And as opposed to older generations who don’t trust traditional ads, nearly half of Gen Zers see them as useful for learning about new products and even appreciate them.
That’s what we call a receptive audience. And it’s why we are seeing some of the biggest online retailers on the planet, (can you say Amazon?) trying to bridge the digital and print worlds by putting out printed toy catalogs with embedded QR codes you can scan to get more product details, locate related products and add items to your online shopping cart.
So, how do you as a small business know when to invest in digital vs. print advertising or a combination of the two? Here are a few helpful tips for making that decision:

1. Go with Print for Local Markets

If you’re only advertising locally, then print might be your best bet because you don’t need to cast such a wide net. Why spend for regional, national or worldwide digital ads when you’re only trying to reach people in your own town? That’s just wasted money and exposure, and it’s too difficult to know how many people locally even looked at your ads compared to individuals or families outside of your target markets.
While you might not think anyone looks to local newspapers or advertisers anymore, they are still in business for a reason: because many people – older generations in particular – do still turn to them to find out what’s happening nearby and where they can find good sales on tires, haircuts, oil changes or whatever. Indeed, 57 percent of U.S. small businesses embrace traditional advertising because they consider it more “trustworthy,” according to a survey by The Manifest.

2. Think About Customized Forms of Print

Print advertising isn’t just about newspapers, magazines and fliers. It also relates to packaging and labels, and this is where small businesses can really accelerate brand recognition.
We watched big brands like Coke, Nutella, Oreo, Dr. Pepper, Budweiser and Planters break ground with customized labels to commemorate events or to deliver experiences that feel more personalized (like having individual names on cans). But small businesses can do this too by engaging with print service providers (PSPs). Years ago, digital presses enabling this kind of small-lot production were too expensive for PSPs. But costs have dropped significantly and many are now building entire businesses dedicated to customized projects for brands of all sizes.
While some larger brands are taking advantage of this capability, most aren’t doing much about it. They still take a more conservative approach, clinging to traditional packaging aligned to the look and feel they think made them stand out in the first place. This is where SMBs have a fantastic opportunity to step up and outshine their larger competitors with custom packaging that gives them an edgier and more distinctive market identity. In fact, a WestRock study found 35 percent of consumers have switched brands because of snazzy, new packaging.

3. Use Digital to Cast a Wider Net

If your target demographic goes beyond your local community, then you really must think about digital advertising.
Because they always have their sights set on growth and geographic expansion, most small businesses seek the greater reach that comes with advertising on digital mediums, including social media (64 percent) and online (49 percent) compared to print (36 percent) and events (34 percent), The Manifest survey found.
Digital ads simply allow you to cast a much wider net. And if they come off as authentic, compelling and speak to audience sentimentalities, they can propel your brand in ways traditional advertising generally cannot. Case in point: earlier this decade, Dollar Shave Club gained more than 3 million subscribers, earned $200 million in sales and set itself up to be acquired by Unilever for $1 billion on the heels of a now-famous online video that went viral.

4. Consider Connecting the Two

In the end, chances are pretty strong you’ll have a mix of both digital and print advertising, so why not consider ways to link the two together?
As the Amazon example demonstrates, the best approach to a broader advertising campaign is to have your print ads serve as a steppingstone or door opener to your online store. But don’t just think that means throwing up a URL and expecting people to go punch that into a web browser. Consider new-fangled technology that consumers will find interesting enough to want to check out to entertain themselves. In the very near future, for instance, you won’t just put a boring QR code in that ad; you’ll be able to embed a code in a photo and encourage readers to scan it with their smartphone to check out your latest augmented reality (AR) treasure hunt, in which they’ll be able to find daily deals not offered elsewhere.

5. Consider Print for Physical Spaces

If you have a physical location, print can feel new and tactile. A computer screen may be overlooked, but if you can hand them a coupon or flier pointing out that day’s sales, they just might wander over to the shelves those products are stored on and put them in their physical shopping cart. Similarly, if you’re running an experiential marketing event at a local music festival such as Coachella or South by Southwest, you’ll want to put something physical, fun and branded into attendee hands to make them remember you and want to learn more about your products.
You get the idea. Both digital and print are hugely important and blending the two together in unique and memorable ways can make a significant difference to the growth of your business. So plan accordingly.

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